Another testimonial from the trenches of academia. This one written by Eliza Jane Darling over at Zero Anthropology. Her post Less Than Zero Anthropology speaks to some of the same issues that Sarah Kendzior brought up in her piece (see this post here at SM). Darling’s essay is also a powerful biographical look into the kinds of not-so-inspirational “challenges” that many freshly minted and aspiring anthropologists face these days. Here’s a selection:
A few weeks back I turned 40, the age at which I once pledged that if academia didn’t throw a real job my way, I’d kick it to the curb and do something else with my life. It was an arbitrary number based on the calculus of shame, a countdown to the break point of infantilisation tolerance that reached Anthropology Zero in early August and is now ticking away into negative figures. From my perspective on the launch pad to a brave new world beyond the university, it dawns on me that I’ve left my mid-life crisis a bit late. The problem with spending twenty years learning how to do anthropology is that it doesn’t leave vast amounts of spare time to learn how to do anything else.
Her post is about anthropology, yes, but also about the breakdown or failure of something larger. Something that draws in a lot of hard-working, energetic, and hopeful people. Face it: a lot of people are attracted to anthropology (and academia in general) for many positive and important reasons…but something happens along the way. Not to everyone, of course, but to far too many if you ask me. So what’s the problem? All of the debt? The lack of jobs? Is ‘anthropology’ itself the problem? Darling does not seem to think so, since she writes: “anthropology was, and is, brilliant. I wouldn’t trade the education it gave me for all the tea in China, or any of the other ports of call to which it never wound up taking me in the end.” So what is it then? What’s gone wrong here? Read:
It’s taken a bit longer to apply the heal-thy-self edict to the individual scale. For me, that’s meant finally separating anthropology from academia. And hold on to your hats because I’m going to let the cat out of the bag here – a lot of the time, academia’s a drag. The bureaucratic busywork, the public vilification, the endless struggle for meagre funding, the mousy obeisance to those who occasionally chuck a dime our way, the manic publishing treadmill which favours quantity over quality and pushes all production toward mediocrity, the incessant big-fish-in-a-small-pond dick-waving, the self-consuming spiral of endless, imperious critique. I’ll be more than pleased to drain that dingy bathwater while I struggle to keep hold of the baby.
An idea for a post that has been rolling around in my head for the past couple of months. The title would be something like: “Does academia own anthropology?” The post itself would be about whether or not anthropology is or should be considered the sole property of the academy—and what anthropology would or could be if it escaped certain confines. Darling’s essay broaches the subject quite forcefully. Good. We should all talk about this, instead of sweeping our worries, disagreements, and fears under the rug to deal with them…tomorrow.
Is academia the problem? If not, what is? And more importantly, where are the solutions?
Read the rest of Darling’s essay, here. Then get back to me.
Update I: Hat tip to SM reader Brandi Squire for sharing the link to Darling’s post on our FB page. Thanks!
Update II: For more reading along these lines, see this post by Jason Antrosio over at Living Anthropologically.