Friday, October 14, 2011

Oh so radical me

Long story short, I have been picking up the pieces that I dropped during the final push of finishing the revisions on my book MS (which is back to the editors now - woo hoo).

Unfortunately, in picking up those pieces, I dropped still others, like my blog. Sigh.

I am musing while I wait for the printer to spit out copies of two chapters from my book MS (how I love that phrase... like, did I mention I have completed a book MS?) and my CV b/c I putting together a packet to mail to a mentor / adviser who has agreed to write a letter on my behalf as I will be applying for tenure in January. Difficult as it is for me to believe.

I am musing about a recent post by anthropologist / blogger Kate Clancy, "The three things I learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: on being a radical scholar."

I will not dwell on how eerily much the recapped conversations between Clancy and her husband sound like the ones that StraightMan and I regularly have ("About how we can’t compete against people with kids but a stay at home spouse, about how we can’t compete against our peers without kids at all.")

Instead, I will write a bit more hopefully and optimistically about the three points that Clancy makes:

1. Bring your whole self to your job.
2. Have a plan.
3. Be a radical.

Bringing your whole self means not hiding parts of who you are to fit into the role of an academic whose interests fall in line with what (you might think) you ought to do.

Having a plan, Clancy describes, is the difference between the Plan A academic who "says yes to most things because she is directionless and is trying to meet expectations" and the Plan B academic who "uses her personal values and interests to define and express her scholarly worth."

Being a radical means: "Be the scholar you think you should be, bringing your whole self to the table, finding your passion and making it your scholarship, and having a plan that will help you become a leader in your field."

To which I say amen, sister - and add: Where you might want to be, radical scholar, is at a college committed to undergraduate education.

It is true that you will hear StraightMan and I grousing about how little time we have to commit to our research and writing, and how little understanding even some of our co-workers on campus exhibit about what it is, exactly, that professors do: We have summers "off" from teaching, not from the rest of the enterprise of practicing anthropology. Not to mention how resources like time and money (and respect) beget still more resources: Research universities produce research faculty. Too often, StraightMan and I feel that we continue our scholarship despite our positions as college professors.

Yet, in other ways, working as anthropologists at so-called teaching colleges enriches our scholarship. Look, it is true that the research expectations at our respective institutions are not nearly as demanding as they are for our friends and colleagues at research universities. That does not mean we are any less capable of conducting research of the same caliber. (In fact, StraightMan and I both have the privilege of working with colleagues who turn heads in their fields of study.) I am not even convinced that everyone I know at R1 is even that much more productive, when you compare the "input" of time and resources and at R1 versus teaching colleges.

Working at teaching colleges has freed us from the pressure that can drive pre-tenure faculty to undertake research that is calculated to earn them tenure. We pursue the projects that we truly consider meaningful. I believe this is true also of our colleagues. More important, I think our experiences - StraightMan at a small, private liberal arts college and mine at a mid-sized, public comprehensive college - belie the assumption that there is such an important divide between teaching and scholarship - and the rest of our lives.

I teach courses in cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, medical anthropology, and the anthropology of reproduction. My research has had to do with making and raising babies. I want my students to know that I consider the questions that I ask to be important and necessary not only as a teacher and scholar, but also as a woman and a mother.

If that makes me a radical, then that is OK with me :)

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