Announcement by EASA’s President, 14/04/2020
In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, EASA takes the biennial online.
Until the Covid-19 emergency arrived, the EASA2020 conference scheduled to be held in Lisbon on July 20-24 was set to be one of the biggest events the Association had ever organized. Everyone involved - the Lisbon local organizing committee, EASA’s Scientific Committee and NomadIT, have worked tirelessly to ensure that EASA2020 Lisboa would be a truly outstanding celebration, marking 30 years of the Association. It was particularly important for EASA that the event was to be held in Portugal, in which EASA’s first conference was held thirty years ago, in Coimbra.
In addition to all the work of the organizers, planners and designers, there was also the work of all the participants: the panel organizers, the paper contributors, the network convenors, lab organizers and special events organizers. It has been an enormous undertaking.
And yet. As the tragedy of the Covid-19 emergency unfolded, the likelihood of being able to hold this conference as planned became smaller with every passing day. The current emergency is not only about the illness, but also the devastation that it is bringing in its wake: large scale unemployment, the beginnings of a severe recession in many countries, and the sheer disruption to everyone’s lives in social, economic and emotional terms. Even if the worst moments of the disease pass within a few months, the effects on everything else will continue for a long time.
So, we now know it will not be possible to hold the conference as planned. The EASA Executive consulted with both the Local Committee and NomadIT to work through all the possible solutions. The options were:
- Cancellation was the least favourite option: four years is too long a gap between EASA conferences, particularly for early career scholars and others who need to present their work in high-level international conferences; it would mean EASA would fail to mark its 30th anniversary; and given the amount of work already done, it would be an enormous waste of time and resources. Surely, we can do better than that.
- Postponement was initially the strongest preference, given the importance of the 30-year anniversary, as well as the importance of a face-to-face event, with the mingling, networking and catching up with old friends that it provides. Unfortunately, it became increasingly obvious that this was unlikely to be a viable option. We could not hold a postponed event before late spring or early summer 2021 in Lisbon. Yet 2021 is already crowded with postponed events because of the Covid-19 emergency, and those events are already pressurising the conferences that were anyway planned for 2021. In addition, postponement by a year would disrupt the biennial planning of EASA events for 2022, and it would cause difficulties for other anthropological associations in Europe which deliberately plan their events to avoid years in which EASA holds its conferences.
- Going online. We are fully aware of the limitations of this option: we know that for many participants, the opportunity to interact directly with colleagues, as well as the sheer enjoyment of visiting somewhere like Lisbon, is a major reason for participating. We are also acutely aware of the amount of work that the Lisbon local committee put into organizing this event. Yet these are exceptional times, and we are where we are. For that reason, we have been intensely researching the possibilities of taking the conference online.
- Going online with additional small scale events in Lisbon in 2021. This option would take the entire conference online, but also plan to hold a small number of additional one-day events to be held in Lisbon during the course of 2021, in collaboration with EASA networks and the conference local committee. This option would mean that we could keep the original dates for the conference by going online, but we could also provide a few small face to face events to be held in Lisbon at a later date. The shortcoming here is that we do not currently have the time to fully plan these additional events, so we could not specify their details. Yet it seemed to the local committee and the Executive to be a good idea in principle.
Decision: EASA2020 will go fully online with some small in-person events to be held in Lisbon during 2021
It has therefore been decided by the EASA Executive Committee, with the full support of the Lisbon Local Committee and NomadIT, that the EASA2020 Lisbon Conference will be held as an online event on the same dates as originally planned: 20-24 July 2020. Some additional small-scale events, working with EASA networks and the Lisbon local committee, will be held in Lisbon during the course of 2021.
If there was any way we could deliver the conference in Lisbon that we had planned, we would do so. We still strongly believe that conferences in which people meet in person are a crucial part of intellectual engagement (as anthropologists, we could hardly think otherwise). This is an exceptional solution to an exceptional situation.
To carry out an online conference will be a new and somewhat daunting undertaking for the organizers and planners. We will not attempt to copy or replace a physical conference, for that is not possible. Instead, we will work to make the best use of the capacities of digital technologies in order to deliver a different kind of conference experience that will provide a collective space for both intellectual and social engagement. NomadIT, the conference organisers, will be in contact with all panelists in the week ahead to discuss participation, the proposed platform and format(s), etc.
Looking on the positive side of this difficult situation
Given the exceptional conditions that have led us to make this decision, there are a few positive aspects:
Lower costs for the delegates. Obviously, the fee for an online conference will be significantly lower than the fees for a physical conference, since the costs are lower. In addition, there are no travel or accommodation costs. The lack of travel means that we are causing less harm to the climate. This issue is an important one that EASA will wish to address in future, and we may learn some lessons from this year’s experience.
Different options for engagement. Presentations, events or talks could be recorded and made available before, during and/or after the event; moving from one conference ‘room’ to another will be easier; setting up private online meetings with colleagues, friends or co-panelists will be possible; dipping in and out will be possible.
The chance to continue to intellectually engage in a year of multiple cancellations and postponements. Most of us will have experienced a dramatic drop in intellectual engagement with colleagues, and will have received multiple notifications of cancellations and postponements of events. EASA, the biggest anthropological association in Europe, takes its role in providing a strong and lively research environment through its biennial conference very seriously.
This will be a unique 30-year anniversary, and not the one we were planning. But we are going to try to make it as good an experience as we possibly can. We warmly hope that you will join us.
Sarah Green, President of EASA
On behalf of the EASA Executive