At our recent SLA annual business meeting in Denver, I proposed to the Board and to the membership in attendance that we consider organizing a Spring meeting along the lines of the long-standing and very productive ones of other sections of the American Anthropological Association. Two of our sub-disciplinary “quadrant” (or “quintile”) counterparts, the American Ethnological Society and the Society for Cultural Anthropology, as well as the Society for Psychological Anthropology, have long had either annual or biennial meetings, frequently held jointly with one or more smaller organizations that have collaborated to highlight a thematic focus especially rewarding as a stimulant to cross-subdisciplinary conversations. Many of us have participated in these meetings in past years, particularly when, welcomed by the organizers, we have put together several symposia that showcased linguistic anthropological approaches to the meeting theme, presentations that, in my experience, were always well attended and well received.
In recent years, it has seemed to many of us that the late November or early December annual meetings of the entire AAA, held in cavernous and frequently sterile convention centers designed for meetings of 20,000 and more, have been particularly unconducive to the kind of intense scholarly and professional interaction we cherish in SLA, whatever Association-wide synergies these might foster. Even the flows of participants through and across physical spaces of formal symposium sessions, places for follow-up informal conversations, for catching up over drinks, etc. have become challenged in the context of the hyper-scheduled and spatially distributed scale of the whole. So far as we know, formats like the Denver meeting just concluded (or the San Jose one of a few years back) are the norm of the future.
By contrast, Spring meetings have tended to be at the scale of a couple of hundred people come together for two and perhaps a bit more days, always in an interesting hotel in a generally charming venue. While some events at these meetings have been symposia of the canonical AAA-type, both program committees and other colleagues have, as well, organized interesting and unusual events without the lock-step constraints by which something as huge as the AAA annual meeting has increasingly been enforcing total synchronicity. While part of the day may have parallel sessions, there have always been extraordinary and interesting plenaries undertaken as highlights that elaborate the meeting theme in one or another respect. The scale and venue of these meetings have been such as to encourage encountering new colleagues and catching up with familiars. The organization around current horizons of scholarly interest among the more relevant sub-disciplinary group and the mixed meeting formats have been such as to substantively engage and energize participants beyond what the omnibus Association meeting can hope to do.
The logistics of the AES, SCA, and other spring section meetings have been sustained by an organizing committee supported in all material respects — contracts for meeting hotels; AV contracts; caterers; participant registration and fees; etc. — by the meetings staff of the AAA. There will, thus, have to be some financial investment in the venture borne by our treasury and by members wanting to attend. As a way of initiating Society sponsorship of a spring meeting, the SLA might, in the first instance, wish to arrange a joint sponsorship with another section around a theme of mutual interest, though it would be important not to give up the goal of fostering interaction and conversation among ourselves as well. I would think that spring 2017 would be the earliest time at which we could have such an event, but this would require not only immediate Board and membership approval but also the coming into being of a program committee — either an additional undertaking of the committee that oversees our AAA activities, or the formation of a spring meeting committee (including colleagues with local knowledge of the proposed venue). Even a more likely date of spring 2018 would require early and timely organizational effort.
At the business meeting, President Kroskrity and our other Board colleagues were exceedingly gracious in allowing me precious meeting time to raise this idea, and those colleagues in attendance were agreeably encouraging in a straw poll. Current President Urciuoli has followed up so that some of the parameters of the undertaking have become clearer to the Board. I hope that the Board hears from willing and enthusiastic volunteers that we do have the resolve to move forward on a spring SLA meeting.