Why the 2024 AAA (American Anthropological Association) Conference in Florida MUST Take Place

Irma McClaurin
6 min readFeb 16, 2024
Photo collage by Irma McClaurin and Photo credits: Top L-R: Die-in at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Photo by Aries Dela Cruz; Women’s Reproductive Right, Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash and Bottom R-L: Protestors in Hong Kong, Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash and Trans Rights Protest in London, Soho, Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash .

Co-authored with Susan Hyatt, PhD

There has been much discussion about boycotting the 2024 AAA Conference because it will be held in Florida, now known as DeSantis land.

We contend, however, there are few safe spaces left anywhere in this country — anti-Blackness, anti-immigration, anti-indigenous, anti-trans and homophobic sentiments and actions, including the passage of frighteningly hostile legislation, are now rampant across the American social and political landscape This is not even to mention the number of states that have enacted laws that are seriously compromising women’s reproductive health. There are very few states remaining where many of us who fall into any of these categories and others can truly feel “safe”.

So, is the solution to pack up our marbles and go to a place that on the surface may seem “safer” for some groups, but that is actually unsafe for others?

The theme of this year’s conference is “Praxis: The Application/s of Anthropology in the Present and the Future.” In light of such a theme, which states “We aim for Praxis…to serve as an organizing principle for contemplating applications of anthropology, responding to systemic injustice, and reimagining our discipline now and in the future,” isn’t it our responsibility as activists and applied anthropologists to disrupt and challenge structural inequality and oppression and exclusion, wherever we may find them?

For decades, many anthropologists have deliberately chosen to work in politically oppressive settings, out of a commitment to using our methodologies, especially ethnography, to shed light on the untenable circumstances that marginalized people living in such regimes face. Is this particular set of political circumstances that much different?

The sites for AAA meetings are selected many years in advance of these events. Contracts are signed, arrangements are made. This year’s AAA will be the first to take place under the leadership of our new AAA President, Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste, a Black woman. Do we not want to support her in having a successful conference during the first year of her tenure?

It stands to reason that Florida’s Governor DeSantis could give a hill of beans about the AAA’s absence or presence. Compared to most corporate conventions, the impact that the AAA conference will make on Florida’s — or Tampa’s — economy is relatively minimal.

Indeed, he might even welcome our absence since the AAA’s membership embodies the kind of diversity and representation he abhors!

But pragmatically, the Floridians who will suffer are not the statewide politicians and idealogues; they are Tampa’s service workers, many of whom are immigrants, women, and people of color. They are the ones whom we will encounter face-to-face in our hotels and restaurants, and they are the ones who count on events like this for their economic survival.

And what of our anthropology colleagues who teach in Florida institutions and live under DeSantis’ political thumb? We spoke to many of them at this past year’s AAA in Toronto and they, and other residents of nearby states in the south, are counting on us for our solidarity.

If we hold our conferences only in places that we regard as politically more palatable — basically coastal cities or Canada — we make these meetings much less affordable and accessible for our colleagues who live in the growing number of states that are enforcing new laws governing what we teach and how we live.

And, let’s remember that the one time an AAA conference was cancelled and shifted to another location was in 2004, when the event was moved to Atlanta because of a hotel strike in supposedly progressive San Francisco. Also, don’t forget the chaos at the 2018 meeting in San Jose because of a hotel strike (in addition to the rampant wildfires, which prevented many people from attending due to health concerns). And, while we were at the 2011 conference in Montreal, right down the road, 1,700 support staff at Magill University had been on strike since the previous September, fighting for better wages and working conditions. Many of us walked by these picket lines daily on the way to the convention center where our conference was (and some of us joined the protest in solidarity).

Our point is that there is no place that is politically “pure” or truly “safe.” Need we remind you that if Trump is elected in November, right before the meetings, we will face multiple challenges wherever we go.

Future AAA meetings are already scheduled for New Orleans, and St. Louis, in states that are also experiencing sharp turns to the right.

We do, however, take very seriously people’s concerns about their physical safety, and this is an issue we must address. First, while we do not want to create a carceral environment at the conference, we do want to set up systems to support one another, and to protect those groups who are most vulnerable in this situation. We should begin these conversations now.

For example, can we organize some kind of solidarity or affinity groups, where people can make sure they always have people around them who will have their backs? What other ideas can we come up with? We are living in parlous times for many people. As anthropologists, we should be able to use our knowledge about life in authoritarian settings to devise some creative ways to help ensure one another’s safety. Of course, everyone must decide for themselves whether or not to take these risks, and we respect those who decide that they cannot come to Florida at this time.

Second, this is an opportunity for genuine grassroots organizing on issues that many of us have been committed to for years in our work. We need to reach out to our Florida colleagues as soon as possible to find out what initiatives they are already engaged in and what we can do to support their efforts.

Also, the AAA should ask all journalists to register and display their press credentials at all times; that way, we will know who is legitimately providing press coverage, and who is not.

We believe that the AAA should be bold and hold a press conference soon, letting DeSantis know that he cannot control our freedom of speech or our professional marketplace of ideas.

Furthermore, we should extend complimentary day passes to any Florida schoolteacher in Tampa who wants to attend the conference and hear our exchanges.

We want nothing more than for the AAA to show up in full force and send a powerful message to DeSantis, and other states that are trying to shut down diversity, equity and inclusion, that the AAA will not be intimidated, and we will not be silenced!

We don’t know about you, but we plan to invade Tampa, Florida to support the AAA and to put into action the values it stands for — notwithstanding its flaws — and in support of our Florida anthropology colleagues, and the leadership of Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste as our AAA President.

Indeed, we plan to show up and show out that these two, albeit retired, activist anthropologists will not be intimidated.

We ask that all sections vote to publicly support the current location for the 2024 AAA Annual Meeting and show up in Florida to send a powerful message to the state’s Governor, and beyond.

We hope to see you in Tampa — give us a shoutout.

© Irma McClaurin and Susan Hyatt

Irma McClaurin is a born-again activist anthropologist, editor of Black Feminist Anthropology, and founder of the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive at UMass Amherst.

Susan Hyatt is a retired anthropology professor at Indiana University Indianapolis and a former community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s. She continues to be active teaching in prisons and with the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program

Both McClaurin and Hyatt are alumnae of both Grinnell College and the PhD Anthropology Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. They reconnected recently on a visit to their alma mater, Grinnell College



Irma McClaurin

Award-winning author/ anthropologist/consultant & past prez of Shaw U. Forthcoming: JUSTSPEAK: Race, Culture & Politics in America: https://linktr.ee/dr.irma