Oral History Project

We have undertaken an Oral History Project to feature veteran members of the SEA and their comments about how the SEA has impacted them and how it has evolved since our beginnings in 1980. Read about our history through these profiles!

Scott CookScott Cook
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of Connecticut
On SEA: Like Sutti Ortiz and Paul Durrenberger, and at the behest of Hal Schneider and Ed LeClair, I participated in the 1979/80 initial organizing meeting of the SEA in Bloomington, Indiana; and was a member of the original board. Born as it was in the heyday of the formalist-substantivst controversy, the society ostensibly provided a forum for serious discussion and personal interaction. I admit to having been a reluctant supporter of Schneider’s initiative but decided that it might provide an opportunity for clarification and resolution of fundamental concepts and issues in the field through focused discourse. Over the years the SEA has arguably had modest success along these lines, not so much through clarification and resolution as by displacement, reorientation, innovation and, yes, reinvention. In retrospect, the SEA has been heroic in attempting to integrate a disparate array of partially compatible disciplinary perspectives, each of which is engaged in knowledge production about an ever-shifting and complexifying reality. This is a daunting and, perhaps, a utopian task.
On economic anthropology: My career in the field of economic anthropology has convinced me that it is less successful as an interdisciplinary project than as an ethnographic one. The mainstream of knowledge production in the field best proceeds through the practice of ethnography, with minimal and selective theoretical infusions from the wider interdisciplinary field of economic discourse.

Jean Ensminger
Edie and Lew Wasserman Professor of Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology; SEA President 1996-97.
On SEA:
The SEA is a nurturing environment for young scholars and a good networking venue. It is a place to meet senior people and to develop long lasting relationships with colleagues with similar interests. The value of SEA’s smaller meeting format is the attention that is paid to peoples’ work.
On Economic Anthropology:
In the past there may have been fewer perspectives in the field, but the positions were hard fought. Today, economic anthropology is more inter-disciplinary and diverse.

Deborah Winslow,
Program Director, Cultural Anthropology, National Science Foundation. Former SEA book editor.
On the SEA:
My first SEA meeting was in 1984 during the early days of the organization. I was encouraged to attend by my doctoral advisor. The small size of the meeting and the organization enables you to get to know people, and having a topical theme for the annual meeting accompanied by a publication is a valuable approach. The volumes are tangible evidence of what the organization has achieved over the years; she uses the volumes at the NSF—people often borrow them from her.
On economic anthropology:
Given current world issues, economic anthropology is increasingly relevant. The fields of interest in economic anthropology have become increasingly diverse over time.

Richard Wilk,
Provost Professor of Anthropology
Affiliate, Center for Archaeology in the Public Interest
Faculty Associate, Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT); SEA President 2001-03.
On the SEA:
I went to my first SEA conference as a graduate student and was impressed with the discussion at the conference and the presence of senior people who were willing to talk with students. I have an archeology background, so I appreciated the cross-disciplinarity found at SEA. There is a value in the academic community created by SEA– the AAA is too big– the SEA is “my village”; an intellectual and social community where you can feel connected—it makes a difference to have a peer group and the advantages of networking with colleagues.
On economic anthropology:
In the past there were some strong debates among economic anthropologists and between cultural anthropologists and archeologists. Today there seems to be less tension.

Sutti Ortiz, Ph.D.
Associate Professor Emerita of Anthropology, College of Arts & Sciences Boston University
Dr Ortiz, a former President of SEA, was a founding member of the organization. She also participated in the initial small group meeting of several economic anthropologists who met in 1979/1980 to discuss the formation of SEA. She remembers that Dr. Harold Schneider, who organized the small group meeting and would become the first president of SEA, did not desire the organization to be driven by a particular theoretical approach but to instead serve as a forum to bring economic anthropologists together. The first SEA Conference was held in the spring of 1981, with participants who would span different significant approaches and themes. Dr. Ortiz edited the proceedings from the first SEA conference.

E. Paul Durrenberger, Ph.D.
 Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Penn State University
Dr. Durrenberger has been involved with SEA since its inception, as he attended the initial organizing meeting in 1979/1980 at the University of Indiana, which was called by Dr. Harold Schneider. He believes that SEA formed from a desire to move forward from the substantive/formalist debate in order to refocus upon ethnography as well as from a desire to have an organization in which economic
anthropologists and others with similar research interests could learn about each other’s work and keep in touch with one another.

Dolores Koenig, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Anthropology, American University

Dr. Koenig has been involved with SEA since attending its first conference meeting in the spring of 1981. She most recently served as volume editor for SEA, a role in which she guided the publication of at least six SEA volumes. She views the continued growth and development of the SEA volumes as a success for SEA. She also values the important role of SEA in providing a context for people interested in economic anthropology issues to dialogue with one another. Such dialogue is facilitated by the format of the annual conference, which allows time for and promotes discussion among session participants and attendees. She looks forward to seeing an increased visibility for SEA in its future.

Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Anthropology
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Dr. Colloredo-Mansfeld, a recent former president of SEA, joined SEA in 1999 when he was recruited to be a candidate for the Board of Directors of SEA by long time SEA members, Dr. Michael Chibnik and Dr. Arthur D. Murphy. While not a part of the early history of SEA, Dr. Colloredo-Mansfeld speculates that SEA formed out the aftermath of the formalist and substantivist debate and that the founders were actors within the debate. Dr. Colloredo-Mansfeld has a strong desire to see continued growth for SEA, including its collaboration with other anthropology organizations who share closely related interests and an expansion of SEA’s institutional voice into various economic anthropology issues.

Patricia A. McAnany, Ph.D.
Kenan Eminent Professor, Department of Anthropology University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Dr. McAnany, a recent former president of SEA, joined SEA as a newly minted Ph.D. graduate when she was invited by Dr. Sutti Ortiz to give a paper in about 1990. Some of the most memorable experiences she has of SEA involve her recollections as a young Ph.D. graduate of being able to talk with senior scholars, such as Dr. Timothy Earle and Dr. Elizabeth Brumfield about the field of economic anthropology. Dr. McAnany believes that SEA remains an excellent forum for discussion of economic anthropology and sees the potential of SEA to become a real “go to” organization for economic anthropology issues.