Isn’t it normal for academic anthropologists to change their research interests over time? Usually we are hired into departments to fill specific ethnographic and theoretical slots. Department course offerings in smaller universities especially are built around these varied areas of expertise. It can therefore present a problem when faculty depart from their university or retire, leaving courses in a planned curriculum menu untaught.
But what happens when faculty are still in residence but no longer have the same teaching and research interests? Are the consequences from this shift different for particular types of faculty, and is this one of the hidden areas where power relations in a department come into play? One sees many instances in which, say, a person is hired as an expert on Thailand but once they are tenured will only do research on tourism in Southern California. Or, hypothetically, a biological anthropologist is hired because of his research on hominid fossils but later decides he will only do primate observations at a local zoo. Is the pressure on junior faculty to stay within a narrow slot hindering their development and creativity? Is it justifiable for senior faculty to use “departmental fit” as an argument for tenure denial when they themselves mange to justify their own radical retooling?