Career Spotlight is a series of interviews with anthropologists who are members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to share insights, knowledge, and expertise about career opportunities, growth, and development.
Dr. Amanda Concha-Holmes is an applied visual and ecological anthropologist, Director of I.R.I.E. Center (Innovative Research and Intercultural Education), and a Courtesy Affiliate Associate Lecturer with CAME (Center for Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship) out of the College of the Arts at the University of Florida. Her research for the past decade focuses on decolonizing representations of African descendants and humaNature relationships in the Americas predominantly through embodied forms of knowledge production, collective learning, and digital, art-based academic and healing endeavors. Employing poetic interventions through digital media to document underrepresented people and places is integral to her research, publications, teaching, and local programming. She calls this theoretical and methodological intervention evocative ethnography, which is an academic-artistic-healing endeavor that she has pioneered aimed at bringing feminist, decolonial ways of knowing the world to the fore. Her work has been published in flagship journals like Cultural Anthropology, Transforming Anthropology and Visual Anthropology Review. You can review Dr. Concha-Holmes's website here.
1. What made you decide to choose anthropology as a career path, and specifically your specialty?
I am an applied visual and ecological anthropologist. I chose anthropology because of its all-encompassing and interdisciplinary core. My specialty allows me to travel globally as well as interpret local realities right where I live through an artistic lens that is community-based.
2. What does a typical workday look like for you in your chosen career?
I have breakfast with my six-year-old son and bring him to school. If he needs a bit of extra time, I stay with him until he feels secure. Then, I come home and work on the computer from my home office that overlooks bamboo and oak trees listening to an orchestra of backyard birds, squirrels and crickets until I need to pick him up.
My work day entails a lot of writing of grant proposals to fund my work, e.g., NEH-Mellon Digital Publication Fellowship, Florida Humanities Broadcasting Hope, UF Humanities and the Public Sphere, NEH Public Humanities. It also consists of emails and Zoom calls to direct and manage the grant programming with various teams to accomplish the work we’ve been funded to do or hope to get funded to do. These online communications include organizing meetings with scholars, administrators, students, and community members, developing programming for community workshops, creating podcasts around underrepresented stories with our local media station, and creating exhibitions on Decolonizing the Curriculum: Evoking the Complexity of Black Lives in Florida at the Harn Museum of Art, the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, and the Matheson History Museum. It also includes working with scholars, artists and entrepreneurs to translate these undertold stories into multimedia formats that are accessible to a wide audience. All of my research, workshops, teaching, exhibitions, and publications are guided by evocative ethnography, which is a theoretical and methodological intervention inspired by feminists of color applied to the politics and poetics of representing place, multispecies entanglements, and marginalized bodies and knowledges. Based on this work, I craft multimodal manuscripts that integrate digital humanities, art, and scholarship that evoke underrepresented voices and translate them into meaningful and accessible experiences via digital humanities products. Currently, I am working on two multimodal books that will be published by AFRO-PWW (Publishing Without Walls) - a Mellon Initiative collaborating with the Illinois Open Publishing Network (IOPN) led by Dr. Ron Bailey and Dr. marilyn thomas-houston.
I spend most of my late afternoons, evenings, and weekends with my son and family. I do get to do work I am passionate about, which hopefully makes a difference in the world. I don't get paid much; I live off of accruing debt. I do have a lot of freedom with my time commitments and am able to experience a lot of joy. I have encountered a lot of discrimination at the university, which makes earning a living and feeling valued for my work very difficult.
3. What is a piece of advice you would share with job seekers or offer a new anthropologist just beginning their career?
My path is probably not the best one, so I don't feel qualified to offer advice. I wish our institutional structures and social systems could shift so that women professionals (and all people) who value their families and work-life balance can excel professionally and get paid a right livelihood. Instead, many of us face a lot of structural discrimination, which further limits our abilities to perform and make a living, nonetheless excel. If careers could include work flexibility with living wages, women and therein their families and our society would benefit. My advice, then, would be to help change the system so that workplace norms can include flexibility, gender equality, and respect for multiple paths of knowledge production.
4. Is there a unique short story about how you landed in your current career or path?
I wanted to prioritize being a new mom and allow myself and my child to have that intimate and time intensive connection while continuing my path as an anthropologist. So, I started writing and obtaining grants to fund my ideas and projects and do the work not as a formal, tenure-track faculty member but as courtesy faculty. I received a Creative Catalyst award for Decolonizing Representations: Past, Present and Future and with the incredible support of the office managers Ms. Karen Jones and Ms. Pat King, I was allowed to run it through the Anthropology department. I also started my own organization that I created as an academic-artist-entrepreneur called IRIE Center (Innovative Research and Intercultural Education). This ability to create innovative solutions was fomented by my self-directed education at New College: the Honors College of Florida, which the state is now trying to destroy. Choosing this path of freedom of time rather than income security, allowed me to take care of my own mom who was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer and given six-weeks to live. Thankfully with chemotherapy, she was able to share time with us for another several months. At home, she died in the same room in which my son had been born.
5. What do you consider one of your career successes? How did you achieve it?
I have been awarded grants from Wenner-Gren, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Florida Humanities as well as several university grants to accomplish my work. Wenner-Gren awarded me a Postdoctoral Fellowship for research on the Silver River, NEH-Mellon awarded me a Digital Publication Fellowship for a forthcoming multimodal book I'm crafting called Evoking Silver River: Being, Belonging and Becoming, and Florida Humanities granted me and my colleague at our local media station WUFT, Mr. Ryan Vasquez, a Broadcasting Hope grant to Decolonize Representations by Evoking the Complexity of Black Experiences in Florida through Afrofuturism. Please check out these websites that include archival repositories, open educational resources, and exhibitions that Webarthosting helped to create: decolonizingrepresentations.com, amandala.org, evokingsilverriver.com, and the Decolonizing the Curriculum series that we created with WUFT. The last episode, "Unsung Heroes of Alachua County," we created with a local high school's African American Studies class using the Samuel Proctor Oral History Programs's Joel Buchanan African American Oral History Archives. With the help of freelance animation artist Ms. Kandice Rodgriquez, some of these crucial stories are being translated into animations that I am hoping to broadcast on public media channels and translate into video games. I would love help realizing this vision. If you would like to collaborate, contact me!
I achieved these successes by going to AAA conferences and attending the workshops on grant writing including with Wenner-Gren where I was able to meet the people and ask questions face-to-face. Under the astute leadership of Dr. Sophia Acord, the University of Florida Center for the Humanities and Public Sphere offered a program to give feedback on grant proposals that was critical to the finessing of my proposal submissions. NEH and Florida Humanities also support conversations about projects before the submission deadline to offer their guidance, so I communicate with the grants people about my ideas by email and phone. I relish the feedback I receive so I can continue to improve. Additionally, I truly appreciate the ability to craft a team of collaborators with each grant I write, including scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. I am currently writing an NEH Public Humanities grant bringing together public and charter schools, university scholars, artists, libraries, museums, and community organizations to craft community discussions about decolonizing representations and collaboratively producing digital humanities products to better interpret underrepresented stories of Florida, which is a hub of international migration, art, and entrepreneurship.
6. What do you consider a challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges I have faced is the discrimination I have faced. Contingent faculty and courtesy appointees do not have organizations or unions that can support them with university aid or advice in times of need. Since more and more university jobs are adjunct, contingent and non-tenure track, we must think about how to support contingent and courtesy faculty so they don't endure undue discrimination. Please see my AAA poem Renegade Anthropologist Am I (2020) for just a few of many examples that I experienced. I have created my own organizations to accomplish the work in the world that I am called to do as an artist-scholar-entrepreneur!
7. Where would you like to see your career path going next?
Consistent and plentiful income to do the work I do in and for the world and be able to pay the scholars, artists, collaborators and consultants that work with me. Therein we can feel valued as professionals and continue to do this important and innovative work. Also, this would allow me to pay my bills without using credit cards to survive. I want to continue to offer workshops that are embodied and integrate the arts to cultivate community while excavating marginalized stories to translate them into accessible digital humanities products for the media, curricula, and community conversations. I would like the model I am crafting of working with schools, local media stations, university scholars, local entrepreneurs, and community leaders to expand so the underrepresented stories that need to be told have a platform of lived experience, historical accuracy, and artistic flare that can be nationally and internationally broadcast.
8. What membership benefits offered by the American Anthropological Association have helped you in your career?
AAA has benefited me in my career by offering me access to journals, workshops on grant writing with organizations like Wenner-Gren, and publishing in highly-indexed peer reviewed journals such as Cultural Anthropology, Transforming Anthropology and Visual Anthropology Review. Importantly, AAA has helped me in establishing a network of professional peers that support panel presentations, publications, and peer reviewers of my work. AAA meetings have also allowed me to help my students engage with research and presentations using evocative ethnography like when I worked with an undergraduate student from New College to present the paper Engaged, Evocative Ethnography to Document the Unacknowledged Black Pioneers of Immokalee, Florida in 2012 or in 2021 when I guided six graduate students from the University of Miami to present their evocative ethnography multimedia interpretations of the Silver River in 2021 at the online conference held by the Anthropology of Consciousness.
9. What impact has the American Anthropological Association had in shaping your career?
AAA has helped shape my career by expanding the notion of anthropological presentations to go beyond textual analyses and include artistic methods that are meaningful. For example, in 2018, I offered an interpretive dance for the roundtable Outsider Within, 10 Years Later: Celebrating the Important Interventions of Faye V. Harrison. Dr. Harrison’s book and her mentorship have shaped my disciplinary praxis and ethical sensibilities promoting a politically engaged orientation to anthropological research that decenters western, often linear and hierarchical, epistemologies of ethnographic authority, inquiry and presentation-style. This democratizing of knowledge production that is collaborative, publicly engaged, and artistic has been central to my scholarship and professional practice. AAA’s support of alternative formats has allowed me to develop this skill of translating ideas into artistic presentations. For example, I was able to offer movement workshops like the one I did with Dr. Elizabeth Chin on Contact Improvisation to Interpret Being, Belonging and Becoming Transnationally in 2019 and poetry like the poem I offered for Renegade Women in Anthropology at the End of the World called Renegade Anthropologist am I: a Poem in 2020 that detailed some of the experiences of discrimination I encountered at the university as a courtesy faculty. AAA has also supported spaces like the one that the Society for Cultural Anthropology cosponsored with the Society for Visual Anthropology in 2018 that was incredibly innovative—for its precovid time—as an entirely online conference. This format allowed for an international participation of people who did not have to travel. As a new mom with little funds, this was the only way I could present my work. So, I co-organized a panel, which comprised five researchers in four locations: Florida, Washington, California, and New Zealand who research somatic communication through dance with the Institute for the Study of Somatic Communication (ISSC), a collaboration Dr. Nita Little and I created. This institute explores the porous and subjective notions of skin-based models of boundaries of self and interrogates notions of displacement, emplacement, and place-making that highlight the nonverbal communication of fascia and relational webs of bodies in motion. I presented a documentary video I made over one-year of research with weekly collaborations. It integrates photography, drawings, moving images, and sound files along with some spoken word to immerse the viewer viscerally into the explorations of ensemble contact improvisation as a pedagogical movement in somatic communication that can better understand multiple senses and multiple selves. The video is called Mimesis, Alterity and an Expanded Notion of Self.
The Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA) at AAA helped in guiding my career through offering mentorship opportunities with more senior anthropologists like Dr. John Jackson who reviewed a paper I had written coupled with a video on Osain when I was in graduate school. ABA has also offered intriguing gestures of nonlinear scholarship in the academy like the rich poetic anthropological expressions of Dr. Gina Athena Ulysse that have been impactful. Dr. marilyn thomas-houston, also with ABA, has illuminated my ability to convey rich knowledge systems through digital media practices that currently guide my multimodal work. To offer peer-reviewed publication platforms for these multimodal knowledge productions, Dr. thomas-houston co-directs AFRO-PWW with Dr. Ronald Bailey and co-founded the journal called Fire!!!: The Multimedia Journal of Black Studies. I thrive on these formats that go beyond solely the written word, which allow me to create alternative epistemological spaces of sharing and collaboratively learning that are accessible to anthropology scholars and far beyond.
10. Is there a particular area of anthropology you enjoy working with, such as public, private, or non-governmental sectors? Why?
I am currently working with the Alachua County Public School system so that education of the complexity of underrepresented voices can be integral to the curriculum. I created a nongovernmental organization called SAAADHI (Sankofa African American Arts and Digital Humanities Initiative) with the help of Assistant Director Ms. Kiara Thompson that brings African American Studies high school students to the University of Florida to connect with the African American history of the campus including the Institute of Black Culture, the George A. Smathers Library archives that houses the burned Zora Neale Hurston papers, the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program that houses the digital Joel Buchanan African American Oral History archives, the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, the African American Studies Program, and the Multicultural Center at the Reitz Union. With the help of Webarthosting, we are creating an interactive map that allows for a campus tour of African American landmarks whether you are on or off campus. The high school student tours have also included Dr. Carjie Scott, the director of the Education Equalizer as well as classes with dance professor Ms. Rujeko Dumbetshena and African American Studies professors Dr. David Canton and Dr. Courtney Moore Taylor. Additionally, the tours have included working directly with WUFT at the College of Journalism and Digital Worlds in the College of the Arts so high school students get first-hand experience in podcasting and digital production skills. With funds from Alachua County Public Schools and an award from CAME (Center for Arts, Migrations and Entrepreneurship), we have created a multimedia and podcast studio for the students so they can continue to learn to tell their stories and the stories they deem valuable in ways that are resonant with them using expressive arts and digital humanities. The goal of this collaborative intervention is to create a stream of Black scholars and artists into higher education and empower students to become successful entrepreneurs. In this way, my work contributes to designing a more democratic future for Florida and the world.
Learn more about AAA and its members.