Policy: SMA Takes A Stand


Anthropologists are well poised to support advocacy efforts to protect and promote the rights of all people to survive and thrive, and to challenge systemic oppression and other structural barriers to health.

Institutions and advocates can use policy statements and reviews endorsed by the SMA to help promote public conversations about health and health care, and to bring anthropological insights to health policy.

The SMA’s “Takes A Stand” initiative encourages medical anthropologists to collaborate on policy-related reviews and statements. We welcome reviews and statements on a variety of topics and from all sectors and approaches within the field. We especially encourage work that addresses:

  • medicalized oppression, including medical racism and apartheid;

  • decolonizing methods in medical anthropology and allied health fields;

  • how racial capitalism shapes pandemic risk/privatized vaccine production and access;

  • climate change and environmental health justice;

  • antiracist initiatives in health education & training;

  • improving responses to the national/global opioid crisis;

  • health impacts of mass displacement/migration;

  • responding to health impacts of global austerity policies and practices.

The “Takes A Stand” initiative currently features TWO OPTIONS for collective reviews and statements that demonstrate medical anthropology’s relevance to policy:

  1. The “Policy Statement” enables SMA members to create a concise policy statement for use by organizations, governments and key decision-makers. A “PS” document takes a position in a policy discussion or debate, and makes policy recommendations drawn from perspectives and expertise in the field of medical anthropology. This option enables anthropologists to enhance the public impact of their ongoing work, especially within institutions that would benefit from accessible policy guidance. A PS document endorsed by the SMA can be broadly circulated as representing the SMA’s position.

  1. The “Policy Relevant Review” involves a more in-depth process of compiling research and resources to provide a broad overview of anthropological scholarship designed to inform policymaking. A “PRR” document provides a list of scholarly resources for social scientists and the general public to consider when deciding whether to take a stand or conduct further research on the issue. This option enables anthropologists to collaboratively enrich public understanding of contemporary global health challenges. Organizing an AAA conference panel can be an ideal launching point for developing a “PRR”—and these reviews can result in greater visibility through publications and other dissemination methods.


See below for a more detailed overview of the “PS” and “PRR” options, as well as more information about the “Takes A Stand” process.

View previous policy statements here.

“Takes A Stand” (TAS) Initiatives:

Guidelines and Procedures

The “Policy Statement” (PS) and “Policy Relevant Review” (PRR) mechanisms are separate processes. However, a PRR process may lead to participants initiating a PS if they conclude that a public SMA policy recommendation on a specific issue is warranted. A PS process may also be initiated on its own.

Both the PRR and PS processes can be initiated by an individual SMA Special Interest Group (SIG), a Temporary Interest Group (TIGs) or ad-hoc group self-organized by SMA members to respond to a policy-relevant issue, or the SMA Board.

I. Policy Statement

With a target length of around 1250 words, the PS mechanism enables SMA official policy to emerge from the work and policy formulation of committees or groups affiliated with the SMA.

PS include policy recommendations for public dissemination, and are intended to promote greater public awareness of the SMA’s stance or position on key policy issues.

The TAS Policy Statement (PS) Process

  • A SIG, TIG or the SMA Board identifies an issue for which an SMA policy statement can substantially enhance public debate and discussion;

  • An ad-hoc volunteer committee (derived from the Board, the SIG or TIG) is formed to lead development of the PS process through subsequent steps;

  • The committee produces a draft PS for circulation among SIG, TIG or Board members, for comment and revision. If produced by a SIG or TIG, the PS should be submitted through the interest group leadership;

  • The SMA Policy committee reviews the completed PS and manages its presentation of the draft to the full Board for a vote. The document must be approved by the SMA Board through a simple majority vote in a timely fashion. If approved by the Board, SMA will post or circulate the document for comments from the membership at large for at least two weeks. Authors can choose to make revisions to the PS, based on this feedback process. Once a final version is ready, the PS is then presented to the full SMA membership for an online vote. The PS must be approved by a two-thirds majority of votes cast to become an official PS of the SMA.

  • If a PS is approved, its authors will coordinate with the SMA policy committee and communications committee to disseminate the PS through relevant channels appropriate to the policy topic. This may include development of press releases, outreach to popular press venues, outreach to policymakers, or other public sites. The PS will also be posted on the SMA website.

  • The PS can also be published on the MAQ or other suitable journal’s website. MAQ maintains the right of first refusal to publish any TAS PS.

  • In some instances, an approved PS may be presented to the AAA Committee on Public Policy to be considered for adoption as an approved AAA policy statement.

II. Policy Relevant Review (PRR)

The PRR mechanism is intended to consolidate anthropological knowledge on important public policy issues relating to health and society, providing an overview of knowledge and resources for use by social scientists and the broader public. A PRR can be produced for five specific purposes:

  • To raise consciousness and inform SMA membership about high profile public policy health issues, using communication forums to foster dialogue and circulate balanced, authoritative working papers on policy issues;

  • To identify anthropologists with expertise in the key health-related areas;

  • To identify high-priority gaps in research warranting attention by anthropologists working in relevant settings;

  • To provide anthropologists with substantial supporting documents (developed through a process of critical assessment by experts in the field), that may be published in peer-reviewed journals as policy reviews and reflections, to inform grant applications, advocacy efforts, and teaching on topics related to PRR initiatives; and

  • To propose, if deemed appropriate by the ad-hoc committee, development of policy recommendations through a Policy Statement (PS) to be approved by the SMA Executive Board and membership, and forwarded to the AAA Committee on Public Policy for review and possible adoption. (See PS definition and process description above).

The TAS Policy Relevant Review (PRR) Process

  • A SIG, TIG or the SMA Board identify an issue to consider that members feel is worthy of commitment to a PRR process;

  • An ad-hoc volunteer committee is formed to lead the PRR process through subsequent steps. The committee communicates their intention to the SMA Policy Committee;

  • The committee assembles a working bibliography on the topic, requesting feedback from experts and eventually posting the bibliography on the SMA website as a scholarly, educational, and publicly available resource. Bibliographies are reviewed by the SMA policy committee to make sure that they are appropriate and accessible;

  • The ad-hoc committee produces a short overview paper (or papers) related to the issue to identify research gaps and priorities for anthropologists, the SMA policy committee reviews and approves the paper(s) and circulates them through SMA communication channels, and the ad-hoc committee revises based on comments received from readers;

  • The committee can opt to organize a session at the annual AAA or SfAA meeting to inform the anthropological community about the issue and generate additional feedback. To encourage dynamic conversation, the session would include additional relevant papers on the topic by experts and new voices outside of the ad-hoc committee;

  • Based on feedback received, members of the committee can also opt to write an article for Medical Anthropology Quarterly (MAQ) or another appropriate journal, identifying the article as the product of a PRR process. MAQ maintains the right of first refusal to publish PRR articles. The PRR article must undergo the journal’s peer review process. Where appropriate, additional manuscripts, such as those presented during the meeting panel, could be submitted to comprise a special issue of the journal on the PRR topic. Other publication formats can be considered as well, e.g. book chapters, edited volumes, or appropriate online media;

  • As noted above, a SIG, TIG, or SMA Board may wish to develop a PS after producing a PRR, in order to make specific policy recommendations. See PS process description above.