Wednesday, July 18, 2007

At the Anthropology Meetings (a short story)
Howard Campbell
University of Texas–El Paso
(As published in Qualitative Inquiry, vol.12: 1, February 2006, reproduced with the permission of Howard Campbell)

Chona de la Paz boarded a plane at the El Pocho airport the day after talking to her stepbrother in the Juárez jail. She had little travel experience and had never left the border area except for family trips to visit relatives in Los Angeles and Mexico City. She could feel the tension in her stomach as the plane struggled through the west Texas winds until it reached cruising altitude. In August, the noted feminist scholar Camelia Fiera had invited Chona to present a paper at the American Anthropological Association meetings on the killings of women in Juárez. As Chona relaxed on the plane, she reflected on how she, an unpublished graduate student, had been invited to participate in a key panel at such an important scholarly event. Before she left, Chona’s mentor, Dr. Chase, had told her that Fiera first read about the homicides in the New York Times. According to Chase, Fiera decided to write a crossover monograph that would make money and affect the academic arena where her postwomanist theory was in vogue. Fiera made an exploratory trip down to the U.S-México border, where University of Tejas officials steered her to Chase, who connected Fiera to Chona. Chona was in the midst of researching the causes of violence in Juárez. Fiera needed a local authority on her AAA panel to legitimize it in the eyes of her colleagues. She asked Chona to join her at the meetings.

"What a break!" Chona mused exaltedly. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime: I’m just a graduate student and I’m sharing a panel with the superstars of anthropology! But I wonder if these big shots will take me seriously?" After a bumpy three-hour flight, the plane landed at snowy O’Hare Airport. Soon she was in a taxi on her way to the Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago, the site of the AAA meetings. More ...


speshoolk said...

thanks for that very amusing story anthony. I wonder whether there's really much to be gained by travelling long distances to 'share research'. To reiterate some of what has already been said here: my experience of conferences (especially the bigger ones) has been:
They're boring
they're sterile
i hate 'networking': it makes me feel uncomfortable and inadequate.
This always leads me to a mild personal crisis where i get depressed about the whole academic career thing, because it all seems so phony.
conferences reinforce divisions between academics and the rest of the world, especially the poor.
They bring u into relations of exploitation.
They work best when they are focused on a very specific topic (ie, not 'cultural studies' or 'race/whiteness') otherwise too many of the papers will be irrelevant to most ppl. Small conferences focused on a recent issue that needs to be unpacked can be good.
Most obviously: yes, a lot of ppl read their papers and there isnt much room for engagement with their arguments, and most people are there to make a name for themselves etc., and people are rude or just slanging each other.
I find myself drifting off during sessions, daydreaming, thinking about lunch.
I find myself wondering whether im just there for the food.

Maximilian C. Forte said...

Thanks for this piece Anthony, it is great reading, and right on target, a great description of a lot of the anthropology conferences I have been to, with some points to be made in general about the supposed value of conferencing.