Preprint / Version 1

Open Anthro Vol 4-3 Anthropology in an Election Year



Open Anthropology, Anthropology, politics, cultural politics, elections


Anthropology in an Election Year
The Editors’ Note: Anthropology in an Election Year

Sallie Han, Department of Anthropology, SUNY Oneonta

Jason Antrosio, Department of Anthropology, Hartwick College

To the list of reasons why the 2016 presidential contest in the United States has been especially notable and newsworthy, we might add the number of superlatives surrounding it. Headlines refer to the two leading contenders—Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump—as the “least trusted” and “most unfavorable candidates ever”. Despite the unpopularity of the candidates, the 2016 election itself has been described as “the most important of our lives” and indeed “ever”—or at least “since 1932”. (For more on this particular claim, see also this and this.) It is predicted that 2016 will be the “most expensive election” in history. Although historians suggest that it might not, in fact, be the longest and bitterest campaign in the U.S., clinical psychologists reported seeing unprecedented levels of “stress and anxiety” associated with this election in their clients. In sum, the 2016 presidential contest is already being characterized as the worst election, ever. Or, if you are on Twitter, it is the #WorstElectionEver.

The discontent, frustration, anger, and worry—and also the hope, optimism, and resolve—on display in the 2016 election are not unique to it or to the electoral politics of the U.S. Indeed, in all of the places where anthropologists pursue their studies, they have been bearing witness to citizens and voters expressing their concerns and criticisms about the qualities of their elected leaders, the legitimacy of the processes that bring parties into power, the responsibilities and rights of the electorate itself in addition to broader and deeper questions about the nature of democracy—or of democracies. As Julia Paley noted in her 2002 Annual Review of Anthropology article, “Toward an Anthropology of Democracy,” the grounding of anthropologists in the ethnographic method and “their relationships with people outside of formal and elite political institutions, and their attention to alternative worldviews have led them to look beyond official political transitions to the local meanings, circulating discourses, multiple contestations, and changing forms of powering accompanying the installation of new political regimes” (470).


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