Eric Canin, SWAA President

Eric Canin

California State University, Fullerton
Department of Anthropology

SWAA President 2013–2014

Message from the SWAA President

Hello members of the SWAA community. The winter holidays are upon us, and it’s time to start thinking about the spring SWAA conference.

As mentioned in SWAA’s June Newsletter, our 85th Annual Conference will be held in southern California at the Hyatt Regency Orange Country, April 24–26, 2014. The Hyatt is located in the ‘belly of the mouse,’ that is, adjacent to Disneyland in Garden Grove. Mark your calendars. Bring yourselves, bring kids of all ages, come one and all! We will be looking for discounts for local theme parks. Can you imagine an ethnographic expedition into Disney’s Adventureland? Whatever ends up happening, VP Hilarie Kelly and I are working hard to make this a great, and unique, conference experience.

We are honored to have as our Distinguished Speaker Dr. Leo Chavez (UC Irvine). Dr. Chavez is renowned for his work on transnational migration, and is author of Shadowed Lives: Undocumented Immigrants in American Society.

This year’s theme is ‘Imagineering the Present: Technology and Creativity.’ Here, the portmanteau ‘imagineering’ evokes the blending of engineering and the imagination, of cultural production and cultural creativity. How have technical know-how and the creative imagination together produced the modern world? How are they redefining what it means to be human? How do migrants use technologies to live transnational lives? What innovative technologies are anthropologists now using in their research? Following on last year’s theme of ‘work and play,’ how has entertainment become such serious business? We believe that the theme leaves open many interesting possibilities that you can pursue using your own research. We encourage participation from anthropologists in all fields, be they cultural, archaeological, biological, linguistic, or applied. We encourage participation from independent scholars, and faculty and students from community colleges, state colleges and universities.

The theme will also reflect our conference location, both in a global and local sense. The Disney entertainment empire is beyond dispute one of the leading forces in global cultural production. The creative work of the Walt Disney Company in animation and theme parks has often been admired, such as by no less than the great Soviet filmmaker Serge Eisenstein. It has also been reviled, as in Armand Mattelart’s Marxist treatise How to Read Donald Duck. Jean Baudrillard makes the postmodern and ironic case for ‘hyperreality,’ that Disneyland IS the real America, and perhaps is becoming the world: a Disney-themed housing development is currently underway outside of Delhi, India’s capital, with Disney’s corporate approval. Our 2014 SWAA Conference theme leaves room to explore the creative imagination and the process of cultural production in all corners of society and the globe and to question the motives, deployment, and uses to which the creative imagination has been put. It is significant that the process of global cultural homogenization is sometimes referred to as Disneyfication.

Disney is a global player, but also a force in the local community of Orange County. In order to keep the tourists coming to the theme park, the exterior of Disneyland must be as sanitized and orderly and fun as the interior. This contradicts the reality that neighboring cities of Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana are home to large immigrant populations and experience the usual urban social ills of crime, gangs, and drugs. Recent shootings of unarmed Latino youth by the police have provoked a grassroots movement led by mothers of the shooting victims, a precedent found in the context of Latin American dictatorships. Is police violence an unfortunate but inevitable aberration or a policy of social control devised to placate the local economy’s main contributor, as several local activists and journalists argue? Is “imagineering” a dangerous tool of Orwellian obfuscation when not subjected to critical review and analysis?

Reflection on Disney opens up many possibilities for paper, poster, and film topics. However, while Disney is ‘good to think,’ and you are welcome to write about it, this is not a conference about the entertainment corporation. We welcome all contributions concerned with cultural creativity and cultural production. We welcome contributions on how cultural production is used, deployed and manipulated for other ends, be they political or economic. We welcome contributions on immigrant communities and grassroots movements as they navigate between social control and social anarchy, between police and thieves, to echo an old reggae song by Junior Murvin. We welcome your fascinating and valuable contribution whether or not it relates directly to the 2014 theme.

See the Call for Papers. We will start accepting submissions January 1, 2014. Start thinking of a paper, poster, film, panel or organized session. Let us see a whirlwind of creative energy! I look forward to your ideas and to seeing you in April 2014.