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American Anthropological Association

American Anthropological Association
Abbreviation AAA
Formation 1902
Headquarters Arlington County, Virginia, U.S.
Region served United States of America
Membership 11,000+
President Leith P Mullings (2012-14)

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is a professional organization of scholars and practitioners in the field of anthropology. With 11,000 members, the Arlington, Virginia based association includes archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, biological (or physical) anthropologists, linguistic anthropologists, linguists, medical anthropologists and applied anthropologists in universities and colleges, research institutions, government agencies, museums, corporations and non-profits throughout the world. The AAA conducts the largest annual meeting of anthropologists and publishes over 20 peer-reviewed scholarly journals, available in print and online through AnthroSource. The AAA was founded in 1902.


  • History 1
  • Sections 2
  • Publications 3
  • Meetings 4
  • Public issues involvement 5
    • Ethical and academic debates 5.1
      • Immigration policy 5.1.1
        • Arizona
      • Engaging with the military 5.1.2
        • Vietnam War
        • Human Terrain System
  • AnthroSource 6
    • Primary peer-reviewed journals 6.1
  • AAA Presidents 7
  • Similar organizations 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


According to its articles of incorporation, the AAA was formed to:

...promote the science of anthropology, to stimulate and coordinate the efforts of American anthropologists, to foster local and other societies devoted to anthropology, to serve as a bond among American anthropologists and anthropologic[al] organizations present and prospective, and to publish and encourage the publication of matter pertaining to anthropology.[1]

At its incorporation, the association assumed responsibility for the journal American Anthropologist, created in 1888 by the Anthropological Society of Washington (ASW). By 1905, the journal also served the American Ethnological Society, in addition to the AAA and ASW.

From an initial membership of 175, the AAA grew slowly during the first half of the 20th century. Annual meetings were held primarily in the Northeast and accommodated all attendees in a single room. Since 1950, the AAA’s membership has increased dramatically, now averaging around 11,000. Annual meetings frequently draw over 5,000 individuals, who attend over 500 sessions organized into a five-day program.

The Association has been a democratic organization since its beginning. Although Franz Boas initially fought to restrict membership to an exclusive group of 40 "professional anthropologists," the AAA's first president, W. J. McGee, argued successfully for a more inclusive membership embracing all those who expressed an interest in the discipline. Business affairs are now conducted by a 41-member Section Assembly representing each of the association's constituent sections, and a 15-member Executive Board. In Richard B. Woodbury's words, ". . .the AAA has remained the central society for the discipline, addressing with considerable success its increasingly varied interests and speaking for anthropology to other fields, the federal and state governments, and the public."[2]

The AAA decided in 2010 to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan. The change was favored by members who study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights.[3]


The AAA is composed of 38 sections, which are groups organized around identity affiliations or intellectual interests within the discipline of anthropology. Sections each have an elected president or chair; many publish journals and host meetings.[4]


The AAA today publishes over 20 section publications including, among others, American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Anthropology & Education Quarterly and Medical Anthropology Quarterly.[5] The AAA’s official newspaper, Anthropology News,[6] is published bimonthly. It has a circulation of 11,000-12,000, including members and individual and institutional subscribers. Since 1962 the association has published the AAA AnthroGuide, giving staff and program information about anthropology departments. It gradually expanded to include section and association membership directories, information on industry and research firms, government and non-profit agencies and museums, academic statistics and PhDs granted in the discipline. AAA publications are available in print and online through AnthroSource.


Since 1902, the society has held annual meetings. As the society has grown, its meetings have expanded. The 2007 annual meeting had an attendance of 5,500 people with 534 sessions. In successive years, the AAA annual meeting tends to shift between contrasting U.S. regions. The 2007 annual meeting was held in Washington D.C., 2008 in San Francisco, CA; 2009 in Philadelphia, PA, 2010 in New Orleans, LA, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and 2012 again in San Francisco.

Public issues involvement

The AAA supported the passage of the Antiquities Act of 1906, protested the discontinuance of anthropological research in the Philippines (1915), urged the teaching of anthropology in high schools (1927), spoke out for the preservation of archaeological materials when dams were built by the Tennessee Valley Authority (1935), passed a pre-WWII resolution against racism (1938), and expressed the need to “guard against the dangers, and utilize the promise, inherent in the use of atomic energy” (1945).

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the association examined the issues of government-sponsored classified research, use of anthropologists by the military in Vietnam, secret research in Thailand, and the general problem of a code of ethics for anthropological research, particularly for the protection of the rights of those studied. Other issues addressed from the 1970s through the 1980s include illegal antiquities trade, the insertion of religious beliefs into social science texts, the preservation of endangered nonhuman primates, and the religious significance of peyote to Native Americans. In the 1990s, in response to continued public confusion about the meaning of “race,” particularly public misconceptions about race and intelligence, the AAA Executive Board commissioned a position paper on race as a constructed social mechanism.[7] In 2006, the association developed and continues to manage a public education program titled “RACE: Are We So Different?” The program includes a traveling museum exhibit, an interactive website, and educational materials.[8]

In 2004, in response to President constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, the Association issued a statement on marriage and the family. It states:

The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.[9]

The Association also has adopted resolutions against the 2003 invasion of Iraq,[10] against the use of anthropological knowledge as an element for physical or psychological torture,[11] and against any covert or overt U.S. military action against Iran.[12]

Ethical and academic debates

A number of ideologically polarized debates within the discipline of anthropology have prompted the association to conduct investigations. These include the dispute between Derek Freeman and defenders of Margaret Mead and also the controversy over the book Darkness in El Dorado. In the case of the Darkness in El Dorado controversy, Alice Dreger, an historian of medicine and science, and an outsider to the debate, concluded after a year of research that the American Anthropological Association was complicit and irresponsible in helping spread the falsehoods contained in the book, Darkness in El Dorado and not protecting "scholars from baseless and sensationalistic charges".[13]

Immigration policy


On May 22, 2010, the AAA Executive Board issued a resolution that declared Arizona's SB1070, a law which empowers state law enforcement to assist with the enforcement of federal law, to be "unconstitutional." The Board claims it will boycott Arizona, but will not boycott "Indian Reservations" within the state, until the law "is either repealed or struck down as constitutionally invalid." The Board did not state what it will do if the courts uphold SB1070 as constitutionally valid.

The Board stated that "The AAA has a long and rich history of supporting policies that prohibit discrimination based on...national origin..."[14]

Engaging with the military

Vietnam War

In March 1967, during the Vietnam War, the Council of the AAA adopted a "Statement on Problems of Anthropological Research and Ethics" that stated:

...Except in the event of a declaration of war by Congress, academic institutions should not undertake activities or accept contracts in anthropology that are not related to their normal functions of teaching, research, and public service. They should not lend themselves to clandestine activities. ... The international reputation of anthropology has been damaged by the activities of unqualified individuals who have falsely claimed to be anthropologists, or who have pretended to be engaged in anthropological research while in fact pursuing other ends. There is also good reason to believe that some anthropologists have used their professional standing and the names of their academic institutions as cloaks for the collection of intelligence information and for intelligence operations. Academic institutions and individual members of the academic community, including students, should scrupulously avoid both involvement in clandestine intelligence activities and the use of the name of anthropology, or the title of anthropologist, as a cover for intelligence activities.[15]
Human Terrain System

Through 2007 and 2008, debates surrounding anthropologists and the military resurfaced in response to the Pentagon’s Human Terrain System (HTS) project.

Following a number of national news articles on the project, anthropologists began to debate the project and related ethical issues. Proponents of the program argued that anthropologists were providing much-needed cultural knowledge about local populations and helping to decrease violence in their areas of operation. Critics, however, argued that HTS anthropologists could not receive informed consent from their research subjects in a war zone and that information provided by anthropologists might put populations in danger.

To address these issues, the Association's Executive Board released a statement on 31 October 2007. It cites “sufficiently troubling and urgent ethical issues” raised by the project, including the difficulties for HTS anthropologists to receive informed consent without coercion from their research subjects and to uphold their ethical mandate to “do no harm” to those they study.[16] The AAA urged members to adhere to its code of ethics, which outlines principles and guidelines for ethical behavior. However, the association does not adjudicate cases involving charges of unethical behavior or bar members from participating in the HTS program.

In addition, the Association's Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with US Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) issued a final report released during the AAA's 2007 annual meeting, based on over a year of work. It neither endorsed nor condemned anthropological work with military, intelligence and security organizations, but instead outlined the opportunities and challenges of working in these sectors.[17] Opposition to military cooperation was evident during that meeting. Some critics of the HTS program have suggested that scholars who perform classified work with the military be expelled from the organization.[18] During an event organized by the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, a graduate student who had recently been expelled from the HTS program spoke out about her experiences. She argued that the program was poorly run but was doing positive work in helping military officers with "nation-building" activities. .[19]


AnthroSource is the online repository of the journals of the American Anthropological Association. Launched in 2004, it contains current issues for fifteen of the Association's peer-reviewed publications, as well as an archive of the journals, newsletters, and bulletins published by the Association and its member sections. Members of the association receive access to AnthroSource as a benefit of membership, and institutions may receive access via paid subscription.

Until August 2007, AnthroSource was a collaboration between the University of California Press and the Association. It, along with all their journals, has since been removed from the University of California Press by the AAA Board and transferred to Wiley-Blackwell, the new publisher created when John Wiley & Sons purchased Blackwell Publishing in February 2007. Commencing 2008, AnthroSource is to be hosted and managed by Wiley-Blackwell as part of the five-year publishing contract awarded.[20]

In 2013, the Association announced that it would experiment with making Cultural Anthropology an open-access journal; Brad Weiss, the society’s president, said in a statement posted on the group’s Web site, [21] that “Starting with the first issue of 2014, CA will provide worldwide, instant, free (to the user), and permanent access to all of our content (as well as 10 years of our back catalog),” and that “Cultural Anthropology will be the first major, established, high-impact journal in anthropology to offer open access to all of its research” [22]

Primary peer-reviewed journals

  • American Anthropologist
  • American Ethnologist
  • Anthropology & Education Quarterly
  • Anthropology & Humanism
  • Anthropology of Consciousness
  • Anthropology of Work Review
  • Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association
  • Central Issues in Anthropology
  • City & Society
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Culture & Agriculture
  • El Mensajero
  • Ethos
  • Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
  • Journal of Linguistic Anthropology
  • Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe
  • Medical Anthropology Quarterly
  • Museum Anthropology
  • North American Dialogue
  • Nutritional Anthropology
  • PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review
  • Transforming Anthropology
  • Visual Anthropology Review
  • Voices

AAA Presidents

Similar organizations

In 1989, a group of European and American global anthropology or world anthropology.


  1. ^ AAA Articles of Incorporation
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, 1994.
  3. ^ Anthropology a Science? Statement Deepens a Rift, NY Times
  4. ^ "Section List & Links to Websites". American Anthropological Association. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  5. ^ "List of Publications". American Anthropological Association. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  6. ^ Formerly known as Anthropology Newsletter.
  7. ^ “History of the American Anthropological Association.” In American Anthropological Association Leadership Manual
  8. ^ "RACE - Are We So Different? A Project of the American Anthropological Association". American Anthropological Association. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  9. ^ "2004 AAA Statement on Marriage and the Family". American Anthropological Association. 2004. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  10. ^ "2006 AAA Business Meeting Resolution #1: U.S. Occupation of Iraq". American Anthropological Association. 2006. Archived from the original on 21 November 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  11. ^ "2006 AAA Business Meeting Resolution #2: Torture". American Anthropological Association. 2006. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  12. ^ "Statement Against US Military Action in Iran". Public Policy/Advocacy. American Anthropological Association. 30 November 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  13. ^ Dreger, Alice (16 February 2011). "Darkness’s Descent on the American Anthropological Association". Human Nature 22 (3): 225–246.  
  14. ^ Anthropologists Challenge New Arizona Immigration Law. Press Release. American Anthropological Association.
  15. ^ "Statements on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility. Adopted by the Council of the American Anthropological Association; May 1971 (As amended through November 1986)". American Anthropological Association. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  16. ^ "AAA Executive Board Statement on HTS". American Anthropological Association. Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  17. ^ [1].
  18. ^ Questions, Anger and Dissent on Ethics Study Inside Higher Ed
  19. ^ Academics Turn On "Human Terrain" Whistleblower Noah Shachtman,
  20. ^ "Memorandum: AAA/Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Agreement" (Press release). American Anthropological Association. 2007-09-19. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  21. ^ A"AA’s Society for Cultural Anthropology Paves New Way For Anthropological Publishing Program" March 11, 2013 [2]
  22. ^ Jennifer Howard, "American Anthropological Assn. Will Experiment With Open Access " The Chronicle of Higher Education March 11, 2013 [3]


  • "Memorandum: AAA/Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Agreement" (Press release). American Anthropological Association. 2007-09-19. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  • Benthall, Jonathan (February 1989). "AAA Annual Meeting, Phoenix, 1988".  

External links

  • American Anthropological Association
  • RACE: Are We So Different?
  • Register to the Papers of American Anthropological Association, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
  • History of the American Anthropological Associations Annual Meetings
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