Good Company

Well the historic First Dinner of (some of the) ethnography.com bloggers has come and gone, and a good time was indeed had.  Much of the conversation was about (surprise!) anthropology and anthropologists, and during that evening I was reminded of a theory of subfields and personality that I formed early in my graduate career.

It came to me pretty quickly that there were startling contrasts between the anthropologists I hung out with as an undergraduate (gregarious, lots of parties, good people, so nice I married one of them) with the ones I was encountering as a graduate student.  Why were they not throwing parties?  When would we meet for a beer instead of an espresso?  Why aren’t they having more fun with all of this, anyway?

OK, so some of it was that graduate school was hard work.  But some of it was this:

As an undergrad, I was an archaeologist.  As a graduate student, I was throwing my lot in with socio-cultural anthropologists.

Here’s the thing:  archaeologists have to work in groups, with their fellow archaeologists.  They need to find a way to get along with each other because they need each other–there are methodological requirements (excavation, lab analysis, survey, mapping) that cannot be filled by a single person working alone in the field.  Most socio-cultural anthropologists, however, are required to go off on their own.  They must be social and human when during research (participant observation, natch), but there are no requirements for being the same when among their colleagues.  They can if they want to, but it’s not institutionalized into the way we do research, the way it is in archaeology.

And wow does it ever show.  Some of the most poorly socialized people I’ve ever met have been socio-cultural anthropologists.  Now, now, don’t be like that…some of my best friends are also socio-cultural anthropologists.  But my closest friends (including my husband), the ones I turn to for parties and other assorted human comforts, are archaeologists.   Once I started meeting the archaeologists for beers, and organizing parties with them, graduate school was a much kinder, gentler place to be.  I tried to throw parties for the socio-cultural crowd, too.  Maybe they were throwing parties without me.

Anyone else encounter this?  And what about the linguists and biological types?  Where do they fit in?   Do the logistics of their research encourage or discourage certain kinds of social or anti-social behavior?

Maybe it was just me?

3 thoughts on “Good Company

  1. Jennifer

    I can give an example of the undergraduate atmosphere. There are a lot of social events in the anthropology department at Fresno State. I’ve been told that it hasn’t always been this way. However, currently there are “Anthro Social” nights once a month where we all get together for pizza (students and faculty), and then there are generally parties at the beginning and end of the semester. These events are usually planned by faculty or sometimes the anthropology club. But they do allow all the anthropology students and faculty to get to know each other better.

    But I have seen what you are speaking of Donna. Each summer there is a dig that students go on, I believe, mostly archaeologists. I think it is because of that 3 week dig that many of those students know each other much better and on a closer level. I guess camping out for three weeks would require that you become pretty close with the company you have.

  2. Cindy

    “Tee hee hee,” said the archaeologist who planned parties with Donna in grad school!

    As you point out, there is a certain kind of, dare I say it, natural selection in the discipline.

    The archetypal socio-cultural anthro. project is one where the researcher arrives alone in a place where he/she will be an outsider. The archetypal archaeological project is one that involves several coolers of beer and prolonged periods of intense interpersonal interaction 24/7. Here the project’s success hinges on the principal investigator’s ability to keep many of his/her fellow archaeologists happy both in the field and in the fieldhouse (hence the frequent need for much cheap liquor).

    Sure we need to know how to dig our way out of a paperbag, as they say, but we also have to be prepared to be the chief financial officer, house-mother, house-manager, personal therapist, group-therapist, cruise-director, and so very much more. (Those of you who are familiar with any of the roles I listed above will quickly understand how cheap liquor becomes a staple.)

    To non-archaeology grad students this scenario can seem a tad nightmarish… apparently they’ve never had to yell at their PhD advisor to get his own damned underwear out of the dryer right before they negotiate some critical part of a research project.

    Now…a sidenote to all those smartalecks (you know who you are) who are going to be tempted to write in and say that anthropological linguists talk too much or that physical anthropologists only love you for your body – spare us – the archaeologists have already told that joke – and it’s funnier when you’re drunk.

    Cheers, Donna! I miss you, too!
    Love, Cindy

  3. Tony

    The Chico State Anthro Department is known for it’s sociality, and it is dominated by…various kinds of archaeologists. However, in support of the socio-cultural anthropologists, they do contribute to the overall levels of sociality in the department. Both the archaeologists and cultural anthropologists are pretty open to the participation of the occasional wayward sociologist as well!

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