Review of the HAU affair 2011-2017


On June 16 2019, the Code of Conduct Working Group (Chandana Mathur, Agathe Mora, Antonio Maria Pusceddu and Cris Shore) set up by Valeria Siniscalchi, the former President of EASA, wrote to the EASA Executive Committee with recommendations of possible Terms of Reference for a HAU Review that the Exec had previously agreed we should pursue.

These recommendations were circulated to the Executive Committee, which briefly discussed them on June 18th 2019 in an online Executive Committee meeting. We then put up a discussion document online, so Exec members could add their comments. That process was completed on July 4th 2019.

This document is the result of bringing these documents and discussions together, and describes the rationale for carrying out the review. The full Terms of Reference will be made available once the review panel has been appointed.

12/11/19 - PLEASE NOTE: this account of EASA’s decision to initiate a Review of HAU did not provide the full background context. To avoid any misinterpretation, a fuller account of the background and clearer description of the background is provided here .

1. Background to the review

The ‘HAU affair’ has been described as anthropology’s ‘#MeToo’ moment and a wake-up call to the discipline. It has raised allegations of bullying and harassment, the abuse of power and a perceived reluctance on the part of those in authority to deal seriously with problems being reported by junior colleagues, either because of an institutional culture of fear and intimidation or because of a lack of adequate mechanisms within the discipline to address such complaints.​

In this context, and at the end of November 2018, six members of EASA sent a letter to the then President of EASA, Valeria Siniscalchi, to request a review of what had occurred at HAU. The reasoning in this letter was twofold. First, that many people who were badly affected by what had occurred at HAU had not yet had an opportunity to speak to an independent body, and that this silence was having continuing negative effects, both on them personally and on the reputation of anthropology more widely. And second, that the controversy had raised a number of issues about the structural conditions that might have contributed towards allowing the working conditions at HAU to both arise and persist, and that lessons needed to be learned about that for the future.

Given that no independent review of what happened at HAU had been conducted, and that the new editorial and management team at HAU had stated that nothing which occurred before 1 January 2018 would be considered anymore, the letter from the six members asked EASA to step in and carry out a review.

The Executive Committee then instructed the Code of Conduct Working Group, which was set up following an AGM decision in the last EASA conference in Stockholm in 2018, to consider whether such a review should be carried out by EASA. Following a positive response to this question from the working group, the new EASA Executive Committee, which took over from the old board in February 2019, requested that the Code of Conduct Working Group should now provide recommendations for terms of reference of such as review, and to submit these recommendations by June 2019 for the Executive Committee to consider.

The Working Group recommended that the main “aim of this review … is to open up a space for people to speak and be heard on all sides of the debate -- not only those who have made accusations -- with the broader objective of learning lessons and identifying positive ways forward.” The EASA Executive Committee agreed with this recommendation, and has worked with the more detailed suggestions of the working group in developing the terms of reference. This document, minus the detailed terms of reference, is the combined result.

2. Rationale for EASA to conduct the review

EASA is bound by its constitution, which states that EASA’s primary objectives are:

“to promote education and research in social anthropology by improving understanding of world societies and encouraging professional communication and cooperation between anthropologists, especially in Europe.”

In pursuit of that aim, the constitution provides EASA with the following power:

“7.3 To promote best practice among social anthropologists.”

Further, section 15.6 empowers the Trustees of EASA (that is, its Executive Committee, for they are all Trustees)

“to establish committees of the Trustees for the discharge of the business of the Association and to decide on the composition of such committees.”

In combination, this means that EASA’s main task is to promote social anthropology in general and to promote best practice amongst anthropologists, and EASA’s Trustees are empowered to set up a committee to pursue that task.

Within this framework, the EASA Executive Committee has supported the setting up of a review panel to consider what happened at HAU between 2011 and 2017 in pursuit of EASA’s objectives as outlined above.

The rationale is that the controversy at HAU has been damaging to social anthropology as a whole, and to date, the issue is unresolved, is still causing damage and no processes have been put in place to resolve the issues that arose during the controversy. In particular, the allegations made about what occurred at HAU suggest that serious lessons need to be learned about how to prevent bad practice and to promote best practice among social anthropologists.

In addition, EASA has been taking a lead on work to investigate academic precarity in recent years; there are elements of what many have reported occurred at HAU that are clearly related to that issue, and providing a means to understand the HAU case through an independent review will assist in EASA’s work in that area.

That rationale means that this review needs to be framed primarily towards finding ways to learn lessons from this affair and to work towards developing recommendations for how to prevent such occurrences in future, as well as serving the members who have requested that their voices need to be heard, and that more needs to be done to address this issue at an institutional level within anthropology.

3. How it could be done: general principles

There are two issues that EASA must address in carrying out this task. First, EASA has no investigative or legal power over issues such as the HAU controversy. The answer to this is that this legal element is not the main point of the review: it is not the legality or otherwise of the reported harm that was done at HAU which the members of EASA who requested the review were most concerned about. Rather, it was the silence surrounding the issue, the failure of those in senior positions to act, and the implications that this has for social, structural and moral conditions within anthropology that were the key concerns. Those are not primarily legal issues. That is the reason that this matter is a legitimate concern for EASA: as the biggest representative of anthropology in Europe, EASA has a responsibility to try to both learn from this affair, and to try to repair the damage done to anthropology, as a discipline.

It is crucial for all to understand that this is not a legal process: it is an attempt to both give voice to those who have felt unable to speak thus far, and to find ways of moving forward so that the failures identified through this affair can be collectively addressed.

EASA’s approach in carrying out this task is to provide an independent review process combined with a social and moral, rather than legalistic, approach, with the aim of working towards finding a means by which anthropology can begin to clean up its own house.

The second issue EASA has to deal with is the inevitable perception of bias that this review will generate. To attempt to avoid this, no member of the Executive will participate in the work of the review, except as witnesses who give statements in the same way as all other witnesses will do so. In addition, the members of the review committee will not have had any prior involvement in, nor have made any public comments upon, the HAU issue. This may mean that at least some members of the review committee will not be anthropologists.

Finally, it is difficult to overstate the importance of trying to get this right. If, as anthropologists, we fail to confront this issue and address it properly, it will continue to build up into a chronic and bigger problem for anthropology than the HAU affair. The loss of trust in anthropology as a discipline that this is engendering is serious, as are the weaknesses identified in how the discipline has addressed the issue thus far. These issues need to be confronted urgently.