Wenner-Gren International Symposia are based on a format that was developed for the famous Burg Wartenstein symposia, held at the Foundation's European Conference Center in Austria. The Burg Wartenstein format has been used in almost 150 symposia since 1958.
The Foundation no longer owns the castle but modern symposia follow the same model. They are held at venues in the US and abroad that allow for an intimate meeting in a congenial environment with minimal distraction. The week-long format includes a free day taken midway through the meeting.
Participation is by invitation only and there are normally no more than twenty scholars in attendance. The distinctive character of Wenner-Gren International Symposia arises from the extensive pre-symposium planning and unique symposium format.
Pre-symposium planning begins approximately 18 months before the symposium date with a meeting at the Foundation's office in New York, where the academic organizers work with the Foundation's president to develop the objectives of the symposium, identify specific topics, and decide upon the participants. Participants are given approximately a year to develop their papers, which are circulated in advance of the symposium.
The Symposium format emphasizes maximum time for discussion and debate. Pre-circulated papers are not read at the meeting. Instead, they form the basis for extended discussions. Social events, including a free day, provide opportunities to continue discussions in less formal settings. The final session provides an overview of the symposium and participanta are given the opportunity to suggest ways they might further develop their papers in the context of the week's discussions.
From 2002-2010, symposia were published as part of the Wenner-Gren International Symposium Series (Berg Publishers). Symposia are now published as supplementary issues of Current Anthropology, and the symposium organizers serve as guest editors for the publication. Participants are generally given between three and six months after the symposium to further develop their papers and submit their manuscripts. All submissions are fully peer reviewed, and the final publication would be expected to appear between eighteen months and two years after the date of the symposium.