How To Get Tenure The Gary Alan Fine Way

One of the areas that I have been trying to develop some expertise in since I finished my dissertation has been sociology, and particularly the qualitative, ethnographic sociology that is similar to anthropology. I’ve been delighted to discover all the great work done in that area, including the writings of gourmand-cum-symbolic-interactionist “Gary Alan Fine”: Fine is incredibly prolific, consistently good, and circles around many of the same sorts of questions that anthropologists ask. As a connoisseur of CVs I’ve been impressed by “his”: and in particular the underlying patterns of reearch and publication that I see in his work. So, at the risk of stereotyping what has been a long and productive career, let me describe what I think of as How To Get Tenure The Gary Alan Fine Way:

  1. Choose a fieldsite that is easily accessible and will not require tons of preparation – no language learning, for instance.

  2. Do fieldwork there for a year or so — you might even be able to do it while still teaching.

  3. While you are doing fieldwork, write a review article on an Enduring Issue in social science — the macro/micro distinction, the structure/agency dichotomy, the social construction of reality, etc. Coauthoring might help, as would teaching a course on it.

  4. Towards the end of your fieldwork, write a journal article that summarizes your main ethnographic data.

  5. Write a book about your fieldwork. Turn the review article into the first and last ‘theoretical framing’ chapters of your book, and expand the journal article into the middle ethnographic chapters — you probably had to cut stuff from the original article any ways.

  6. Write clearly and well with a hint of humor, but not in such a literary style that the Hardcore Anthropology Is A Science Dammnit types get turned off.

  7. Rinse and repeat. You should be able to cycle through these steps every three to five years.

Most of Fine’s stuff that I’ve read is set in the Midwest, but there is no reason this couldn’t be done in whatever fieldsite you’ve invested time in and you get back to pretty regularly. Ideally, the process should be iterative, with each fieldsite being connected or related to previous ones, and the theoretical issues framed by unfinished business left over from the last book.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

3 thoughts on “How To Get Tenure The Gary Alan Fine Way

  1. Awesome. Really awesome, Rex.

    Erving Goffman’s another good example, but so many of those folks in the meadian interactionist tradition were/are basically menschen like you describe.

    The ethnomethodologists, now, are a different story.

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