Updating the AAS membership dues structure has been a project long in the making. While changes to dues often means increasing them, I have worked with the AAS Executive Director and Board of Directors to revise our dues structure with attention paid to our membership goals, namely:
Increasing access for contingent scholars (broadly conceived)
Expanding engagement with scholars based in Asia
Encouraging membership outside of the United States and Europe
Improving equity within the membership structure
To those ends, we have retained regular memberships indexed to income, added new membership categories, and altered dues for some existing income tiers. In the end, dues for approximately 80% of the membership will either decrease or remain the same. We expect that with our new dues structure, membership with AAS will be more attractive to individuals committed to Asian studies wherever they might live and work, and at any stage of their career.
AAS Membership Dues Structure, Effective June 15, 2022
Gross Annual Income
Rate changes are set in bold in the table above
New Membership: Non-OECD Membership
Since joining AAS, expanding membership in AAS outside of the United States and Europe has been a goal I share with the AAS Board of Directors, Secretariat, and much of the membership. Thus far, AAS has not offered a membership dues rate for scholars living in economically disadvantaged countries or based at financially precarious organizations.
The Non-OECD Membership rate is available to scholars residing in non-OECD countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This membership rate will require administrative approval. Individuals interested in this rate will submit documentation that attests to their employment with, enrollment at, or affiliation with an organization in a non-OECD country (a country that does not appear on this list of OECD members).
Multi-Year Memberships for Students
We are pleased to announce the introduction of multi-year student memberships. In the past few months, I have learned how engaged our student members are with AAS programs and AAS as a whole. In recognition of that consistent engagement, students will be able to purchase multi-year memberships so that they do not have to renew their membership every year. We ask that students purchasing a multiyear membership change to a regular membership upon completion of their degree.
Lowering Regular Membership Dues for Most Members
Through an examination of our membership data, we discovered that our members tend to be clustered in the bottom two tiers (student and under $15,000) and top two tiers ($76,000-$99,999 & $100,000+). As a result, less than 15% of members fell into the $16,000-$30,999 and $31,000-45,999 tiers. In looking at membership dues as a percent of gross annual income, the dues in the tiers between $16,000/year and $45,999/year were considerably more burdensome than their counterparts for higher incomes. Moreover, our members living and working in Asia were over-represented in these tiers.
To ensure that there is financial equity within our dues structure, we will be lowering the four lowest income-correlated rates:
Increased Membership Dues for Top Earners
Starting on June 15, we will create new tiers at the top end of our dues structure. About 15% of AAS members earn more than $100,000. At this level in the previous dues structure, the percent of gross annual income was about half as much as for individuals in the Under $15,999 category. Rather than just a single rate for individuals making more than $100,000 per year, there will be three tiers:
New Category: Retired Memberships
One of the most consistent questions I have received from AAS members seeking to renew is whether we have a rate for retirees. While we have a retired registration rate for AAS Annual Conference, we have not had a retired rate for memberships. We are pleased to introduce a two-tiered retired membership rate, for individuals with annual retirement benefits above and below $100,000.
Increased Dues for Associate Memberships
We will be increasing the cost of Associate Membership to the same level as student memberships. Student rates were set with the understanding that these individuals were on a limited income for a fixed period. Dues for Associate Memberships follow the same logic, and we could not justify that they were considerably cheaper than the memberships available to students.
Lifetime Membership Installments
Members will now have the option of paying for a lifetime membership in two installments. Half of the lifetime membership will be due in the first purchase and the remainder will be due the following year. Individuals will still be able to pay for the entire lifetime membership at once.
With the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Kabul at the end of August and the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Afghanistan has recently received a great deal of attention in the wider news media. In that context, our new Membership Manager, Bill Warner, reached out to AAS member Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, professor of history at James Madison University, to discuss the history of Afghanistan, its connections to Asian Studies, patterns in the field, and more.
The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
H William Warner (HWW): To put recent events in a little bit of personal context, the United States invaded Afghanistan in my senior year of high school and only recently pulled out all troops. U.S. engagement in Afghanistan has loomed over my entire adult life and, thereby, informed my experiences in, study of, and research on South Asia. But you’re from a generation before me. What influenced your study of Afghanistan and South Asia together?
Shah Mahmoud Hanifi (SMH): While my connection to Afghanistan is personal or familial, intellectually I approached the study of Afghanistan from the west, that is the Middle East, particularly Iran. I went to the University of Michigan and intended to do research on the origins of the Abdali/Durrani polity via the 18th century Persianate World ruler Nadir Shah. My advisor, Juan Cole, whose own work looked at the connections between the Middle East and South Asia via Shi’ism, had recently arrived in Ann Arbor as well. But, the first Gulf War knocked out a chance to work in archives and libraries in Iraq and it was really dissertation research funding situation that led me to South Asia.
To make a long story short, there was funding opportunities for travel to and research in India and Pakistan available to students interested in interregional connections. So, instead of pursuing Afghan state formation from the west, that is, Persian and Arabic materials, I wrote my first book on the 19th century imperial influence on Afghanistan from the South Asia perspective using British colonial records.
Right when I finished, 9/11 happened. So, it’s kind of an inversion of my situation to yours in the sense that I lived my whole life in the Afghan diaspora and was literally just finishing my thesis on 9/11.
HWW: What are some of the ways that the U.S. military presence after 2001 changed the study of Afghanistan and, maybe indirectly, Afghanistan’s place in Asian Studies, more generally?
SMH: 9/11 amplified the Islamic component as global Islamic terrorism became the operative discursive frame of reference. There has been an expansion of studying Islamic politics through terrorism and security studies. It brought Afghanistan further into the political science and international relations fields, and intelligence analysis studies as an undergraduate course of study is something of an institutional artifact of a very militarized concern with Afghanistan.
At the same time, research into Islamic history—even the intellectual roots of the Taliban—highlighted multi-regional connections within South Asia specifically and Asia generally. In this way, the last 20 years have helped to, if there is a benefit here, really open up a window on the wide geographic range of mobility patterns across Asia that Afghans and Afghanistan are parts of. So, there’s been sort of two contradictory academic and intellectual strands since 9/11. First there is the militarized and securitized perspective occupying the dominant discursive but there is a second, less visible but arguably more consequential expansion in colonial studies and medieval and early modern historical studies of Afghanistan, largely but not exclusively explored through lens of Persianate cultural history.
HWW: Building on the last thought, Afghanistan geographically overlaps with various areas studies regions: the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia. This often seems in contradiction to how divided the region is in terms of contemporary nation-states.
SMH: Earlier in my teaching career, I wish I could have said, “forget borders as our primary frames of reference.” Because, what happens when you remove the borders is you recognize that different parts of this thing called Afghanistan are connected and disconnected in different ways. And the various regions comprising Afghanistan all have extraterritorial connections. I think for understanding the deeper historical patterns and power processes related to Afghanistan, we need to sort of lift the lid off, forget those borders, but of course it’s a very difficult move to abandon these primary frames of reference.
HWW: With the U.S. withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, there have been discussions in the media about other regional forces, say China or Russia, “entering” or engaging with or becoming a new player in Afghanistan. Are these connections to Afghanistan really new?
SMH: Well, if we sort of step back a couple millennia, Buddhism connected the geographic spaces of Afghanistan and China. In the Islamic era, the horse becomes particularly important not just as an animal, but as a shared cultural technology across the Middle East, Central Asia, East Asia, and South Asia. In the contemporary period, migrations, particularly of Uzbek communities, have had a profound impact, culturally, economically and politically. The Soviet experience in Afghanistan starting in 1979 involved not just Russian soldiers, but also a numerically more significant number of Central Asian soldiers. And that continues. The shall-we-say northern wing of the Taliban are hugely influenced by Islamist parties in or from Central Asia. And if we put the Caucuses and Chechens in this this mix of Central Asian ingredients affecting Afghanistan, these broadly northerly connections remain very alive and well up until the very present.
HWW: In many respects, cities are portrayed as being the hubs of these interregional connections. Before the U.S. departure, news outlets reported daily on the “fall” of various cities—Kunduz, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar—to the Taliban. At the same time, demographically, Afghanistan is heavily tilted toward rural areas.
SMH: Yes, Afghanistan is preponderantly a rural place. So, the word “fall” implies some sort of destruction or violence. On the ground, these were largely bloodless takeovers.
More importantly, the phrasing belies the biases of where imperial projections of power were ensconced: in these urban areas. The impact of the last 20 years is most obviously seen in the city of Kabul, which really morphed and mutated out of its own skin, not just culturally but demographically and environmentally. I think the estimates revolve around about 500,000 residents in 2001 (which is a quite contested number and, in my view, high). Now, I hear 5 million people live in Kabul. Five hundred thousand to five million. Beyond that, it has become one the most polluted cities in the world. And, Kabul and Afghanistan are simply running out of water.
In the rural zone, the Afghan state, and cities by extension, have been seen as extractive entities. Becoming legible for a state often means taxation, conscription, and surveillance. Strategic ruralism attenuate bureaucratic and surveillance connections between the capital and the rural zone.
HWW: Related to the urban-rural divide is the sense that Afghanistan is a theater for studying state-tribe relations, both historically and in the current ascent of the Taliban.
SMH: And that is, first of all, understandable given the literature. Before 9/11, primarily anthropologists worked on Afghanistan and tribe-state dynamics were a big part of Middle Eastern anthropology, in particular in studies of Muslim tribal communities. Historians primarily work on states. And while I think the customary viewing of issues in Afghanistan through the prism of tribes-state relations reflects an interdisciplinary dialogue between anthropology and history, it is important to note the framing of Afghanistan’s history as a tribe-state conflict reflects the enduring influence of a colonial epistemology that continues to anchor most historical, cultural, and political analyses of the country.
HWW: Recently, there have been some in the foreign policy world that have described the Taliban as a modern manifestation of the ways in which tribes were able to overcome the state.
SMH: And so in this reading, if the Taliban are “a tribe,” is Ashraf Ghani “the state”? I don’t think so. I think there’s a discursive bias at play here, which is the colonial understanding of a tribe as an isolated, self-contained, viciously defensive entity against other so-called tribes or the state, which are also hermetically sealed. But that’s not the reality of Afghan tribalism, which is predicated on mobility, connectivity, and openness. If we look closely at the literature of Muslim tribes, these are in many ways tremendously open, externally oriented entities. As an example, there’s constant intermarriage between tribes, and also between tribes and the “state” or royal court. So, if we want to explore the dynamics of tribalism, we may want to explore tensions or relationships within the Taliban: the tension and cooperation between Durranis and Ghilzais in the Taliban; the tensions and cooperation between the Quetta Shura and the Peshawari crowd in the Taliban.
HWW: I wonder if the focus on state-tribe conflict is a product of viewing Afghanistan through the prism of war.
SMH: Early in my career, I tried very hard to write around the wars. Now, I don’t know if “war” is the right word to be using or avoiding. Take for example, the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42): was that really a war as war is conventionally understood? To me, it looks less like a war and more of an occupation that was devoid of sustained warfare. The Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80): here we can point to some episodes of violence, and it was certainly marketed as a war. But is it accurate or even helpful to say that all of Afghanistan was affected [by] two years of war in this instance? Not directly, at least, it seems to me. The Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919) is least war-like of them all. There are some border skirmishes and casualties. Mostly, though, it’s about a single airplane raid. It’s not like all Afghans always unified against the British, because there have always been Afghans who serve as local collaborators for them and other invasive imperial powers.
The Soviet War now maybe this looks more like war with larger scales of violence, new technologies, battles such as the battle for Jalalabad.
The American presence looks initially like an imperial punishment exercise designed as a supremely violent object lesson for unruly Muslims that led to a longer-term cultural conversion attempt described as counter-insurgency or nation-building, followed by a quick abandonment and retrospectives predicated on selective facts to shield the full truth of this catastrophically coercive escapade from the American public-at-large.
HWW: Nevertheless, these episodes in Afghan history have been turnings points, but I suspect not in the ways most people think.
SMH: War provides an opportunity for knowledge production. A lot of data gets produced during war and those who study Afghanistan can’t avoid the literature and data on these ‘wars’, but must be careful not to adopt the perspective of the so-called combatants. It’s really a one-sided story that gets circulated insofar as there are few Afghans voices in the ‘history of war in Afghanistan.’ To be clear, there are some but a proportionately very small number of local histories on the Afghan literary side of these encounters. There’s oral memory, but the point is an overall asymmetry in how wars get recorded and memorialized by the combatants and the masses of largely anonymous local victims of these wars.
Regarding legacy of war, I’m concerned about and working on the environmental impact of war. The most recent wars have been environmentally catastrophic with, for example, the Soviet use of napalm in the forests of eastern Afghanistan, such as Paktiya in particular. War has substantially deforested Afghanistan. The American experience has involved a tremendous threat in the form of the previously mentioned pollution in Kabul, but also the much greater threat to Afghanistan’s water supply through long-term, extensive use of depleted uranium-laced munitions, which is absolutely devastating for long-term habitability.
HWW: This approach to the study of war resonates with emerging conversations about the legacy of war elsewhere.
SMH: The environmental dimension of war connects directly to communities outside of Afghanistan. In the United States, there is constant reference to toxins and pollutants at and around military bases, active and inactive, involving such issues as radiation poisoning in New Mexico and forever chemicals in Chesapeake Bay. The environmental pollution resulting from military activities—whether in the United States or from the burn pits in Afghanistan—is immense and long-lasting. So, while armed conflict generates immediate violence and casualties, war as a whole creates additional waves of slow environmental violence. This is a primary legacy of war in Afghanistan that remains largely underdiscussed.