As president of the Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA), I want to welcome you to our new website, which hosts the Society’s open-access journal, Cultural Anthropology; our short-form web publication, Fieldsights; and information about the Society’s many other initiatives, both online and off. The website we are launching today builds on a tradition of digital innovation that extends back over a decade (see Kenner 2014), and it represents a major investment in keeping the Society at the forefront of developments in scholarly communication.
As you begin to explore the site, we hope there’s much that will feel familiar. There are also new features that you’ll notice right away, like a responsive design that affords a better reading experience on mobile devices and a much-improved site search that retrieves both journal and web content at lightning speed. Other enhancements may be less apparent, but address longstanding issues: better security for unpublished web content still undergoing review, or properly sized preview images for social media posts. A dedicated team of graduate students led by our tireless managing editor, Marcel LaFlamme, has worked assiduously to migrate content from the old website. That work will continue in the weeks ahead, so please bear with us as we address the inevitable gaps and glitches that come with an undertaking of this scale.
Today also marks the publication of the first issue of Cultural Anthropology edited by the collective of Brad Weiss, Heather Paxson, and Christopher Nelson. When these three scholars applied to become the next editors of the journal back in 2017, they identified streamlining and modernizing the Society’s publishing infrastructure as a top priority. Our previous website had made a splash when it launched in 2012 but was visibly aging, and when we sought expert advice on whether to upgrade it or go in a different direction, the consensus was clear: use existing platforms and adapt them for the Society’s needs, rather than maintain a custom platform of our own. As the editors note in their introduction to the issue (Weiss, Paxson, and Nelson 2019, 2), “the pendulum of the Society’s publishing program is swinging away from bespoke systems and processes toward new forms of interdependency.” This approach comes with numerous advantages, such as improved interoperability with discovery tools like Google Scholar, but we also want to be transparent about its drawbacks: we will be working within the constraints of the platforms we have selected, while building out further capabilities as resources permit.
The SCA sought to be as consultative as possible in planning for the new site. In the summer of 2018, we worked with user experience consultant John D. Martin III to hold focus groups and conduct our first large-scale survey of readers, which yielded almost 250 responses. The web development firm we hired, Foster Made, then worked closely with the editorial team to translate that input into actual design and development. The generosity of donors to a crowdfunding campaign sponsored by Friends of Cultural Anthropology allowed us to engage the Institute for Human-Centered Design, widely known for its work on accessible design, to help us optimize the website for our readers with disabilities. One important takeaway from this work is that accessibility is not a once-and-for-all achievement but an ongoing project, one to which we are committed as an organization.
Let me close by noting one other small, but significant change: we are introducing this new site as the website of the Society for Cultural Anthropology, rather than that of the journal Cultural Anthropology. This reflects an acknowledgment of the vibrancy of our nonjournal publishing activities and a need to draw intelligible distinctions between the levels of review that different kinds of content undergo. But it also reflects a desire to center the Society as an entity in its own right, as both a locus for the aspirations that many of us have for the discipline of anthropology and a real-world organization resourced in particular ways. If you value content streams like AnthroPod, Hot Spots, and Theorizing the Contemporary—all of which carry costs and none of which yield any revenue—the single most important thing you can do to ensure that we can continue to offer them is to become and stay a member of the Society. We recognize that models of scholarly affiliation are changing as more new PhDs find themselves in underpaid, precarious positions or pursue opportunities outside of academia. Yet even as we seek to reorient the SCA over time to better serve these constituencies, the fact remains that for the moment member dues are what allow us to do what we do. This relaunch marks a renewed commitment on the part of the Society and its board to articulating the value of membership and inviting scholars across career stages and institutional locations to accept a stake in shaping its future.
Kenner, Ali. 2014. “Designing Digital Infrastructure: Four Considerations for Scholarly Publishing Projects.” Cultural Anthropology 29, no. 2: 264–87.
Weiss, Brad, Heather Paxson, and Christopher Nelson. 2019. “Editors’ Introduction.” Cultural Anthropology 34, no. 1: 1–2.