On Meetings… 

Industrial practices have forged new and creative ways to waste people’s time. Within these practices however, meetings are the most excellent example that I can think of, in which anthropological insights about people and behaviour are especially pertinent. For those not in the know, here’s a breakdown for you:

Agendas

A document is circulated by email, sometimes early, sometimes late. For some, it’s a war cry, for others it causes a rush of panic as incomplete actions are called to account, and yet for others, it’s ‘highlight, drag into ‘Inbox 2017’ folder, dump it there, highlighted in bold as its never opened’. For me? The Agenda is the most exciting document to hit my ‘Inbox’ all day. I open it, hit the ‘Print’ button, ensuring I’m using double-sided copies on the B and W printer, just to make sure I’m being green. I race around to the photocopy room to pick up my freshly minted promise of focused interactions to come…

I LOVE agendas, it’s the only time people are frank and honest about their intentions at work. We should have agendas for dates, or family interactions too, maybe business could make better use of them in customer engagement …. At work the agenda theoretically sets the tone, the discussion points, the action plan, the tidy up of unfinished business, it’s a rally cry to get the right people together, at the right time, in the right room – sometimes virtually – to talk about really important stuff, the stuff that only THIS group of people are accountable for. It’s a material form, a document that sets out a future, anticipated history, an account of the intended interactions of this group.

So far, so good, but I hear you say, “What about hidden agendas?” Well, this comes after, usually at the meeting itself, but more on this later.

Along with the Agenda come the ‘Minutes of the Last Meeting’. Just make sure you read them, whether you were there or not. Many times history is reconstructed by those who kept the records, and writing up the Minutes of Meetings is not different in any way at all.

Before Meetings

Once the Agenda has been sent out, as an anthropologist at work it’s time to get your walking shoes on. Slip off the heels and pull on the runners, it’s time to walk this agenda through its paces. Take your Agenda and scan the names on the ‘Attendees’ list. This is where the hard work starts. Before ANY meeting you have to have the Before Meeting, otherwise you’ll never figure out what the real agenda is, what the hidden agenda is, or what the alternative agenda for the meeting is. And I lie, it’s not a Before Meeting, but usually a series of Before Meetings, and they typically happen on the day of the meeting, usually in the morning with a coffee in hand, and typically in your own or other people’s offices, the tea room, corridors, or on your way to or from somewhere else. Be prepared!

Before Meetings are often strategic, and you have to work these both up and down the power hierarchy in your workplace. These meetings are war councils (counsels?) where you offer up strategic information to your coworkers in exchange for similarly strategic information from them. This is where you strengthen your alliances, forge tentative new ones, and discard any strategies that don’t work well for you anymore. It’s a lion’s den out there… Personally, I love the flurry of activity that constitutes a Before Meeting, the rush of shoe leather up and down corridors and the unusual sight of closed doors with catches of whispered conversations on the other side.

From my experience, many, many issues that are formal agenda items for a meeting are determined, staffed and finalised at these Before Meetings. The formal meeting itself is merely the record-keeping aspect of the group itself. There is nothing that comes up on an Agenda that hasn’t already been seriously worked up, thought about, strategised, budgeted, planned and blueprinted, unless it’s come up in ‘Other Business’, but I’ll get to that too…

The Meeting

The Meeting itself can be an anticlimax if your workplace has been effective at the Before Meetings. You probably already recognise that Meetings sometime have the sense of the theatrical about them, that people have not only learned their lines, but rehearsed them at length. From my experience, it doesn’t really matter where you sit either, as people will align themselves consciously or unconsciously with people either like themselves, or with those that they wish to be aligned with. It’s so obvious.

At the Meeting, ask yourself:

  • Is there enough fresh air in here?
  • When should I pour everyone a glass of water?
  • Who shall I sit opposite?
  • Is there anything new happening here that wasn’t anticipated before the meeting?
  • Has someone taken a different position to that expressed at the Before Meetings? Why?
  • Does someone need to show themselves puffing up their chest in front of the others?
  • Do you need to support them?
  • Are there any issues flagged by the Before Meetings that haven’t been addressed yet?
  • Is anyone in trouble? Do they need an ally now?
  • Is someone writing down any and all decisions made?

And as a model of excellent self-care, limit your involvement to less than an hour and then excuse yourself; you can set an alarm if you have to… You can also make the exclamation, “Oh look! We’ve only got x minutes left for our meeting/before lunch/before we go home/before the coffee cart comes/Armageddon”

Other Business

This is such a great meeting strategy, because if you think about it, meetings are very, very controlled but this little category here is the fireworks package isn’t it? After all, ANYTHING can come up here. And the beauty of the Other Business category is that, like much of real life, it’s unplanned for, unanticipated, a surprise and has to be dealt with now anyway. I love this category. I live for a meeting with Other Business and anticipate the call for “Has anyone got anything they’d like to raise that’s not been dealt with on the Agenda?”

My advice to anthropologists in business is to make use of this part of meetings as best you can. I’m not going to go through a formal process of how to do this, just to highlight the benefits of getting an item up for discussion at a formal meeting without being censored beforehand, and Other Business presents this opportunity to you to do just that. There are other added benefits of raising issues here:

  • There is less gate-keeping of new ideas presented here
  • It gets minuted and dealt with formally next time there’s a meeting
  • As it’s last minute, you’re not likely to get a well-considered oppositional force
  • You get to flag an issue without having to do a full presentation, but get the opportunity to think about, and work up an idea with consultation ready for the next meeting
  • If you can’t get an item on an Agenda, try to get a variation through here

Minutes

Just make sure that this is NOT your job. If you’re an Anthropologist, it’s impossible to keep Minutes because you’re far too into “He said…” “She said…”. Do yourself a favour and get someone else to take them. As a matter of policy, if you’re taking Minutes you’re usually strategically positioned outside the core business of meetings. So if you don’t want to be in that position, don’t offer! And remember, Minutes are NOT fieldnotes…

The After Meeting

If you’ve been paying attention to your fieldwork lectures, then you knew this was coming… This often starts even as you’re exiting the Meeting Room and walking back to your desk. It’s a bit like the debrief after the game in the change room, the rush of power after a well-delivered lecture (it’s a thing), everyone’s still hyped up from the Meeting (or desperate to get away, but that’s another thing)… there’s still chatter and this needs to be behind closed doors, often with the same people from the Before Meetings.

As you can see, the reality of meetings exist in the Before Meetings, where agendas are set, positions are taken and alignments are made. The Meeting itself exists only to serve as the formal aspect, the playing out of the plan determined beforehand. And the After Meetings similarly are where key players touch base to ensure that the plan was executed appropriately, or if otherwise what to make of a new trajectory.

After Meetings are usually full of phrases like:

  • “Why are there never any cream biscuits?”
  • “That was awful/great/predictable/a surprise…”
  • “Why is s/he allowed to chair meetings?”
  • “Oh my God, s/he goes on and on…”
  • “Can you believe what s/he said about… ?”
  • “Well, that was new!”
  • “There was nothing new!”
  • “How are we going to … ?”
  • “This is going to be hard/terrifying/not likely/great…”
  • “How are we going to find the time/fund/staff/produce/deliver/just substitute x, where x = the impossible… ?”
  • “Who knew?”
  • “Where did they get that idea from…?”
  • “Do they have any idea about what’s needed at the coalface?”
  • “That’s it, I’m checking the job ads right now…”

In this brief blog I haven’t dealt with other aspects of meetings, some of which I did promise to address. Don’t forget to pay attention to daydreaming and paying attention when it really counts; observations of other people, especially who’s looking at who and the exchange of non-verbal signals; group dynamics: see if you can identify and analyse these; power plays and lastly, pay attention to making the invisible visible: unspoken agendas – see if you can identify these. As anthropologists we’re full of people skills, you just need to be reminded how to apply these outside of traditional anthropological field sites.

Now, where are those Attachments?

Image credit: Pixabay

Fractocurrentism and the anthropologist of the future (TAOTF) …

Will be a world view 

Will reconceptualise disciplinary thinking and skill sets 

TAOTF will be better known 

TAOTF will probably do fiewldwork at home, locally or …

– May not do fieldwork at all 

Won’t have to ask all the questions 

Will glean greater insights around the textual, but not rely on text alone 

Won’t write up a single authored ethnography in the way we’re used to – maybe not ever

Will always be teaching, sharing

Won’t necessarily Probably Mostly won’t be working in an academic department of anthropology 

But what do we become if we don’t get to be that identity which we’ve studied to become?  

TAOTF will contribute more centrally to dialogues that are greater than the discipline itself, and 

Will draw together all the strands 

TAOTF will lead teams, working across the arts and sciences in new and creative ways

Will take turns: from the poetic turn to the mutualisc turn, the sensory turn, the purposive turn, the enduring turn, the resources turn, the imaginary turn, the epiphenominal turn, the organismic turn and more 

TAOTF should be paid for what they/we contribute 

TAOTF will teach us all how to live 

Oh and the Fractocurrentism?  In this era it’s not post -post modernism, nor is it alter- modernism.  Or meta modernism.  No we need to identify this era as:

Fractomodernity

As anthropologists of the future, we are now cultural experts of the Fractocurrency era or Fractocurrentism 

You heard it here first …

On voting

Following the US election result, many people are asking just how all the pollsters got it wrong. Not just wrong, but so very wrong in anticipating the victory of Trump. Media outlets and those who gauge popular opinion will offer a range of authoritative opinions on this, but I want to offer another point of view, one more to do with the fractured nature of news and views and how it is difficult now to predict popular opinion from a starting point that is fractured and partial anyway.    

As anthropologists who’ve done fieldwork know, opinions are not always given up front, may be hidden to save face, and sometimes people just tell outright lies for very valid cultural, social and personal reasons. These reasons reside within the social worlds of relationships between actors who have a vested interest in maintaining their status, role, safety, position, face etc. in situations in which where, and who you cast your vote for is a comment on alignment with power, authority, prestige, protection or future material rewards or service provision.

Votes count, can be counted on, and definitely count for something. So it’s worth exploring these themes in a broad sense to think more critically around what happens when people are asked about which way they will vote in an election as well as what influences this. And what is said in the fallout. 

In these postmodern times we have seen the fracturing and localisation of many perspectives including increasingly diverse access to news sources. Flicking through posts on social media by large institutionalised media outlets, you see not support for commentary but challenges to the legitimacy of the media to provide coverage, or at least an opinion, most especially if this opinion challenges Trump’s victory, or points to the shortsightedness of polling organisations. “You’ve got it wrong!” they shout. “You’re partial!” they rail. “You shouldn’t challenge the expressed will of the American people!” they write. “We don’t have to be held hostage by your views!” they decry. And so on.   

The influence of traditional media outlets has declined and this is a self evident truth, even as I write and you read this blog. So why do people bother to continue reading traditional spreadsheets, why not just Google all your news and views, or get your news off Facebook? Why do people bother even replying to the The Independent, the Guardian, the New York Times and other major global newspaper social media sites?   

The relationship between voter behaviour and online comments have similarities that can’t be ignored. Both can be private, unseen by others; both can be an expression of values; both posit an opinion; both can be seen to be a form of alignment, and both can also potentially be the opposite expression of one’s everyday professed and public point of view. Online posting, like the ballot box can be pretty anonymous, it can also be anonymous but not pretty. While donkey votes may be predictable, hate mail, or flaming and the polarising nature of online commentary is not.  

There seems little point in involving Andy Warhol’s, ‘everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame’ dictum, as little could he foresee the extent of the opportunities for self expression, publication, and even just self-projection of oneself and one’s views in today’s hyper-real experience of the www. However his idea is closer to the truth, but individually we are exceeding our fifteen minutes by a long shot. The short answer is, everyone has an opinion, we collectively value the voice of consumers today, and there are exponentially huge opportunities for the expression of one’s individual views. And expressing ourselves in these ways is increasingly becoming normative, more so for the digitally aligned, and digitally literate and definitely pointing to the era that will follow the Anthropocene, the new new geological age of the Expressionocene, the Opinionocene, the Commentocene, or just the Blogocene. Our opinions will surely shape and change the crust of the earth just as our views carve out the landscapes of how we will live, how we will live with each other, and all the conditions that attach to this.  

So how did the pollsters get it wrong and who were they speaking to anyway? Everyone is commenting this morning. And it seems that it’s partial. And like a lot of the problem itself, it depends on who you ask, on who you read, on who was surveyed, in what manner, when and how. Is it merely a methodological problem? If this was a research project, surely it wouldn’t be funded. 

Commenters argue for a disconnect, that the election was the worlds largest reality TV show, that it’s “game over,” and most hilariously observe that Canada’s immigration website has crashed. And more informally, YouTubers following the US election argued that Trump had it won from the outset. I’m not going to argue for any particular methodology attached to polling, but will simply reiterate the point that it depends on who you ask, how you ask, when and where you ask.   

And herein lays my critique of cultural studies as well. You can ask people about themselves, about their habits, preferences, daily life and they will tell you something. It may be the truth, it may be an idealised version of themselves that they project wistfully into the future. It may be a lie. It may be stated for any number of reasons. But the difference between what people say they do, and what they actually do lies in fieldwork, in participant observation and in the firming of relations between the informants and the field researcher, built up over time and through participation in everyday worlds.   

Anthropologists spend a lot of time building relations firmly based in the messy behaviours of everyday life. As a fieldworker you get to hear and see what people do, and with enough local cultural knowledge on board, you can tease out the meanings attached to how people act in their social worlds. And these worlds may well be our own worlds too. Our social, commenting, opinionated, supportive, antagonistic, loving, hateful or otherwise worlds. While we may wish it were different, it’s this diversity in all it’s complexity that shows us yet again who we are.   

Photo credit: https://goo.gl/images/J8pLCw 

On the responsibilities of panelists


So you can tell what’s coming here.  The short version is: should panelists provide for a good show (topical, interesting, cutting edge, the presentation of new research, ideas, or think pieces only), or should panelists ensure that only correct knowledge is promoted for presentation and discussion at panels that deal with specialised knowledges?  And what responsibilities (if any) do professional conferences have for the promotion of ideas?  Is it the responsibility of panelists to advise presenters about the acceptability of their reported work, effectively arguing that it should come with a proviso, a trigger warning or some sort of message effectively stating that this paper represents the views of the presenter but is not necessarily endorsed by the panel or the conference?  

Has it come to that already?  Already implying the potential and anticipated inevitability of such a stance for professional anthropological conferences?

In my area of anthropological specialisation there are some ‘out there’ ideas and thinking around topics to do with how people live in the world, with each other and the thinking and practices that they undertake, create and participate in.  This is essential and I’m a firm believer in the idea that change frequently comes from the periphery of disciplines as individual practitioners reach out and extend our discipline in new ways thorough their (our) extended reach in thinking, reading, fieldwork and anthropological practices that interpret and make sense of these more generally.  

You just have to go out and act anthropologically in the world, whatever your specialty.  After that, come and tell us about it.

So what happens when papers challenge orthodoxy?  Is it the right of panelists to act as censors, as gatekeepers and defacto peer reviewers of new thinking and practices?  Many would argue that this is indeed the very role of conference panelists to act in academically responsible ways, and that advice should be given to individual presenters to modify their work, think about their conclusions, advise that this is their personal viewpoint, or similar.  

For a discipline that’s only 200 years old , we seem to be a bit too worried about challenging orthodoxy.  It strikes me that academic and professional conferences are the very place where new ideas should be presented by practitioners to their peers for question and debate.  Isn’t this the premise for invitations to plenary speakers?

At a recent Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) in Sydney, some ideas were clearly too dangerous for discussion and speakers were pulled from the program.  Heated public debates argued for the merit of this, and there was a social media frenzy both about  the content of the proposed discussion, the speaker, the politics around the presentation and title of the proposed talk and its pulling from the festival. And the inevitable meaning of this for the festival, and what it meant to challenge moral boundaries in thinking and discussion within society more broadly.  Not to mention the commercial aspects … But does this happen at professional, academic forums?  Could it?  Should it? 

So back to the anthropological panel and its processes: while the thinking and decisions around presentation are well intended, there are inflexibilities attached to the structure and organisation of conferences that mitigate decision making around inclusions and exclusions. 

Nevertheless, feel free to put forward all your ideas, thinking, critiques, comments and practices and bring them along for scrutiny and interrogation by your peers.  After all, that’s what professional conferences are for.  They, like many parts of anthropological practice itself provide a moment, a meeting point, a location much like the village water well, as a space for talking, listening and making sense of each other’s symbolic worlds, their practices and meanings.  And talking about it  between people of the same status as you.

Photo credit: Conference Panel

Scared of my own voice

I publish under a pseudonym, that of the ‘The Anxious Anthropologist’. This suits me as it’s like donning a mask and going to a party. You get to attend, participate, enjoy yourself, express a different side of yourself, be a little bit risky but not compromise your real self, because after all, you were wearing a mask. You’re putting on or trying out another personality perhaps, one that is less accountable because all the threads can’t be drawn together as in real life. Real life is contextual, we add all the pieces of information that we know about a person together to form a picture, a view, and get a sense of a person. But that doesn’t happen when you wear a mask, unless you are exposed and we get to see who you ‘really are’. But wearing a mask too allows us to show who we really are as we participate in the truth telling of the bus stop syndrome. So it’s this paradox of both being able to shield oneself yet at the same time be more fully exposed in the display of oneself that I wish to explore in this essay blog.

Anonymity, like donning a mask, is protective because it allows you to express yourself through a voice that is uncensored, unafraid and keen to tell the truth. You get to explore truths in a way that is unfettered. You don’t worry about what people might make of what you say, what you’ve experienced, what you’ve suffered. You get to spare yourself the judgement. Even if you the reader judge, it is an anonymous judgement of an anonymously expressed piece of writing.

There is a history attached to anonymous writing but the common theme is that of wanting expression and not being able to, or not seeking to publish under one’s own name. People have had very real reasons for doing so, often political, related to gender or to the expression of truth that is hard to bear.

This form of communication also has its downside. By distancing myself from my own, my real voice, I’m also distancing myself from the experiences, feelings and situations that I relate here on the page. I don’t own them, they don’t come from me. That is both liberating, yet suffocating. I’m free to perform, to narrate and to share. But at the same time I’m more stifled, less, understood, less comprehended because I am not known and therefore not attached to those experiences.

And worse than that by writing in this way it is a tacit acknowledgement, indeed an agreement between myself and the reader – you – who are also party to this process through your acceptance of this writing regime, in your approval through your participation in the act of reading. Of what? Of conspiring with me in my attempt at stifling my real voice.

So this begs the question: what am I afraid of? Why have I been complicit in silencing myself all these years? In the old days I kept a private diary where I worked things out on the page. Even if I didn’t work it out, I certainly got it out. But blogging is different. Blogging includes an audience wider than one. Blogging means that there is an audience who will participate, who will imagine through my writing, who will visualise and ponder what I say, and how I’ve said it and most importantly ponder that which I’ve left out of my writing on the page.

So what am I afraid of? Am I frightened of the truth? By stating it in my own voice, with my own name attached to it, I give it an authenticity, a reality that my truth deserves. Through authoring this privately/publicly through an anonymous pen, I don’t really have to own this truth. It’s like little kids when they tell, that’s when they get upset, that’s when it hits them, that’s when they feel the emotion and that’s when they cry. Because that’s when it’s dawned on them and their truth has become REAL.

That is the issue: writing anonymously is like writing naked. You have a shawl wrapped tightly around you, and that shawl is made up of fabric, texture, materials, shades and colours that are reflective of you, that constitute your personality, your self, your personhood, known, accepted and acknowledged by others. You have it wrapped very tightly around your naked self, it holds you together, it holds you in, it keeps you bound and consistent in your interactions with the world. But for this bright, or sombre, thick or thin, expensive or cheap, mass produced or handmade garment that binds you, you would be NAKED, exposed and vulnerable.

And when we write anonymously we drop the shawl, drop the self that binds us and write freely in an unencumbered way. Our self is not limited to the materials and textures of our ordinary lives: you don’t need to know that I am the engineer, that I work in a factory or that I write science text books for a living. At this moment when the shawl has dropped I am just another human being with a story to tell. Tasteful or distasteful – that remains to be seen – but it is an experience with which you seek to participate because of the promise of the representation of an authentic, free and unencumbered voice.

But in our naked, exposed and vulnerable writing through donning a mask, a pseudonym, or just dropping the veneer of our selves, paradoxically there is greater freedom. It’s a risk to write, and it’s a greater risk to divulge truths about oneself. Once they’re said, well, they’re out there, whatever they may be.

There is such a cult of personality and even as ‘The Anxious Anthropologist’ I too will be prone to this as I continue to write, continue to share my truths. Will you continue to read me if I become known? Will I want to write if my ‘real’ self wraps herself up in the shawl that details her name, her ego, her persona, at least the one that she shares with the wider world? So many industries require the success of a name, you have to be a flagrant self-promoter to get by, to move forward in so many creative industries. It is essential in academia. No mousing around not promoting yourself or attracting dollars and prestige to yourself and your department. I can’t do this, that’s why I’m not there. Wrong side of 40 anyway.

Personalities have a voice, have a history, are very present and imagine the future with themselves squarely in it. If you’ve suffered any kind of trauma these can be the very things that are compromised, stolen, even attacked in your life. This is especially true of the last part, that of imagining a secure and successful future with yourself squarely in the picture. But if you don’t like the one that’s written, an anonymous voice helps you give voice to this so that you don’t have to keep hiding from yourself. Your story, your history, your life is validated through telling. Hence the importance of processes such as bearing witness. Bearing witness allows the truth to be told, to be honoured, and to take it’s place in people’s personal histories lived against the larger histories in which all our biographies take place.

I mentioned the bus stop syndrome. It’s not a real syndrome, but it serves the same purpose as donning a mask or anonymising yourself. You get to share something of yourself in a context in which you are not really known, have no common history with people and are not likely to have them in your life again. So you’re less encumbered, more spontaneous and able to relate more freely. You’ve dropped your shawl and are expressing your reality in a way that is unaffected by the person you normally present to the world.

I met a woman on the bus the other night as I travelled into the city for a night out with a group of women from work. The woman sat next to me and we commented at the number of Greek women getting on the bus at each stop who seemed to know each other, greeted each other and sat together. As I marvelled at this synchronicity, the woman next to me explained that they had arranged to meet on this bus and that they were travelling to church together for the pre-Easter services. We talked about the women’s’ black garb and the woman sitting next to me commented that it must be freeing to wear black. I explained that it was a marker for the community, that it represented an announcement that this woman had been married, was now a widow and had left society and all the roles that had been formerly ascribed to her in her married life. The woman next to me liked this idea and thought that at the very least it would simplify one’s wardrobe. She confided that she’d lost her husband two years ago and that since then she only ever hung out with women in all the activities she undertook these days. I told her that I too had lost someone two years ago, my mother who had suffered recently from cancer but for fifty years had had schizophrenia. I felt like I’d really lost my mum years ago, or even that I’d never really had a mother in the sense that everyone else understood a mother. Therein lies part of the truth of my own and of course her suffering.

Will I find my voice? I’m on the way, but how will I ever own it?
Reprinted from The Word Clown

Taking up Space

Nine years ago when I started my doctoral studies not only was I in a fertile intellectual endeavour undertaking fieldwork, reading theory, stretching my brain and writing, I was also at my peak fertility having babies while I did all the above. I was stretched in more ways than one.   

At that time we lived in a small house, as you do when you first start out and one of the things that I had to make space for was, well me. That was me as a student, me doing my PhD, me needing a computer and a small space to work in. Where could I find that in a house that was basically four rooms, with a partner, a baby and a toddler? We had a study set up, basic, but serviceable. As is the case it was always at the back of the house, near the kitchen and laundry, cold and draughty and not anything like the sort of space you might imagine doing your best work, your thinking and writing in.

I was in this space early in the morning before babies interrupted your thoughts with cries of need for milk, bananas and entertainment for an hour or so in the morning. I was in this space late at night as well, when everyone else had gone to bed after a nice night watching a movie or playing a game or reading a book, and was snug, while I sat in the cold, dark, poorly ventilated space next to the laundry trying to put some semblance of academic thinking against my fieldwork experiences. That I was translating and transcribing and trying to keep up with the bourgeoning literature at the same time as managing leaky breasts and playgroups says something about the spaces in which I travelled at that time.

Well the study space in the end just didn’t do it for me. I dragged the family to IKEA looking for something small in a desk that I could prop up somewhere away from people. I found a desk and a chair and we dragged power boards and strung cords all through the house and then ta dah, I finally had a space up the hallway somewhere near the front door, away from the TV and the kids, where I could work.

At least that was the theory. In practice, there was no door to separate me from the noise, the hubbub, the neediness, the wants, the cuddles, the play, the cleanup so, the baby change table and well, life basically.   

So I had to rethink the desk, chair and computer scenario again.

This time I moved them into my bedroom which was right up the front of the house. At least this way I had a door to close, which meant entry and exit rituals that I could control.

I was sick and tired of the functionality of the IKEA desk and chair and so I persuaded the family (7 minutes to get the kids into the car seats each time we stopped) to take a drive to the part of the city that had ‘interesting’ furniture and I found what in the end turned out to be a hall table with a couple of drawers that suited me just fine. It was narrow enough not to take up too much space (unlike me) and attractive as well as functional. Well, my knees knocked on it a bit when I crossed my legs, but hey I wasn’t complaining.

I set it up in front of the curtains facing the street. It was a busy street too, a secondary road that connected far flung suburbs. And it was a major intersection to boot. And one of the feeder roads to the intersection took the big trucks that transported goods around the country from the inland port just down the road. That meant a few hundred thousand big rigs shining their lights right into my bedroom as they waited to go around that corner. And go around that corner they did every time, usually in about six gear changes. I know, I used to count every single one of them.

These rigs, their lights, their gear changes, their acceleration and their brakes were my companions as I translated, transcribed and created sensible sentences to please my doctoral dissertation readers. I did OK. I passed in the end.

But the space: sitting their looking at the curtains, looking at the lights all those years ago. I thought I’d passed that stage but no. Here I am again. This time I’m facing teenagers and a partner who’s studying too. We live not in the little four room house anymore, but a couple of suburbs away in comparative luxury and splendour. We have a house with more than the minimum number of rooms, it’s open plan and has a purpose built study. What a joke. Did I just write those words: ‘purpose built study’? I should post the photo from the company that sold the build to us. It looks perfect but the photo, like my part of the study is not inhabited by any real people at all.

Here I am nine years later again facing the curtains in the bedroom. Again I’m sitting at a make shift desk, but this time it’s a reused telephone table, and I have a little bit more room for my knees, but not much. Instead of the laptop I’ve gone cordless with the IPad and a Bluetooth keyboard. And it’s carpeted..

When I look out now I don’t have to hide behind muslin curtains to shield myself from anonymous drivers. Now I look out at a panoply of suburbia. There are five houses, these are my neighbours and I get to watch the comings and goings of my street, of my neighbourhood. I see the dads come home with the kids. I see the mums dragging home groceries and pulling them out of the boot. I see the older kids smartly walk home, their school uniforms dishevelled. And the punks with their hotted up cars that they like to double park on the suburban streets, just to show how cool they are and how they can break the rules. That nobody but me and my neighbours sees, doesn’t seem to faze them. We all look to challenge the boundary spaces in life in lots of little ways, and this is their way.

I get to see the unfamiliar too: the surveyor who pulls out his equipment and takes his measures. Who’s moving I wonder? What’s the council up to, I muse? I see the bald man with the walking stick cross the road outside my house, walk along the path on the other side of my low hedge with his walking stick. He avoids my gaze and heads to the path near my house and walks to the park and onwards to somewhere that I don’t see. Perhaps to the park? Perhaps to the suburb next door? Perhaps, like some of my neighbours to the nearby club for a drink with friends for the afternoon? I don’t know.   

And I’m studying again. This time a Masters level course. So much more practical than a PhD. And fun too. I’m loving being engaged with mature students who’ve already overcome the hurdles and challenges of early career negotiations. But I need to find a space to write and that’s what this blog was about: how do you find space for yourself in a busy house, a busy place, a hectic world, a noisy monstrosity of a family that still demands something of you?

Well, you just set yourself up somewhere in a corner, or by a window and preferably, have the capacity to shut the door….

Photo credit: https://www.polesandblinds.com/blog/5-ways-to-create-a-home-office/

PS: This is so not my own window, desk, chair and curtains…. 

If I was going to be interviewed about blogging by The Geek Anthropologist: 15 questions

 

designer-glass-frames-for-women

(… this is very informal…)

Why do I blog?

When you work outside academia and you’re not actively researching you still want to write, you still want to talk to anthropologists and share something of yourself, your experiences and your insights.  I like blogging because I can write about everyday practices, ‘fun’ blogging and also comment seriously on what’s happening in my workplace.  Of late I like writing about how I fit into an interdisciplinary space.

 

How does my blogging contribute to the production and dissemination of anthropological knowledge?

Well, in writing about everyday issues I bring an anthropological perspective to new audiences, especially when I write about buying second hand clothes, or women in the workplace, or participating in Enjo parties.  I like to think broadly and around everyday practices and I also like to see what they look like from an anthropological perspective.  In saying that though, I still hope to appeal to an anthropological audience, an audience who understand and appreciate the take that I have on viewing and participating in the world.  So that’s how I see how my blogging adds to the body of anthropological work.  It’s a bit like seed funding, so let’s see what it looks like and then decide whether we can grow it.

 

Does my blogging about anthropology affect anthropological practice?

Well, that’s hard to say and hard to know about.  Anthropological practice has some core praxes but these occur in such diverse contexts it’s sometimes really hard to have an anthropological sensibility about it all.  We’re so spread out among sub-disciplinary knowledge and praxis, among geographical, specialty – even virtual areas – and even spread between the arts and sciences, so who really knows?  If blogging is about sharing an anthropologically inspired viewpoint on an issue, on a practice, on something that involves people who are working on some project together, then yes, I do think that what I write about affects our practice.  I can show people both outside of and within the academy something about how I think and work, and hey, if you’re getting more than 10,000 hits for a blog, you must be making people think about something that they’re doing…

 

Who reads my anthropology blog?

Well, I really hope that anthropologists read it.  And those interested in anthropology.  But WordPress lets you tag your posts so you can use this to reach broader audiences, which is really important if you’re wanting to show that you’re ‘thinking outside the box’, and this is important for some audiences, not necessarily anthropologists, but other audiences who are looking to break with standard practices, standard ways of thinking about how people work together, how they provide services and how they move materials, services, people and objects around the globe.  But the analytics that come with the host site don’t necessarily tell you exactly where people come from, only what city and country.  You really have to guess at the rest.

 

Who is my target audience?

Well, if I had my preference I would want to write for an anthropological audience firstly, and because I have an interest in interdisciplinarity I also try to write for a broader, educated audience.  I can’t be too specific about my exact area of expertise and enterprise because I’d probably get the sack from work if they figured out that I was writing about work, work practices and work issues without official permission.  But that said, my target audience is both anthros and non-anthros.  It really depends on the post, on the topic and the issues though.  These change and this affects the audience.  One of the most pleasant experiences that I had recently was when other anthro blog sites picked up my posts, shared links and commented on them.  That’s blogging peer review as far as I’m concerned!

 

How do I separate out the personal from the professional?

Well, my first response to this question would be: do you have to?  If we write from a situated standpoint, a situated space and perspective, then the line between personal and professional becomes blurred doesn’t it?  Look at what’s happened since Writing Culture; we’re in every page we write, aren’t we?  And in the blogosphere, we aren’t restricted so much by the rules around writing that exist in publishing, in academic texts, in conference presentations and colloquia, are we?  This is a freer form that is still becoming, that isn’t set in concrete yet and never can be simply by definition.  So I don’t need to separate myself out from my work, from my perspective, from my comments and insights.  However, I don’t blog about my homelife, my family or my friends (if I can help it).

 

How do I know when I’ve been successful in blogging? 

This is hard to know about too.  If you pay attention to the bloggers, the big bloggers then you’re always going to feel like a failure.  They have hits in the millions.  Me?  I’m lucky to get into five figures occasionally.  I know that there are emerging rock star anthropologists and I believe that they serve a role in getting the anthropological message out there.  We need all sorts of writers, all sorts of anthropological practitioners, all sorts of social analysis going on so I’m not going to criticise anyone for their success outside of the academy.  If anything, I’m all for it.  We all get dragged up this way, all get caught in the upflow.

 

Does success matter?

Well, we all write for an audience so success is relative.  If you develop a readership, then you’re successful.  If no one reads what you write, you’re writing garbage.  I have garbage posts that hardly anyone has read.  I should dump these now.  If they’ve been sitting on the website for nearly a year and no one’s read them, then they’re not successful.  So it does matter.  Having said that, there are some excellent cooperative, academic anthropological blogs that mimic the production of texts in standard publishing, but are available on the web.  Peer review, calls for papers, high end production – and then you have the single bloggers like me, who are sometimes hard pressed to keep coming up with content.  This is a production issue for anyone publishing anything.  It’s not new here.

 

Is it all about the stats? 

Well, we naturally tend towards wanting to find out how much, how many, how often and then to doing some number crunching to make ‘sense’ out the data…. Even if you’re not particularly inclined towards number crunching, the medium – like much of social media – really lends itself to number crunching, so you can’t help yourself.  There are sites that can help you though…

 

But there aren’t always a lot of likes or comments, so how do I know if my blog is having any effect anywhere?

This is true.  While some blogs may have thousands of hits which translate as reads/downloads/views, you don’t always get a translation into discourse, into comments, or even into likes.  Occasionally people will comment, or even like a post, but that’s not often the case.  And I’ve noticed this with larger anthropological blogging sites too.  The issue for me here is: what do people really make of what’s written here?  How do they read/consume what’s said?  Who do they talk to about the content?  Who do they pass the blogs on to?  I find that you get people wanting to comment who are typically mildly upset about what’s said, or seeking further clarification, evidence, or research into assertions that may be made.  But overall, there’s little interaction, which is a shame.

 

Why don’t I use references? 

I have a crisis of legitimacy occasionally and insert references, even though other bloggers tell me I don’t need them.  You don’t need them in this format, but it depends on the blog post and the audience.  If you anticipate that your work may be taken up and translated (this has happened), or posted on a Learning Management System for a course (this too has happened), or disseminated on other anthropological websites that have an academic turn, then, as is the custom and the norm, we too as anthropological bloggers follow this norm.  If I’m not quoting anything knowingly, I won’t bother using references and my preference is for opinion pieces that don’t necessarily rely on the interpretation and translation of bodies of knowledge.  I save that kind of writing for academic discourse within the pages of academic journals.  To my way of thinking, you write for a specific audience, and in blogging I don’t think that everyone’s looking for reference materials.  By all means publish your essays online, and these will include references.  And after all, why demonise references?  References are an acknowledgement of your joining in conversations that have already occurred as you position your own views against these voices.  Always better to acknowledge them and join in.

 

Am I just writing for other anthropology bloggers, and even if I am, is that such a bad thing?

I write for anyone that happens to land on my blog from a search engine, or has happily signed up to receive updates from my website.  If its other bloggers, then that’s great too.  I read their blogs with great interest as bloggers often get opinion pieces out there long before academic articles have even hit peer review.  I support both old forms of writing in academic presses, especially when I manage to get an article in print, as well as new forms of publication through weblogs.  The evolving medium, it’s growing acceptance and the democratisation that blogging allows I watch with relish and interest.  Like all processes, the wheat will be sorted from the chaff…

 

Why am I hiding my identity behind a pseudonym? 

A workplace Code of Conduct prevents me from revealing my identity.  Writing behind a pseudonym is an old and valued practice that has allowed voices that would not otherwise be heard a platform to publish their views.  I see that writing as the Anxious Anthropologist allows me to participate in the same freedoms, paradoxically because of restrictions to publicising my voice, that my writerly ancestors had to contend with.  Elsewhere I use my name and identify myself as coming from a particular space and place, a discipline, a specialty, even a sub-speciality.  But there is a challenge in writing like this that takes you out of your comfort zone, out of the familiar terminology, the same arguments and the usual webs of significance that you weave around your worlds.  And this is fun.

 

Wouldn’t it be better to blog honestly? 

I would love to write under my own name, but as with many things to do so means that you have to be brave, knowledgeable and up to the personal critique that attaches to so many in the blogosphere.  It’s sometimes easier, and more freeing to write as I do.  And that doesn’t mean that I write dishonestly.  Anthropological endeavours can sometimes have the tendency of reporting back, reporting on and reporting about that shares something with the tools of the subterfuge.  Who hasn’t left the tape recorder run on sometimes without consent?  I’ve heard that this happens…

 

Where do I see blogs and blogging in future? 

I see that anthropological blogging, like blogging in many professional endeavours will become the norm, rather than the unusual.  Progressing through courses, moving into postgraduate studies and then into research and/or work will in future include the production of knowledge within spaces not evident now, in group blogs, personal blogs and workplace blogs.  We will all curate our knowledges in this way and make them available to anyone interested in our views, our analyses and our growing bodies of knowledge and practice.  I can’t imagine what blogs will look like, but it is such an accessible, powerful medium for communicating and sharing, I just know that it’s not if we should, but when we will.

Acknowledgements (and respect to): https://thegeekanthropologist.com/

Photo credit: http://vayzo.com/images/stories/designer-glass-frames-for-women-.jpg