Week 9: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-in

Nine weeks down, one week to go. The first ever Savage Minds Writing Group is winding down. Let’s check in now about our past week of writing, but also reflect on how our styles of writing are indebted to our mentors.

This week’s Writing Workshop post by Michael Ralph–Styles of Writing, Techniques of Mentorship: A Tribute to Michel-Rolph Trouillot–was heart-stirring in many ways. The process of becoming an anthropologist, a scholar, a writer, is one that involves so many people as mentors along the way. In the field, at your university, at large in the discipline.

So much of this piece resonated with me, and with others whom I’ve spoken with this past week:

On the physical constitution of the scholar,

on writing as re-thinking as well as re-deploying,


on the need for teachers.

Thank you, Michael Ralph, for this piece. And thank you to my mentors too. My thinking and my writing are indebted to them in ways I am still realizing.

I am an anthropologist and historian of Tibet, and a professor at the University of Colorado. I conduct research, write, lecture, and teach. At any given time, I am probably working on one of the following projects: Tibet, British empire, and the Pangdatsang family; the CIA as an ethnographic subject; contemporary US empire; the ongoing self-immolations in Tibet; the Chushi Gangdrug resistance army; refugee citizenship in the Tibetan diaspora (Canada, India, Nepal, USA); and, anthropology as theoretical storytelling.

5 thoughts on “Week 9: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-in

  1. I forgot to check in last week. Bernstein’s piece on grant writing was an excellent motivator and came at the perfect time – Biological Anthropology NSFs were due Monday, and her words really resonated with me as I put the final touches on the document last week. As with any grant, this week I know a thousand things I wish I had changed, but that’s for the next grant now. It was a big week – 2 grants submitted and a new manuscript out for review. I have revisions for #2 sitting on my desk – comments from 3 members of my writing group, but an insane amount of service over the next week, so it seems unlikely that this piece will be revised and out by the end of next week. Thanks to a conference and service obligations, there is no carefully guarded full day of writing this upcoming week: both my usual and back-up day are booked solid. I did take prime creative time this week and spend it on formatting the document for submission, even though I usually prioritize prime time for content generation and not formatting, but getting the manuscript out seemed more important.

  2. I also missed the last week… but I have been writing. I realised that I am not really writing dissertation chapters so much as proto-chapters, or collections of written stories I can draw from. This past week I got about halfway through the biggest one of these, with just one more small one to go afterwards. I also have been thinking a lot about rigorous theory and the various ways to bring history and memory into my project, so the post about Michel-Rolph Trouillot was perfect. This week I will finish the giant proto-chapter and revise a paper for a conference in Philadelphia, and think more about big-picture structure for the dissertation. I feel like I’m turning a corner and moving beyond the slogging through ethnographic stories to a point where I can start putting it all together. I think it is organised in my head, but not yet on paper, so that will be the challenge for April. I have been keeping a log of the time I spend on writing, and while it’s not as much as I’d like, it’s at least several hours every day, and I’m happy with this for now.

  3. After some weeks of struggle (to which previous check-ins have been testimony), I finally settled on how to adapt the structure of my overall thesis. Rather than writing my last two chapters at his moment, I thereafter decided, I will allow myself a bit of time to rewrite previous drafts. Up until now I have found this an ambiguous experience, feeling both excited and anxious. Excited because, if the restructuring works, I think it will improve the thesis. But anxious because, well, what if it doesn’t…?

    Michael Ralph’s blogpost, funny enough, coincided with a seminar by Bruce Kapferer I visited last week – this seminar made me reflect on (PhD) guidance and mentorship in ways I hadn’t done before. Listening to Kapferer recounting his training within the Manchester School, I was overtaken by a vicarious sense of nostalgia. Notwithstanding that individual scholars were fighting amongst themselves all the time (hence the need for bonding, which translated into the Manchester School’s famous tradition of watching sports), I couldn’t help but thinking what a thrill a shared spirit of ‘We Will Change Anthropology For Good!’ must have given. As must have the awareness, of Manchester School students, that they were taught by some of the forerunners of their time.

    Reflecting on my own PhD trajectory after Kapferer’s mesmerizing flow of words, I suddenly considered myself very lucky with a mentor who, over the years, managed to evoke similar sentiments – while holding his achievements and contributions in high esteem, I realized he introduced me to an academic attitude that rests on such a compelling appreciation of our beautiful, beautiful, beautiful discipline.

  4. I’m late, but wanted to check in nonetheless. Based on the feedback I got from my committee, I’ve been doing a lot of follow-up research to not only get the information they requested, but I also wrote reaction notes as I read things to chronicle my further processing this information. To remain productive while I took the little one and dog for walks, I took voice memos and then transcribed them – this was amazing ! I came up with a great organizational scheme to present the core of my ethnographic and theoretical contribution. What a little fresh air and sunshine will inspire.

    This week I am going on a writing retreat where I hope to re-write my intro (one more time) and really nail it. I’ll let you know how it goes come our last (LAST!) check in this Friday. Have a good, productive week all!

  5. Was at a conference at Yale last weekend that was hugely energizing, then wrote for two solid hours on the train from Paris to Avignon. Then turned my attention elsewhere. Still finding energy from the group though, and glad to hear how others are faring. Grateful also for my mentors, for their tough critiques, their models, and their appreciation of life through and beyond academia.

Comments are closed.