December 8, 2015
For the first time in its 28-year history, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) presented its Anthropology in the Media award (AIME) to a blogger.
West Chester University anthropologist Paul Stoller has lectured and written about a medley of subjects from cancer to American politics to ageism to sorcery in his 35 years at WCU. He's often focused his anthropologist's eye on these topics in public ways, such as Huffington Post, where his blog entries are sought after by readers for his sharp insights. Stoller has also been featured on numerous NPR programs and on the National Geographic Television Network.
That public persona and discourse earned him the AIME award. He accepted it at the AAA annual meeting in November in Denver, Colo., where more than 6,000 anthropologists discussed such pressing issues as public health, racial tension, the Middle East, social change and climate change.
The award, he explains, "recognizes how my blogging for HuffPo has brought an anthropological perspective to public discussions about American politics, higher education, social science, African social life, and health and well-being. … [It] also recognizes my efforts to reach a broad audience through my books."
Interestingly, Stoller's first book, In Sorcery's Shadow: A Memoir of Apprenticeship Among The Songhay of Niger (co-authored with Cheryl Olkes) was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1987, the same year the AIME award was established.
His most recent book was released in October: Climbing the Mountain: The Companion for Your Cancer Journey (Meyer & Meyer Sport), which he co-wrote with his brother, Mitchell Stoller, who is Executive Director at the American Association for Cancer Research Foundation in Philadelphia.
Despite the professional recognition that includes a Guggenheim, Stoller considers mentoring both junior colleagues and his students his most significant achievements.
"When [junior colleagues'] projects are realized and they are able to move forward on their paths that, to me, counts as a significant achievement. But my greatest achievement is the development of the anthropological sensibilities of my students. When they present a paper or a poster at professional meetings and when they move on to graduate study, when they become anthropologists in their own right -- that brings the greatest satisfaction."
Stoller believes anthropology anchors public debate with "a ground-level perspective. … Anthropologists have firsthand experience of the struggles of everyday life both here and in other parts of the world. Such a perspective is crucial to confronting, understanding and finding solutions to the most pressing problems of our time: terrorism, racism and climate change. … The given anthropological perspective goes beyond sound byte commentary. It can make a major contribution to public debate."
This spring, Stoller will serve in a Hallsworth Visiting Professorship at the University of Manchester (in the U.K.). He was nominated by Andrew Irving, director of the University of Manchester's Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology, and notes, "Dr. Irving and I have worked together to stress the disciplinary importance of visual anthropology and documentary cinema for the 21st-century communication of culture."
For six weeks beginning in mid-April, Stoller will organize three workshops at Manchester: one for grad students in visual anthropology, one for doctoral students in anthropology, and one for his colleagues that will focus on anthropological blogging. He will also deliver a public lecture on "The Burden of Writing the Sorcerer's Burden: Ethnography, Fiction and the Future of Anthropological Expression."