The 86th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2017)

Minority Rules: Social Capital, Scientific Obligations, and the Struggle to Decolonize Biological Anthropology


Anthropology, University of Massachusetts Amherst

April 21, 2017 5:00, Riverview 1 Add to calendar

For minority researchers, the role of systemic violence is not merely a part of what we study; it is a part of what we live. The inclusion of underrepresented groups in the field of biological anthropology and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists has led to a shift in our epistemological frameworks and pedagogical approaches, yet the level of engagement and the expectations placed on minority scholars comes with a hidden burden and an unrealistic set of expectations. Biological anthropology has failed when it comes to decolonizing our own practices. Works by minority scholars and our role in theory building are not reflected in the canon of the discipline.

This paper explores these concepts through the lens of violence theory using the repatriation of the 1902 Yaqui massacre victims (n=13) collected that year by Aleš Hrdlička in Sonora, Mexico. Hrdlička, along with his publications and those of the US and Mexican press, normalized the cultural and structural violence being perpetrated against the Yaqui both in the past and present.

The “rules” for minority researchers and academics come with obligations that are bound to the social capital of our positionality. It is not merely the impact ethnicity, culture, and gender have on an individual’s career that is at play. Rather, the onerous burden is that members of disenfranchised groups have to “represent.” This is because minority scholars/teachers know they are often best situated to counter negative stereotypes and to serve as role models, mentors, or cultural translators for disenfranchised groups.