It is that time of year again in which the timelines and retrospections and evaluations flood our heads, hearts and mailboxes. It is the time of year that forces us ruthlessly to succumb to neoliberal and societal pressures and ask ourselves: what have we done? What have we reached? These questions hit close to home when I look at anthropolandia, where I haven’t posted anything in over three months now. Lack of time? Lack of inspiration? Or is this maybe not just an example of individual failure, but a reflection of something that is wrong with a broader structure?
I have recently read an article about Slow Scholarship from a Feminist collective. (You can find it here at the ACME journal.) In it, the authors Alison Mountz, Anne Bonds, Becky Mansfield, Jenna Loyd, Jennifer Hyndman, Margaret Walton-Roberts, Ranu Basu, Risa Whitson, Roberta Hawkins, Trina Hamilton and Winifred Curran advocate for an approach to scholarship that makes it possible again for good scholarship to ripen. The idea shouldn’t surprise:
Good scholarship requires time: time to think, write, read, research, analyze, edit, and collaborate. High quality instruction and service also require time: time to engage, innovate, experiment, organize, evaluate, and inspire. (p. 1237)
This was the first article in weeks that I read because I wanted to, not because I had to for whatever kind of obligation. Where is innovation going to come from, if there is no time to explore? Among my colleagues and friends pursuing doctoral degrees, I know literally no-one who hasn’t struggled with their project at some point. Sure, this is not just, or in every case, a question of slowing things down. And the position from which I look at the problem is exceptional, because most doctoral students either don’t have the same financial security, or a much higher workload to comply with while trying to write their dissertations. But the longer I look at this phenomenon, the more I think that something has to be done. Something that is not limited to individual (self-optimizing) coaching sessions, but something that will make space for the uniquely personal, even, and maybe especially if, it doesn’t fit into an overarching scheme of profitability.
Some propositions from the article on how we can make space for the slow moments of scholarship, those that include the best ideas and the dearest projects, are these:
- Talk things slow! Let other people know about the slow scholarship movement, discuss is with your peers and organize! The more, the merrier, and the more likely you are to find time to thin if the people around you are aware of the situation.
- Take care of yourself and others! While you can only take care of others if you also take care of yourself, you shouldn’t forget about them, either. Especially if you find yourself in a position in which you have the power to influence in work schedules, make plans that work for as many people as possible.
- Write fewer emails! Have a look at how writing, sending and receiving emails can be improved for all people involved over at emailcharter.org!
- Good enough is the new perfect! When it comes to things you have to do (compared to the things you want to do), reach for the minimum. Perfectionalism is a real time killer, and this way you might get back some precious time to think.
For 2018, I wish for you and me to have the ability and strength to tackle some of these, and make the niches we’re inhabiting a little more inhabitable again.
So Genderella uses Facebook. Already her fault, right? One day, Genderella read an article and reposted it on Facebook, because she found it interesting and worthy to share. How dumb of her to think that on her own timeline she could post things just like that. Not long afterwards, the troll was there, making his first comment mansplaining everything the article said was dumb. So Genderella thought, “Hey, maybe I can point out what is actually good about the article.” She was so young and so naive. Comment after comment followed, in which the tone of the troll stayed equally arrogant, and dismissed all of her arguments by exaggerating his perceived reality. Until she finally exploded. So dumb, right? Why would you ever show your emotions in a social media discussion? Of course, the troll happily accepted this failure, and send another comment pointing out her emotional reaction was inappropriate. Genderella, now determined to not leave the discussion first, wrote another comeback, and finally, the troll exploded as well. Genderella wrote another comment, pointing out again what she thought was worthy of sharing of the article, and stating how the debate could have been enriched. Then, a white knight showed up. He took time and words to explain to the troll how he was wrong, and how he apparently had no interest in a real discussion, either. He also emphasized his own expert position in the debate. He mentioned the same aspects Genderella did, but in the words of a white knight, of course. And then, the unimaginable happened: the troll gave him a “Like” and stayed silent. Genderella was saved. Of course, a white knight had to end the debate. Who has ever heard of a fairy tale princess saving herself?
I have recently started to have a look at Colombian history inspired graphic novels. After caminos condenados, Los Once (2014, Laguna Libros) was a logical consequence, especially considering its focus on Bogota. The novel takes the reader to the siege of Bogota’s Palace of Justice in 1985, from the perspective of a handful mice living in the palace. What is interesting about this view from an insider-outsider, is how it allows to get a feeling for the situation of not knowing what is happening, a strong feeling of being threatened and vulnerable, and of not understanding even when things are supposedly said clearly.
The mice ar probably an alusion to the famous Maus comic by Art Spiegelmann. But instead of cats, Los Once uses different kinds of birds and dogs to represent military forces, police and members of the M-19 guerrilla group. To me, it was not quite clear who was who, as shapes and figures often transform into each other, but maybe this was also intentional, to further underline the feeling of not knowing whom to trust, and makes clear that no-one was “the good guy”, there.
How did I come across the book?
I wanted to read it for a while, and had heard about it when it was just out, but didn’t search for it actively. After I read caminos condenados, however, I decided to have a closer look at other graphic novels.
When and where did I read it?
March 8th, International Women’s Day. The heavy rains outside made it easier to go through with the plan of striking, and to avoid working on anything else, I decided reading would be a good substitute.
Today is the day. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias officially start disarming. 90 days ago, the peace agreement was signed, starting the preparations for the long and possibly arduous legal journey to peace between the Colombian government and the continent’s oldest active guerrilla group. I’ve been to a conference on peace education for the whole day and almost missed the news, but then, someone mentioned it there. So I was checking press coverage of the day, and found an article on RCN (which I don’t exactly consider a balanced source, but read the article anyway). I came across a quote that says:
Pese al retraso, Maritza González, de 54 años y guerrillera desde los 14, está esperanzada. “Estoy dejando el fusil por la escoba”, dijo esta indígena Wayúu.
[Despite the delay, Maritza González, 54 years old and a guerrillera since she was 14, is hopeful: “I am leaving the rifle for the broom”, said the Wayúu (an indigenous group).]
I am reading and re-reading the quote and don’t even know where to start, because the phrase strikes me as utterly dense. The delay she is talking about is the delay in constructing the sites where the guerrilleros are supposed to gather and disarm. But what strikes me more is what we get to know about her in just one sentence: She is part of an indigenous group and guessing from her young entry age possibly a forced recruit. She spend 40 years with the guerrilla, which is almost 4/5 of her entire life. I can not even remotely imagine what this means for her hopes and aspirations for the future. What leaves me speechless, however, is what she says: I am leaving the rifle for the broom. While I can see how leaving arms might be a hopeful prospect, in the sense that her live will possibly become less stressful or life-threatening, I have serious difficulties in seeing how a broom is a hopeful prospect. Then again, maybe this works as a kind of Biedermeier-esque return to private life, and the broom here actually stands for the construction of a household, or an income in the way of getting a job in cleaning. Other than that, it does not strike me as an exceptionally liberating metaphor. And it makes me wonder about her experiences within the guerrilla, about the role her gender played during those 40 years. As I think about it now, maybe she wasn’t forced at all, because 40 years ago the political positions of the FARC were still a reason to join. And I sense a prejudice on my side: a broom doesn’t have to be a tool of patriarchal oppression. But then again it might. I’m still confused.
A year has gone by since I posted the first entrance on Anthropolandia, so it is a good time to think about the experience of blogging. While I have been blogging before (the obligatory adolescent year-abroad-Blog, and as part of a blogging network by aspiring journalists and/or writing professionals), trying to write an academic blog meant a steep learning curve. First, academic blogging is so much slower. The amount of detail, the correct sources, the depth I aspire to – all contribute to a different understanding of “time-consuming”. While earlier, this meant the general amount I spent on blogging, today, this is the time that goes into just one good post. Second, and related to this, I think the transition between one and the other is not exactly smooth. Luckily, as an anthropologist, I belong to a species that has experimented with writing styles for quite some time and has developed an enormous tolerance in terms of what language is still considered scientific. In terms of my initial aim to lose fear of the white page, I think I have gotten closer to this, or at least I see Anthropolandia as the experimental space it was meant to be. But when thinking about experiments, I think I am only just starting. I think the new series Vignettes from the Field has an enormous potential for this, and I will try my best to contribute to the series from time to time.
Overall, I am happy with how things are going. There are almost zero days when no-one comes by to see what’s going on here, and I have vistors from almost allover the world! I would really like to have more discussions in the comment sections, especially on the pieces I explicitly ask for my readers opinion, but maybe many of you just aren’t the commenting type of people. The most frequented times change almost weekly, sometimes it’s Monday morning, sometimes Wednesday afternoon, so I assume this has a lot to do with when I publish. The most frequented categories for the first year are Genderella’s Stories, which I appreciate and will try to continue updated. But there seems to be a new trend in the Vignettes, as well, but as the series is young, it doesn’t yet make it to any important place in the yearly stats. In general, you people seem to prefer personal post to the short book reviews, which is understandable. I am sorry to all of you young visitors hoping for a comprehensive storyline-review for some of the novels I have been reading (I’m guessing homework, here?!), but I will not change my reviewing policies. I do the book reviews to remember the impressions a book left on me, for the content I have other systems to turn to.
The Reading List in Retrospect
I made it through 22 books, which is less than I had hoped for, so the first aim for 2017 is to make it to at least 24, that is, two per month. The difficulty clearly is to make it through the whole book, if it doesn’t start promising, or turns out not be useful, etc. Of those 22, five were purely scientific, which is clearly less than I had hoped for. To my defense, there is an unpublished blogpost on all the books I have started but never finished, which is about five times as long. My experience is that monographs are considerably more easy to finish than edited volumes, which is why one of the strategies for this year will be to read more ethnographic monographs. In terms of genre (apart from ethnographies), my taste for novels is obvious. Maybe this year there will be more graphic novels, poetry, or – if I feel adventurous – short stories. For sure, there will be more ethnographies, which I will try to read as novels. We will see how that works. In terms of diversity, I think I have made an effort. I am somewhat unwilling to assign sexes and gendered identities to the authors I have read this year, since I don’t know how they identify, but I would go as far as to say that I could make more efforts in terms of queerness. Considering race, I could try harder for Latin America (especially considering my specialization in this area), and basically everything east of Germany until getting to the US. At least novel-wise, Latin America as a focus region is already planned for this year.
I clearly have a tendency for contemporary literature, and I don’t really plan to change that. I have a few classics waiting in my bookshelf, but also a serious “Classics” aversion, so I doubt I get very far with this one considering all the other plans I have. Language-wise, it is noticeable that I find reading in English so much more enjoying than anything else… From 22 books, only 5 are in my mothertongue, German, and only one in Spanish – which is a graphic novel, even. For 2017, I plan to continue the English trend, but try to read more Spanish, as well. As I said, there are already several works on the list, and I really hope they will nice to read, because I admit that until now, I haven’t found many Spanish-writing authors that convinced me. Notable exceptions: Roberto Bolaño, Alvaro Cepeda Samudio, and maybe Hector Abad Faciolince and Juan Gabriel Vásquez. No, not Borges, not García Márquez, not Vargas Llosa. And where are the women, by the way?
New Year, new Series, new Reading List
For 2017, I want to focus on science. Reading novels does count as science in two ways: First, reading good books is a way of developing a good writing style, and that is one of the professional aims for this year. Second, if I can focus on novels from and about the region/people I do research on, they might help me to “get into the mood”. But the plan is to read more monographs, on the region, on the people, on the topic, on things completely unrelated, but monographs, to understand the mechanisms of the format, to gain insights into the topics at an in-depth level, and to be inspired.
Another important aspect will be writing. The new series on Vignettes will play a prominent role here, and maybe others will follow, because I might just as well practice at home. I am hoping to expand the Genderella series, even if I am afraight of finding new things to tell, because really every new chapter is yet another instance of a situation that could have been so much nicer, was the world a different place. To sum up, Anthropolandia is not going to change a lot, but I will try to paymore attention to what I had initially planned for this space: To be about (scientific) reading and writing.
Gotta love public transport! Every now and then when Genderella embarks on her commutes to and from the corridors of knowledge, she encounters new and exciting adventures.
Once upon a time on public transport, Genderella was happy to finally get on a bus after waiting for half an hour for one to pass with at least minimal possibilities to stand on her own two feet only. She managed, and thanks to her being slightly taller than the average bus taker at that location, she was almost comfortable holding on to the handhold at the roof of the bus. With parts of human bodies everywhere around her, she didn’t immediately notice the hand on her ass, but only when it finally left.
On a different occasion, Genderella stood next to the handhold at one of the bus doors, when a man “accidentally” touched her breast instead of the handhold. Another time, a man used her tigh as hand rail while trying to stand up from the floor, where he’s been sitting. Genderella never wondered about these incidences, because from what she heard from her peers, that was just the way things went.
Only that one time, when Genderella traveled home from a concert alone on an almost empty train, things where different. That one time, a man stood across from her, watching. Genderella didn’t like his look, but didn’t think about it too much, until she realized the man was moving his hand very strangely inside the pocket of his pants while continuing to watch her. Genderella felt very uncomfortable, she noticed her head getting red and felt ashamed. But since there was no-one else in sight, she decided to act. When she got up at the next stop to change lines, she looked the man straight in the eye and told him he was disgusting. He blushed, but didn’t come after her, fortunately.
After that, Genderella didn’t feel great. She felt that, although she had conquered a little space for herself and fought of some evil dragons, she really only won a battle, not the war.
Check out Genderella’s other stories here.
Once upon a time in the far away kingdom of academia, young Genderella set forth on her way to make a PhD. On her long journey through the corridors of knowledge, she came across many friendly allies, who would help her sort the peas and lentils from the ashes. She would learn about the difference between sex and gender, about intersectionality, about queerness and the importance of fair and inclusive speech. But every now and then, evil step-sisters and brothers crossed her way, too. There came this particularly dark month, where in only four weeks, she broke so many glass slippers on the stairs, she almost forgot how to dance.
One day, she was sitting with her male peers and had lunch. A few days earlier, news had spread about some terrible incidents in the kingdom of Cologne at saint’s day of St. Sylvester. For many parts, the conversation was focussed on the origin of the bandits. Genderella tried to introduce her perspective into the discussion, stating that more important than the origin of the bandits would be a discussion about the security of women more in general. But no-one reacted to her intervention. A few minutes later, on of her male colleagues voiced the same critique, and then the other men would engage in that discussion for a short time, before coming back to the earlier direction of the talk. That’s when Genderella noticed, her opinions were not as important as those of her cis-male peers.
It happened another day, that Genderella participated in a discussion about a text from one of her peers. She then suggested gender as analytical category to look at a problem. Her peer accepted the critique and thanked her for it, but an evil stepfather could not hold on to himself and said, Genderella must obviously be wrong, because gender was not at all important to that question: something else already was. So Genderella realized, there could only be one explanation for every problem in the world – or in a text, respectively. Continue reading