President Harrison's Message at the Beginning of 2014
Reflecting on Convergent Transitions: The New Year and Nelson Mandela's Life
The IUAES ends 2013 with a renewed sense of accomplishment and purpose, both intellectually and organizationally. The success of the 17th World Congress in Manchester, U.K. contributed a great deal to this revitalized state of affairs. Another significant factor has been the reorganization of the Union's governance, inaugurating a Council of Commissions, representing the IUAES's intellectual heart, whose elected leaders sit on the Executive Committee; and, most importantly, giving our rank-and- file members a direct voice and vote in deciding the other officers who comprise the Executive Committee. We have set the stage to act with greater confidence and clearer vision as we move our profession and global organization forward into the 21st century.
Some of us may be transitioning from 2013 into the New Year reflecting on the life and death of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), a Nobel Laureate for Peace, South Africa's first democratically- elected President, and the founder of the independent international group of leaders known as The Elders. His contributions to the struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights, and reconciliation have inspired peoples and movements all over the world. Perhaps this is an appropriate moment for anthropologists to contemplate the multiple meanings and impact of Mandela as an agent and symbol of change.
Over the course of his long life, Mandela was an activist, political prisoner, politician, and internationalist. His remarkable life history, situated in its historically-specific context and nexus of contradictions, is of special interest to many anthropologists in view of our discipline's long trajectory of basic and applied research that has illuminated and, in some instances, sought to have a concrete effect on the complex conditions of conflict and post-conflict transition around the world. Anthropological analyses of racial formation, social movements, the public sphere, statecraft, and the effects of globalization and development in everyday life—which, among many other things, is gendered—have expanded and nuanced the knowledge that the social sciences produce. Anthropological perspectives on violence and conflict, conflict resolution, and related policy-making processes can make a meaningful difference in how we understand the world and seek to solve its problems.
Once denounced as a dangerous terrorist and, consequently, imprisoned for twenty-seven years for his leadership in the struggle against apartheid, Mandela is now widely celebrated as a national liberator, statesman, and philanthropist. He is emblematic of the transformation (albeit incomplete and generative of a new era of enduring disparities), that his generation of resistance and reconstruction bequeaths to the world. The challenges and ramifications of this legacy are integral to the domain of social inquiry, analysis and theory that world anthropologies occupy.
With best wishes for the New Year,
Faye V. Harrison