In my own case, I recall being a nerd. I was overweight and short-sighted, did well in school, hated sports, and was always on the margins of any social group to which I belonged. The vision quest aspect of anthropology, going off to some place my peers would never see to discover things that they would never know, was irresistible.

Others will have their own stories. But, as I have observed elsewhere, a career in advertising in Japan has made me comfortable with working in teams. I note how many friends whose higher education has been in business, law or medicine talk about the importance of the study groups their schools encouraged them to form, which not only enhanced the learning process but created relationships that, for many, have been of lifelong importance. Because my daughter is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, I know of at least one school where, starting in the second year, every student is assigned individuals in the next class for whom they are responsible -- with how well those assigned to them do reflected in scores used to assign their own class rank. And, now, while pursuing my new interest in social network analysis, I have stumbled into a community that is both incredibly diverse and remarkably supportive. Questions about software or specific research techniques posted on email lists are usually quickly and thoughtfully answered.

When I ask myself what all these examples have in common, I see a shared body of knowledge rooted in shared goals and awareness of the value of reciprocity in building networks; these people all know that connections are important.

So why, I wonder, are anthropologists such solitary creatures?

Or maybe it's just me. What about you?

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Fieldwork, writing, (and writing fieldwork diaries!), thinking, analysing data, not to say reading, these may be all solitary experiences/activities. Not always, but very often. Nevertheless I think we tend to be solitary creatures because we are –paradoxically-- a community, as M. Strathern would say, a community of critics. “Disbelievers critics”, I add. Generally we are very critic, very disbelievers in or very suspicious about “group activities”/societies (at least, about what concerns our own western societies) and therefore about our own knowledge. We do like it (culture and anthropology)! We do understand it (usually), though we do not believe in it (like other scientists do in their own disciplines, e.g. economists, psychologist...). There’s an eternal deconstructing doubt in our minds that places us in an observation corner and makes us feeling apart of what is surrounding us. But if it surrounds us, we are part of it, we are there. Perhaps no proactive or collaborative, but we are there.

We are stalkers, stalkers of ourselves (as good anthropologists are).

Hum I think it depends on what kind of anthropologist you are and what type of fieldwork it is.

My department head is an archaeologist and so his fieldwork (and the things he volunteers us for) mostly involve digs which are more of a communal effort than the sort of Malinowskian deal that one goes through doing ethnography. That said I came from doing marcom and/or coordination for charities that have teams with mixes of anthropologists, psychologists, medical doctors, religious workers, law enforcement, firepersons etc. all helping after an incident (natural or otherwise) so I'm used to being more team oriented. Often in such humanitarian efforts you have different groups helping out (even groups that dislike each other) so it forces one to work toward a common goal. It's only the last few years I went back to college to get a degree in anthropology (my old degrees are other unrelated things). My friend Alex (also an anthro) works for the UN and that's also very group oriented.

Was I a nerd in school, hum some years Yes - not always though. Being an only child I like my private time (especially to read books) but I was also an actor as a child so I'm not shy or anything - far from it really. Despite not being particularly popular in high school I was a cheerleader too (love to dance). Though I used to vacillate between thin and the larger side of normal weight it's only in my 30's that I've gotten truly fat/overweight - because I threw my back out a few years ago and despite daily exercise have only been able to lose a portion of the weight I gained. I did however go through a period of (as Keith put it) "extreme loneliness" when my mum died.   


Paulo, Valerie, these are very interesting comments, indeed.


Are anthropologists the perfect embodiment of Simmel's stranger or Benjamin's flaneur?


You remind us that the degree to which we are solitary depends both on the type of anthropology we do and the life stage in which we find ourselves. Now in my sixties, I have been, at long last, taking seriously what anthropology says about the importance of social life and deliberately becoming involved in sociable activities, a chorus and a community service group, where, for the first time, I find myself part of a gang of similarly aged men who share common interests. What I call our "purposeful playful" communities combine a legitimating purpose with recurring opportunities to drink and socialize together. It helps a lot, going back to what Paulo observes, that we are all past the career-building, clawing-for-competitive-advantage stage. We are who we are, our families grown up, our reputations made. We can do what we like and have fun doing it.

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