As an undergrad enthralled by these eccentrics who did this thing called ethnographic fieldwork, which usually sounded like one helluva an adventure, I thought that somebody should conduct an ethnography of anthropologists. Nothing original in that, I'm sure. Now that I have realized that dream to become one of those peculiar people, I am no less fascinated by what it means to be an anthropologist, and of how crucial the academy, rather than the field, is to being one.

So perhaps the academy can serve as the field? Or would that be too self-indulgent? In defense of this accusation, I would point to work by anthropologists like Don Brenneis, whose ethnographies of the audit culture in the British University system (with comparative reference to other countries as well) surely serves an applied purpose - exploring the conditions to which we are subject, and in which our work is facilitated, obstructed or what-have-you. Surely the study of intellectual history needs a strong grounding not only in the personalities, but also the institutional contexts that stimulate production of this stuff we call knowledge?

Many of us feel afflicted (rightly or wrongly) by a bureaucratic system that expects so much of us that we crumple under the pressure, that we feel forced to choose between fulfilling careers or fulfilling personal lives, that mercilessly pits us against each other, or that distorts our very purpose as scholars. I am reminded here of Tim Ingold's lecture in 2003 to inaugurate the newly created Department of Anthropology at Aberdeen, in which he discusses its significance as 'the academic's last line of defense'

At the University of Kent, I began a little project motivated by some of these concerns. I had the privilege of interviewing the senior and recently retired anthropologists who had inspired me, nurtured me, and helped make me as an anthropologist. I became a historian of the department, an imagined entity to which many people have had strong sentimental attachments, although I then got a lectureship at the University of Wales, Lampeter. This rather diverted me from the task of transcribing and analysing all those hours of interviews charting the career biographies, activities and interconnections that constitute the history of anthropology at Kent since first founded by Paul Stirling in 1965. So much teaching? How do I fit my research in?

I hope that this work can produce material of interest to more than its alumni, but also provide the basis for anthropological analysis of academic life. Are anthropologists particularly prone to telling themselves stories about themselves? Is it a coincidence that anthropologists of all social scientists should be so pre-occupied with their ancestors? Does the university itself demand our attention as a valid area of enquiry?

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Yes, there is no question: no matter how much we posture as "lone strangers" venturing bravely in distant lands, as anthropologists we are creatures of our disciplinary traditions, of the universities that train us and employ us, of the granting agencies that fund us, of our professional associations, and of the government agencies that provide us with documents and occasionally offer support. Even before we are engaging in collaboration with the subjects of our research, anthropology is a collective enterprise. As well, the journals we publish in are collective institutions, and we rely on peer manuscript reviewers and books reviewers, as well as our colleagues who we hope will read and cite our work. For sure, no anthropologist is an island.

But all is not sweetness and light. Support can be grudging, or refused. I will mention just one potential conflict, perhaps contradiction: Universities, which provide employment to many anthropologists, require the presence of academic staff for much of the year for teaching and administration. Anthropologists, whose research is labour intensive and often at a distance from the university, wish to be free to travel to research sites and carry out our beloved "participant observation" or archaeological surveys and excavations. Universities demand research production, but are often reluctant to provide time for academic staff to go to "the field," when "going to the field" requires absence from the university. Sometimes we have to make do: "quick and dirty" trips to the field in the summer; stretching our accumulated field data as far as it will go, and sometimes farther; recourse to dreary library research. So our collective institutions support us, but at the same time can constrain us.
Are anthropologists particularly prone to telling themselves stories about themselves? Is it a coincidence that anthropologists of all social scientists should be so pre-occupied with their ancestors?

These are interesting questions, ideal topics for comparative research. I wonder if it is, in fact, true that anthropologists are more prone to telling themselves stories about themselves or more preoccupied with their ancestors than other social scientists. Has anyone every compared anthropologists with other types of social scientists?
That seems like an interesting but problematic generalization. In my experience I have met anthropologists (mainly from the US and UK) that I would say span the full range of the introversion-extroversion continuum (first popularized by Carl Jung), although I am inclined to admit that many of the greatest minds seem to be socially awkward. Perhaps I am merely reinforcing a stereotype. But this does perhaps raise the question of what kind of disposition leads people towards the scholarly life. I think Pierre Bourdieu's thought is relevant here (his formulation of the habitus and his book Homo Academicus).

For myself, I was attracted to the ideal of philosophical contemplation - the ivory tower community of scholars (with a dash of adventure thrown in). I wished to avoid being sullied by business and money-making. Little did I realise that I would need to be as much entrepreneur as scholar! But we have to adapt...

I have also always been struck by the diverse routes which bring people to anthropology -there are the accidental academics, who found their expertise could be deployed within the context of a university, the explorers, adventurers and missionaries to whom we (the self-professed ambassadors of the discipline, legitimised by their professorial status) sometimes grant the status of anthropologist-by-proxy.

Your point is also relevant to the liminal status of the anthropologist in the field -a status to which we might be attracted.

NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
Yes, and this comparison says that paradoxally anthropologists are rather introvertive people , quite shy and some times even agorophobic ( but never cleistophobic ) who prefer loneliness instead of sociability and also are very selective in their friendships. Also, have a great attachment to their ancestors. There is such an empirical study I did 15 years ago in Greece among colleagues.
Piers writes,
For myself, I was attracted to the ideal of philosophical contemplation - the ivory tower community of scholars (with a dash of adventure thrown in). I wished to avoid being sullied by business and money-making. Little did I realise that I would need to be as much entrepreneur as scholar! But we have to adapt...

I had done a bit of philosophical contemplation (BA Michigan State) and was attracted by the chance to travel to exotic places and study exotic things. Partly a personal vision quest partly an Oedipal reaction to my Lutheran upbringing. What, after all, could be more rebellious than making sense of people who bow down and make sacrifices to graven images.

But yes, that "philosophical contemplation....(with a dash of adventure thrown in)" captures it very nicely.
Nikos
your study of Greek academics sounds fascinating: but I cant track down a reference to it. Please could you tell us how we can get to read your results?
many thanks
Davidz
Piers, Your topic is obviously of great interest to at least the academic inmates of this network and you project the evolution of your specific concerns in an engaging way. How do you think your purposes may be served in a thread like this? The old lags (including me) who have gravitated to your thread so far could not doubt spin off numerous angles starting from your introduction. I will offer two. Max Weber said that you either study what you are or what you are not. Anthropologists study human beings. You work it out. An empirical question: what proportion of social misfits have you run across in our profession: 10%, 50%, 80%? Second, although I travel a lot under several hats, not always as an anthropologist, I can always count on the anthropologists of a town I am visiting to look after me. I think we are very protective of each other, even gregarious within our circle, but not very outward-going beyond that. I know a physicist, husband of an anthropologist, who after the first parrty she threw, refused ever to be in the house when they returned, because they were so cliquey and talked shop all the time.
Warming to the theme, I offer dialectical and functionalist methods for studying academic anthropologists, each taking as its focus the activity which has become definitive of what professional anthropologists do, namely write.

James Joyce once said (I paraphrase), If I was any good at social life, I wouldn't have had to become a writer. Anthropologists give priority to experiences of 'the field' in their public self-definition, but how many of them ever expected that the main measure of their public worth would be as writers? (You mention also that academics, who are supposed to be hopelessly secluded specialists, have to turn their hand to everything, often in an entrepreneurial way.) So, if doing exotic fieldwork may be predisposed by social awkwardness at home (I don't say it always is), maybe reading and writing is a 'natural' escape from that predicament. No-one values teaching as part of the job these days, but that's another story.

Functionalism, our late and great paradigm of what it takes to be a social anthropologist, gives priority to what people do. So an ethnography of anthropologists at home would have to examine carefully how and what they write. Here we should note that anthropologists write few if any fieldwork-based monographs. But they do churn out endless conference papers, journal articles and book chapters. Moreover, the demands of this genre fight the whole ethos of ethnography, giving rise to anecdotal soundbites as a symbolic substitution for real ethnographic description.

I'll leave it at that for now, but I expect you to be more explicit about your method. This thread would be happy with anecdotes and proverbial statements of a personal nature. But the topic deserves more than that. And so do you.
I'm not sure exactly how we can go beyond "anecdotes and proverbial statements of a personal nature" in this setting. So far OAC has not provided a framework for systematic research, and I am uncertain how it could. But we can think about it.

In the meanwhile, I would like to respond to Keith's assertion that "No-one values teaching as part of the job these days, ..." I'm just not sure that that is true. Of course I agree that field research is a central element in the identity of cultural anthropologists. And also that we end up doing a lot of writing that is not full ethnographic description. Also, what is not mentioned explicitly, that there is a great deal of pressure for junior academics to prove themselves through publication.

But my sense is that anthropologists do value teaching. Or, to qualify, many often value teaching. They value the opportunity to pass along what they know. They value the opportunity to show their prowess through keeping students' attention. They value showing what anthropology offers. And they value seeing students grow through their engagement.

My impression is that my colleagues at McGill are committed to teaching, take it seriously, and value it. They are concerned not just to satisfy the Dean, but to do a good job teaching. For myself, I take pride when my classes go well, and am disappointed when they don't. Sometimes, things go well independent of me, and I am delighted. A case at hand is a senior seminar I am teaching on "Comparative Anthropology," in which as soon as a student begins with a comment, others pick it up and elaborate, or dispute, or offer other examples, and so it goes through the entire class. Wonderful! The truth is, at my age, I could retire, but I don't want to give up teaching.
I suspect what Keith may be referring to about not valuing teaching, is that in the UK at least, the hiring of academics is based rather more on research funding and publications than on teaching ability - Poor teachers can get hired so long as they are productive researchers. Many of us certainly do find teaching gratifying, and do not wish to be anything but conscientious in so doing (after all, students are often investing a great deal of themselves and money they can ill afford). However, the university wears two faces - to prospective students in glossy brochures it will make assurances about how much it cares about the quality of their experience, whilst when making appointments it will be the research profile that clinches the job. I think there is a very real challenge as to whether teaching and research can remain integrated in an audit culture that measures teaching through Quality Assurance (QA) and research through the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), even though what originally inspired me was being taught by practitioners (and just think what I can do if I can inspire students like my professors did me). It is very sad that the advice I receive for survival in today's HE environment is to be selfish- don't commit too much of yourself to teaching, as you need to focus on your research, your grant-applications and your publications.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
I'm not sure exactly how we can go beyond "anecdotes and proverbial statements of a personal nature" in this setting. So far OAC has not provided a framework for systematic research, and I am uncertain how it could. But we can think about it.
In the meanwhile, I would like to respond to Keith's assertion that "No-one values teaching as part of the job these days, ..." I'm just not sure that that is true.
Keith wrote: "How do you think your purposes may be served in a thread like this?"

"I expect you to be more explicit about your method. This thread would be happy with anecdotes and proverbial statements of a personal nature. But the topic deserves more than that. And so do you."

As mentioned, this discussion is motivated by more than idle curiosity, but also by a research project that myself and David Zeitlyn have initiated (http://www.kent.ac.uk/sac/department/research/social/dept_history.html). I have conducted a series of semi-structured 'career biography' interviews with senior and recently retired Kent anthropology staff, which are currently being transcribed (with parallels to Alan Macfarlane's long running video interview project). We have also been collecting CVs, and are analysing a range of academic activities that were only ever of limited significance for the RAE (now to become the Research Excellence Framework -REF, the framework for which has recently been announced: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/hefce/2009/ref.htm). A motivating interest has been to consider the development and impact of academic audit (Marilyn Strathern's 2000 edited volume 'Audit Cultures' is relevant here, as is Don Brenneis' 2009 paper in Social Anthropology titled 'Anthropology in and of The Academy: Globalization, Assessment and Our Field's Future'). This is just the first step towards what might possibly become an ethnographic study of academic life . I am also involved in a project about intimacy and commitment in ethnographic fieldwork, and it occurs to me that the life of the anthropologist in the academy is just as crucial for understanding not only our disciplinary identity, but also the social processes entailed in producing anthropological knowledge.

Since leaving my alma mater and taking up a lectureship at The University of Wales, Lampeter, I have been alerted to the urgent relevance of this topic - for I have been forced to re-interview for my job, witnessed colleagues made redundant, and been subject to management restructuring that bodes ill for academics, for research, and for students. Goodbye to departmental administrators, collegiality, heads of department, and hello to line management and rule by autocratic dictat -all very hard to disengage from on a personal level for the sake of reasoned analysis. The political economy of HE and its human costs seems like a typically anthropological kind of concern...

I'm still considering what purposes OAC can serve.
I was implying that, apart from the delights of dialectical speculation about how anthropologists end up being what they are, a functionalist approach would be well-suited to the ethnography of academic anthropology. You mentioned having to be an entrepreneur. In Britain academics are expected to muck in as generalist administrators in ways that might seem strange in continental Europe or the LSE for that matter. The demands of multi-tasking might be a fruitful line. Of course teaching is important. I have mentioned that I believe most individual anthropologists are a lot more interesting than the stuff they teach. But the contrast between the bulk of their writing and the ethnographic ideal is surely worth pursuing. Anyone doing research in British universities today would focus on the bureaucratic crackdown, the systematic attempt to turn academics into insecure proletarians. Nothing specific to anthropology in that. What I had in mind was that you could guide the conversation along more focused lines by identifying the questions you wanted to be discussed in an analytically selective way. I suggest this since you have an unusually competent sample available here. By the way, how does your research relate to that of David Mills?

Piers Locke said:
Keith wrote: "How do you think your purposes may be served in a thread like this?"
.
Keith, you say; "the contrast between the bulk of their writing and the ethnographic ideal is surely worth pursuing". This is very interesting. Current conditions seem far less conducive to high quality, long-term ethnographic research than in the past in the UK or elsewhere in continental Europe or the US perhaps -further comparative work would be very useful. I think we do indeed have to stretch our data further, and are more likely to pursue scholarly research options more easily integrated with commitments demanding our presence in the academy.

And yes, I am aware of David Mills' work at CSAP. I should have opened up a dialogue before now, but have unfortunately been waylaid by responsibilities at Lampeter.

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