Accepted paper:

Meeting disciplinarity: the case of the ASA


David Mills (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the productive blurring of epistemological and bureaucratic purpose facilitated by the meetings, conferences and gatherings of scholarly associations, using the example of early meetings of the Association of Social Anthropology.

Paper long abstract:

Meetings of scholarly societies are key moments for the expression of disciplinary belonging. Their efficacy, and that of disciplinary associations more broadly, lies in the blurring of epistemological and bureaucratic purposes. Away from the funding conflicts and resource politics of the university, their promotion of a disciplinary framing of knowledge also legitimates academic identity politics.

The foundation of the ASA in 1946 was driven by just such strategic double vision: an intellectual commitment to social anthropology and an institutional concern for disciplinary autonomy and academic exclusivity. Using a range of archival and primary sources, I describe the form and content of early ASA meetings, and the conflicting rationales that lay behind the first 'Anglo-American' decennial conference in 1963.

The story of the ASA could be replicated across the social sciences. Since the founding of the first societies in the 1850s, and there are now many such professional associations. Yet what happens when institutional logics dominate? Do academic associations connect scholars whilst dividing knowledge? This paper reflects on the contradictions of the epistemological-bureaucratic nexus.

panel P14
Meetings: procedure and artifacts of modern knowledge