Am I alone?

 

I am indeed alone, as the single anthropologist in a University that specializes in management and technology.  This leads of course to a sort of academic isolation and - with the best will in the world - to a corporate misunderstanding of what I do.  For example, I have been assigned to the REF group that specializes in aero engines - an area that probably should be rich with anthropologists but (as far as I know) is not at the moment.  I certainly have done no work in that area.

 

But am I alone among this group?  Are there other anthropologists out there who have to carve their academic lives among those of a different discipline?

 

Charles

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NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:

Charles

It is not clear what the connection of aero engines with anthropology could be , but if you have something in mind would you mind please to explain it here in a simple  way ?

Nikos,

I was probably being delphic.  Apologies.  There is no connection between the work I do in this university and Aero Engines.  But the people who are setting up the REF system here know so little about Anthropology that they have put me in this alien group.  It appears to be proof positive that I am alone.

Is anyone else in the same situation?



NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:

Charles

It is not clear what the connection of aero engines with anthropology could be , but if you have something in mind would you mind please to explain it here in a simple  way ?

Hi Charles, I am safely tucked up in an anthropolgoy department at present, but this was not always the case. I flirted with HR in particular at a large engineering firm, in fact a world leader in filtration techniques. I survived, albeit my involvement was short lived. I was never sure how to respond to questions about where I found all the ants (a wry smile and stare into the middle-distance usually worked).

 

I have also felt very peeved by other academics' reactions to such "soft science" as they say. At a recent ESRC/ NERC collaborative training event, as the only anthropologist in the room I was heckled, gently, but enough to realise that we can sometimes be seen as blackguards.

 

In a sense most anthropolgists can relate to your feelings of isolation, since we choose something akin to your predicament for a fieldwork-based research project, unless we collaborate, which is still quite rare. Hopefully OAC can help you stay sane.

 

Best, Elaine

 

 

Charles, are you quite sure that aero engines have nothing to do with anthropology? I see a field site whose natives' lives are largely focused on a class of artifacts that are veritable embodiments of power and excitement. There may also be applied opportunities here. I think of two possible models.

At the Ethnographic Praxis in Corporations (EPIC) conference in Tokyo in 2010, I heard a fellow from Intel talk about the way in which ethnography had contributed to development of a new generation of chips for notebook computers. The ethnographer observed that chip designers assumed the 24/7 on-all-the-time use of chips, a legacy from mainframe days. But notebook computers are used irregularly and often off for long periods of time. This observation, confirmed by quantitative research, led to development of chips that are far more power-efficient in situations where they are frequently turned on and off. 

I also have a daughter, a former Navy helicopter pilot, one of whose jobs as a junior officer was to improve the efficiency of the maintenance cycle for aircraft on a Navy carrier. Slow turn around was in part the result of a high degree of specialization in the people who maintained the aircraft, with different teams that were stumbling over each other and often undoing each other's work to get at what they themselves had to do. Her suggestion that the different specialized teams contribute experts to a combined maintenance crew had to be negotiated with a bunch of senior petty officers concerned about how contributing people to the combined crew would affect their own people and performance. A good deal of cultural sensitivity and organizational smarts, which my daughter herself ascribes to growing up bilingual and bicultural in Japan, was required to pull of her task. 

These two anecdotes merge in my head as I envision an anthropologist working with an aero engine team, as informants, as a colleague, as both.

Just brainstorming....

After spending 13 years in academia acquiring my credentials as an anthropologist I joined the Canadian federal government in 1987. To put it mildly, it was a shock to the system and to a certain extent remains so.  That said; I have found  two aspects of my training to have been of great assistance as I navigate my way through my professional life.  Firstly, my knowledge of semiotics and the use of language to clarify or obfuscate have given me some tools  to use in framing proposed public policy in a way that highlights possible areas of compromise (if you didn’t know this, a life in public service is one long process of finding the middle ground).  And secondly, to exhort my colleagues to practice the sine qua non of fieldwork, i.e., to listen before coming to a conclusion. I have to admit, I am more successful in the former than the latter.

What I most miss about being in an academic milieu is the debate of ideas without the necessity of having to ask how much it will cost and what level of priority it has within the minds of our political leaders.  Still it is not entirely a barren landscape and I am lucky enough to have time to dip into the literature and to bring the ideas I find there to some government boardrooms where, if not acted upon, at least they can be heard and stored away for a more welcoming time. Of late I have been reading Will Kymlika on the reconciliation of political/cultural communities within nation states, Nigel Rapport and Tim Ingold on what it is, or should be, to be a human and James Scott on the state.

It seems that I am not alone in my alone-ness - working alone with people who don't understand us appears, at least for some, to be part of the identity of an anthropologist.  Perhaps there is a book in these experiences... 

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