06 July 2017

An Anthropologist In Situ Part II: A Business Accreditation Conference

I (Jenn) have recently been reflecting on the ways in which we can bring anthropological knowledge into non-traditional anthropological places - particularly, during conference season. First, I spoke about anthropological ethical standards in engineering classrooms and more recently, when I showcased lessons on intercultural competency during group work at an engineering conference. Just this past week, I attended a conference about accrediting our business program (within the Engineering faculty) and was struck by one unique practice of identifying other conference participants.

When one arrives at this conference, we're given your standard name badge. Like other conferences, the name of the individual (without title) is given and, in smaller font, their university's name. At anthropological conferences like the AAA or CASCA, conference-goers have seen their first name printed in bigger font than any other information in recent years, perhaps to create a more equitable approach rather than singling out or emphasizing those individuals who have risen to anthropological fame (henceforth called the anthro-glitterati ™ anthro everywhere!). This practice of identification and labeling fits into symbolic anthropology where anthropologists study "the way(s in which) people understand their surroundings, as well as the actions and utterances of the other members of their society" (Hudson et al. 2009).

Hudson et al. (2009) describe Victor Turner's perspective of symbolic anthropology where symbols help dictate and allow others to discern and interact with one another. "Turner felt that these "operators," by their arrangement and context, produce "social transformations" which tie the people in a society to the society's norms, resolve conflict, and aid in changing the status of the actors" (Ortner 1983:131).

Jenn's conference name
tag & basic ribbons
It was in this light that I understood the use of ribbons or badges at my most recent conference. As will be further described below, these ribbons allow conference-goers to discern their connection and placement of other conference-goers not only through individuals' and university names but also through the practice of attaching ribbons.

For example, I was told by a helpful and experienced conference-goer that I needed to identify my accreditation region (so that others would know which region I came from) as well as my own or my university's accreditation level (where they stood in their accreditation process, i.e. candidate, accredited, re-affirmation, etc.). You'll see from my badge I'm a first time conference-goer.

Further, if you held a position within the organization, there was a badge for that too, including evaluator, chair elect, etc.

The ribbon station (photo below) was clearly marked in one of the main halls of the conference and included many ribbons:

Ribbon Table

Ribbon choices
In addition to the ribbons describing your rank and geographic category, there were 'silly' ribbons, for example, my ("I heart bacon" and "totes magotes") ribbons:

Jenn's badge with the
addition of 'silly' ribbons

"Are you showing your ACBSP pride today? This attendee certainly is."
From my four day experience of this conference, I noticed that this practice of collecting and displaying silly ribbons was a mechanism to identify and distinguishing oneself from others and was often used as a talking piece either face-to-face or online. Here are three screen shots from the conference's twitter feed:

Tweet from Conference-Goer
#ACBSP2017 Twitter feed:
"Badges - High Impact Practice
I'm hearing about everywhere."

This last photo I took was of two participants who told me that ribbon collecting was tradition at the conference and the longer the chain, the better.

Conference attendees display their ribbons
Thus, as an anthropologist in situ, these identity making practices show a moment in time where individuals are able to identify and distinguish themselves among other conference goers and, I would argue, find new collectivity in the practice of ribbon gathering and displaying.

Quick links and further reading: