Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Academics talk best to each other, not the outside

So, last weekend I attended the American Anthropology Association's Annual Conference. This was on a lark (cheap plane tickets happened to show up at the right time), and the first lesson I learned was - DO NOT go to a conference on a lark. Otherwise you will be spending a lot of time overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people, and have no one to talk to. Sounds a bit whiny, doesn't it? I would write the whole thing off as poor planning on my part, except that there were a few people who were welcoming and willing to talk to anyone who came along: the military people. I think academics are just clique-ish. This is something I've noticed before, and is the root of my dislike of academic language in general - it is a way of keeping the Others out of your special places.

Which moves us to the next point - there were five or six different panels on "public engagement" of anthropology. Unfortunately, these panels all pretty much devolved into anthropologists talking about how they can be activists against the government. Lost in academic language and political espousals, these discussions were really more of a choir. At one point, while decrying the problems of HTS and Montgomery McFate, there was a woman behind me saying "mm-hmm" at every point. She might as well have been proclaiming "Amen!" to an inspiring sermon.

Finally, I have to say that when academics talk to each other, and not the outside world, they actually have some interesting things to say. I went to a session on pubic and body hair, predominantly delivered by grad students, which was thoughtful, engaging, and interesting. There were a number of thematic elements (MTF transsexuals apparently place a large amount of symbolism in "adding" things to their bodies - especially body hair), as well as some gender issues (men are willing and open to discuss their pubic hair maintenance, women not so much), although there was an interesting moment when the researcher on this project stated (with apparent certainty) that the men she was interviewing "there was no flirting involved." Sometimes the inability of women to realize when men are hitting on them astounds me.

Oh, and a final note - for students of human behavior - who thought it was a good idea to schedule FOUR HOUR sessions?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on your conference comments. My first American Library Association Annual Conference (attendance around 30,000) was in D.C., a city I had never visited, and I was simultaneously overwhelmed with the scale & number of people, and terribly isolated since I knew so few people. The folks I did know had busy schedules at conference events, so it was largely a pretty lonely four days. At least I crammed in some sightseeing (and a lot of walking).

ALA, for reasons unknown & unfathomable, also schedules the occasional 4 hour session. To me that's a combination of dumb & evil. Most folks are traveling, so they're tired & out of sorts anyway, and hence are unlikely to make it 4 hours, or pay attention for such a long presentation. And those poor saps who feel that the content of such a session is vital for them professionally feel forced into enduring it.