Although personal transformation is a theme that has a long and deep connection with anthropology, it is also something that can be stigmatized. For me, this sense of stigmatization is encapsulated in a phrase that I have occasionally heard and even used myself in some situations: ‘mesearch’.
The general idea, as far as I can tell, is that mesearch is like research, but that it lacks the virtues of research: where as research is serious, mesearch is superficial, while research is emotionally austere, mesearch is self-indulgent. Research is virtuously other-directed, whereas mesearch is connected to the anthropologist’s self and concerns in a way that is somehow unseemly.
Of course there will always be those, inside anthropology and out, who conceive of themselves as scientists who take up objective and unsentimental relations to their subjects. For these people anything that smacks of personal transformation is mesearch. But often times accusations of ‘mesearch’ have more to do with disagreements over style in anthropological empathy rather than the proposition that there should be any at all.
I have some ideas about how accusations of ‘mesearch’ play out in particular situations but… I think I’ll stop here for now and wait for feedback before I press on to the next topic.