Much has been written about collaboration as a desired form of united labor where individuals or groups work together with equality, shared authority, and respectful discourse. Indeed, this journal is a testament to how much anthropology as a scholarly endeavor has been, is, and can continue to be a form of intellectual and social work not undertaken by a lone maverick thinking great thoughts. As important as personal insight or intuition is to the world of ideas, a profession is a social world involving changing suites of individuals and institutions who work in societies that support their esoteric endeavors by providing specialized information deemed important. Anthropology as a form of labor is a profession based on the accumulation of knowledge about peoples of the world over time, critiqued through peer review by other scholars and the peoples with whom we work and about whom we write. The continuously active status of our evidence and information about our subject matter makes anthropology a distinctive scholarly undertaking.
Indeed, as Catherine Nichols demonstrates in the first paper in this special section of Collaborative Anthropologies, museum anthropology has always been collaborative in its basic practices. It had to be if it was to be a distinctive, encyclopedic discipline where practitioners from different places could “speak the same language” through the collaborative sharing of distinctive artifacts and evidentially based classifications. Through social networks of individuals and institutions, anthropologists collaborated with local educational institutions to disseminate anthropology’s methods and demonstrate that it had professional [End Page 25] value for the general society as well. This was often through the distribution of evidence in the form of “duplicate” artifacts, an under-studied topic in the history of anthropology, which solidified shared values and goals. Like the other authors who look at past practices, Nichols offers models for future collaborative endeavors demonstrating that these need not be solely based on a postcolonialism agenda. They can be based on extensive past disciplinary practices, which need to be recognized and reconsidered. We just need to remember what were the best practices and adapt them in light of historic events and contemporary contexts.
The collaborative and cumulative nature of anthropological knowledge and evidence means that anthropology as a form of social work carries ethical responsibilities one could argue are not present in sciences like physics, optics, or chemistry, or humanistic fields like philosophy, music, and creative writing. I have taught graduate-level research design, grant writing, ethics, and qualitative methodology courses at the University of Arizona for twenty-four years. Every semester on the first day of class I tell my students that when we are conducting a research project, we are guests of a community. Before we start the research project we are about to become guests. After finishing the data collection phase we are guests who say thank-you as we return to our homes. Too many people think “collaboration” ends as their daily lives take over and they are no longer involved in face-to-face interactions with the people from whom they collected information. But collaboration continues, as Sam Cook and Jeffrey Anderson demonstrate so eloquently in their papers. As conscientious, if now distant, visitants we must periodically reengage our guest status during analysis, write-up, and dissemination as well as make sure that copies (or the originals) of data-bearing materials are returned to the community for their use in the future. We hold the histories of research communities in our field notes (Silverman and Parezo 1995); we must not hoard this information. I tell my students that when I work on a project with a community I always assume I will return in the future and either continue new projects or adopt a revised role as a helper and friend in some manner. I will become what the Native Americans in my department call “allies.” Every research project should involve a tacit commitment to “good guest” status for longer than the life of a specific research project. But this is not always possible or easy when people are shifting into and out [End Page 26] of projects, into roles as active or inactive researchers, or when—as fellow anthropologists...