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Serving as a AAA Session Discussant

Updated: Sep 19, 2019

By Elizabeth Briody, Cultural Keys

I was asked to be a discussant on a 2018 session called “Theorizing the Anthropology of Business” that was organized by Timothy Malefyt and chaired by Brian Moeran. I accepted and didn't think too much about it until I started getting the papers.

Then, I started sweating... profusely!


Theory has never been my strong suit. Give me a field situation or data to analyze -- that I can do. But theory? Well, that is orders of magnitude more difficult for me.

So, what did I do? Well, I sat down and read the papers. That didn't help much because they appeared to be all over the map. Then I read the session abstract. That did help, thankfully! Next, I buckled down and for two nights did nothing but re-read, take notes, synthesize, analyze, and prepare some remarks. The upshot: I came up with some ideas. I summarized the individual papers, pointed out what I found to be useful and helpful, and raised some questions based on each presenter's work. I had no sense a priori how the presenters would react; I also felt I was taking a significant risk on theoretical topics about which I knew little. But, when my discussant time was over, I found that the presenters and the audience were quite supportive of my efforts.

The moral of the story: achieving a positive outcome sometimes involves taking risks. But in taking those risks, you get to stretch intellectually, you get to build upon your own base of knowledge, and if you are lucky as I was, you end up demonstrating to yourself that maybe it wasn't such a bad decision after all accept the challenge --

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