Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sophomore slump

Miserable is the ABD anthropology graduate student. Approximately as miserable is the PhD who seems to have no second project.

That would be me. The latter, I mean.

I have a few irons in the fire, but with a 4/3 teaching load - yes, you read that correctly, and no, I do not teach at a two-year / community college - the fire burns low and slow.

A project with which I am flirting is the anthropology of spas, in particular looking at contemporary American ideas and practices surrounding hydrotherapy (water) and balneotherapy (baths).

In my random readings, I found an article titled, "The Bath: A Nursing Ritual" by Zane Robinson Wolf (1993), which considers the importance and meaning of bathing (especially others, but also selves) for the profession of nursing. "The nurse who learns to perform the bath artfully is proficient, knowing, subtle, and able," Wolf wrote. She concludes with a reflection on the importance of the bath as a ritual of knowledge and healing:

Consequently, it may be professionally hazardous for nurses to discard the bathing ritual by giving it up to nonprofessional personnel. The bath is more than a standardized and repetitive series of activities; it may be required by the rules of nursing (Gluckman, 1975). The bath can be viewed as a healing rite with great healing power; it may symbolize order, solidarity, and purity (Douglas, 1970).

This calls to mind the emphasis placed on the newborn's first bath (which nurses perform after the birth) and on the need for parents to learn how to bathe the infant properly - that is, safely and hygienically and so on. Following the cutting of the cord, the first bath in the hospital seems another step in the process of individuating (infant from woman), but also of socializing.

A bath is not always just a bath.

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