You may set out to isolate yourself from cosmopolitan concerns and contain your interests within hermetical contexts. But the concerns follow you. The contexts explode.
Nothing that is human is alien to me. If it is about humanity, then its study is more or less within the anthropological ambit.
The purpose of this study was to explicate the nature of the choice of profession, specifically, anthropology as a humanistic and intellectual assignation.1 Why this career? Why these persons? How have they inherited and reproduced, or altered the discipline? What are the implications for academic professionalization in general? These were some of the salient questions that guided this project.
One way to understand the construction and reproduction of knowledge through its human medium is simply to ask academics about their experiences. One crucial theme came out of this research: anthropologists frequently discussed their work as a calling and defined their employment as vocational in a manner very similar to the Calvinistic sense of an assignation.
To the anthropologists involved in this study, an overarching sense of a calling encompassed their doing of anthropology (i.e., in their teaching, researching, communicating, and all the other very diverse activities that fall into the work of the discipline). This concept of a calling is not to be taken in any traditionally religious sense. It is not a turning away from or a rejection of the world. Instead, it is a turning toward the world as it is; not through some dreamy wish fulfillment, but rather as an ethical activity that itself attempts to fulfill the aspiring presence of humanity in the world. During this time period of the training in and practicing of their calling, anthropologists made it their task to be less sure of what scholarly study could accomplish. They did this just as they turned toward the task of critiquing the history of the discipline as it stood at the time. Used by anthropologists, this sense of vocation is an individuating idea of an assignation that gives meaning to life, and takes place in society far beyond a uniformed or social role, such as a “professional,”“academic,” or even “scholar” (cf. Weber 1946:129–156; Willner 1973). Anthropologists do recognize these definitions and anthropology as a profession has in fact aided in their construction. Personal dialogue with anthropologists about their own lives, however, pays homage to another theme other than that of social role or educational function. The concept of vocation as a life-calling originates in our time not through a divine assignation but rather with a vague sense of “what felt right,” and what one was good at—more along the lines of “if I am doing this, it is doing good,” that is, a good in itself and not a more technical idea of “I am good at a certain task,” and so forth—allowed anthropologists to become at home in their work and life.
Participants in this study almost unanimously agreed with the vocational legacy of their careers, while making it plain that if one did not have this sense of calling. The “higher” character of their field required of them a frank acceptance of pursuing it with the sacrifice of lesser idols, then one should not even think about being an anthropologist in particular or a scholar in general (cf. Fortes 1978; Hart 2004; Willner 1973). But this noble sentiment alone, without further investigation, does not tell us as much as it might. It may give us a feeling for the rationale for doing anthropology on a personal level, an aspect of the “why” question. It may also help explicate the tenor of many of the statements ethnographically recorded below, which the writers arranged in a personal narrative form to remind themselves that they are called and pursue that call as a lifelong process (cf. Robbins 1992). We witness this in the theme of many careers, roles, and lives manifest as through one being, one existence, and one reason. We also witness the theme of vocation and multiplicity in anthropology as powerful plot lines interwoven in living text. Like all social beings, anthropologists are at once removed from the “natural attitude” of everyday life, through both their active research of it, but also, through the fact that because they study a shifting humanity, they no longer can immediately and unreflectively remain loyal to any version of it.
In their 1995 survey of anthropology Ph.D.s for the American Anthropological Association, Givens and Jablonski summarize a striking set of comments from professionals in the discipline, directed at students. These comments surround the notion of vocation and explicate it from the native anthropologists' point of view. They come as do. Know why you're doing it. Go for it only if you have a passion for anthropology and adventure. Do not enter it for the sake of a career—only for love of anthropology itself. Don't part of a series of points advising those who are considering a career in anthropology:
Ultimately, are you sure? be very sure that this is what you want to do this unless you are obsessed with the field and are willing to work for very little money. Weigh carefully your love for the profession versus your desire of economic stability. Accept that a career in anthropology is more like and artist's career than a lawyer's. Study what you love and care about, and don't worry about the future. If it's your dream—Go for it! [Givens and Jablonski 1996:316]
In spite of the romantic qualities of the rhetoric of anthropologists, recent Ph.D.s surveyed said that mentoring in the discipline, usually thought of as a key quality of the vocational journey, was described as either poor or non-existent (Akeroyd et al. 1980; Givens and Jablonski 1996:316–367). Given that the average completion rate for the Ph.D. in anthropology in North America was at one time 40 percent, and the average elapsed time to completion was 8.4 years, students must be willing to donate a large part of their lives to the discipline without any guarantee of financial or other rewards once completed (Givens and Jablonski 1996:306). There is also another sense of idealism to be heard in voices surveyed by Givens and Jablonski that at first glance appears too pragmatic to mix well with the romance of anthropological rhetoric. Advice under the heading of tactics (1996:315) such as “do not go into debt to finance your graduate studies,” and even “Have fun and enjoy what you're doing” might seem shallow. The Calvinist ethic and a form of communitarianism are also stressed in all aspects of advice: “Work hard, focus early. Choose a program that encourages rapid progress. Establish social networks early. Get through the program quickly” (Givens and Jablonski 1996:315).
Anthropologists have commented on their education as first and foremost a process of apprenticeship, whether in the professional or the disciplinary sense (Barrett 1979:381; Brown 1989:79; Eggan 1974; Kemper 1989:31; Polster 1992:269; Reck and Keefe 1989:75; Sutlive 1989:10). The concept of anthropology as an assignation in a kind of Calvinistic sense seems also to be well-known (Burridge 1983:311; Preston 1983:292; Tax 1988:2). Vocation gives the character of a calling or assignation to anthropology, and calls anthropologists to it as to a faith. A personal journey is what occurs for the student, even if the concept of vocation is sometimes masked by its academic and institutional settings: “It seems that, even for the most vocationally oriented student, the questions they want anthropology to answer are the personal ones” (Brown 1989:82).2 Wengle has commented on the extreme nature of some anthropologists' acceptances of their work (Wengle 1984:236; cf. also Handler 2006). Wengle suggests that the concept of vocation is broad and nebulous enough to permit many versions of the life-project to find a home within it, and, thus, within anthropology. He asks “Where are the cultural symbols denoting renewal for the not-quite-yet-certified anthropologist? Note that exactly the same question can be asked in different terminology: Where is the anchorage in which the initiate-anthropologist will embed his new sense of identity?” (Wengle 1984:228). Wengle suggests that vocation is a common response to these questions. The divine quality of such an assignation is not entirely lost in the realm of the social sciences. Kenny quotes Evans-Pritchard as saying: “I have always taken it for granted that any contribution I have made to knowledge is not mine but God's through me” (Kenny 1987:14). Leach more satirically suggests that the Calvinist concept of the assignation may itself be assigned to certain anthropological schools of thought or of certain academic communities in general:
while all sects of Calvinist origin assume that God has ordained a predestined distinction between the Elect and the Damned, the Unitarians are so certain that they themselves belong to the Elect that they never bother about the Damned. And that has been, very broadly, the position of the academic inhabitants of Oxford and Cambridge Universities throughout my lifetime. We know we are the Elect. What happens elsewhere is of no importance whatsoever. [Leach 1984:10]
It must be admitted that all university-trained persons have something of the “elect” about them, especially in times when it is both difficult to enter the institution and relatively easy to find employment upon successful completion of a university program. Like more extreme contexts of human life, such as the military or combat, academic anthropology is passed down only by those who have survived the trials of both the student career and the search for employment, as well as the hurdle of tenure. Although applied and social action anthropology have more diffuse, and arguably yet more vocational venues to practice an inheritance, this can only add to the self-understanding that there is something special about the person who is now responsible, in an almost Buddhist manner, to inculcate future prospects or protégés. Firth adds to this elected feeling by describing his own genealogy: “My father was a Methodist. The Firths go right back to John Wesley—my father's first name was Wesley. So I had this general church environment and behavioral ethos” (Parkin 1988:329).
The vocational quality of anthropology as witnessed by many anthropologists in text and interview is not without its dangers. Robbins and DeVita warn that, because of its proselytory tack in pedagogy, “we may vastly overstate the accomplishments of the discipline, and the arrangement, orchestration, and performance of the introductory course becomes more a theological exercise than an intellectually exciting encounter with human problems” (Robbins and DeVita 1985:252). Effects egregious to the humanistic and scholarly aspects of anthropology may follow. Two examples can serve. Reck and Keefe caution: “Being the enthusiastic proselytizers that we are, we have rarely stopped to ask the question, ‘What if some of the natives are actually converted and begin to practice, as converted natives are wont to do, a distorted version of our sacred belief system?’ ” (1989:68). Their example is as follows:
One of these faculty, who had a Ph.D. in English and who had taught with the anthropologist in one of the earlier core courses, told this anthropologist that he believed he had “become an anthropologist.” When asked how this transition had occurred, the English professor referred to two books he had read, added to his experience in teaching a course with the anthropologist. This faculty member conceived of anthropology as a way of thinking and the posing of certain questions, a perspective with which many of us would agree. However, the fact that one must have something of substance to think about seemed of lesser importance. [Reck and Keefe 1989:71]
Sutlive provides an account of another English faculty and administrative director who became attracted by the anthropological “message”:
From the beginning discussions, representatives of the social sciences have insisted that the students be taught social science methods. Who will teach them? we inquired. I will, replied the Director. Knowing him to be a professor of 19th century English literature, we pressed on. How many courses have you had in anthropology or sociology, or in social science methods? None, he responded, but I'll read up on them. [1989:97]
Sutlive later states, however, that the missionizing aspect of having a discipline with unique methods is a double edged sword when it comes to pedagogy.3 Sutlive intones somewhat sarcastically, “ ‘What we have seen and felt and touched, declare we unto you,’ might be the description of our insistence upon participant-observation and intensive interviewing” (1989:99).4
Anthropologists in this study tended also to enjoy their work; never leaving it, but rarely feeling it as an imposition. They praised thinking “in itself',” and, yet, still understated the hierarchy of what was thought about in a holistic manner. They gave of themselves intimately and seemingly unselfishly in dialogue. Anthropologists did not believe in a universal solitude, nor in omniscience. Geertz explains:
The Heraclitan image is in fact false, or anyway misleading. Time, this sort of time, part personal, part vocational, part political, part (whatever that might mean) philosophical, does not flow like some vast river catching up all its tributaries and heading toward some final sea or cataract, but as larger and smaller streams, twisting and turning and now and then crossing, running together for a while, separating again. Nor does it move in shorter and longer cycles and durations, superimposed one upon another as a complex wave for an harmonic analyst to figure out. It is not history one is faced with, nor biography, but a confusion of histories, a swarm of biographies. There is order in it all of some sort, but it is the order of a squall or a street market: nothing metrical. [1995:2]
Participants expressed that they had lived four or five lives, and a number of those wished to continue in this manner. What one might attempt an understanding of in both their study and recantation, however, is the interpretation and understanding of an aspect of all these consciousnesses that “seem to run together for a while.” Indeed, this is a task each of us must take on over the life course, no matter the career.
Is it because of their training as social scientists that anthropologists are enabled to think in terms of vocation? Or is it because earlier social scientists had actually gotten society's views right and because anthropologists in the main are members of this autoreflexive society that they actually have social vocations according to both social science and society? Or are they merely Romantics, perhaps even delusional in their desires to be different? Because of the apparent schism between validity and value, this too is a fundamental Weberian problem. What value or what validity does anthropology have for (1) anthropology, (2) anthropologists, and (3) the student?
From this we want to draw the lesson that nothing is gained by yearning and tarrying alone, and we shall act differently. We shall set to work and meet the “demands of the day,” in human relations as well as in our vocation. This, however, is plain and simple, if each finds and obeys the demon who holds the fibers of his very life. [Weber 1946:156]
The following excerpts from interview transcripts and survey data are typical of a larger whole. Participants continually suggested that the questions that were both prior to and part of the motivation for the construction of knowledge were: Why construct knowledge? For what purpose? To what end?
Hence, the concept of vocation is an important one in an exegesis of anthropological knowledge and how it is understood by disciplinary practitioners. Vocation influences or even controls what meaning one might take from one's work. When the general sense of living is introduced to a more constricted sense of social role or “job,” one moves from the sociological questions “What do you do?” to the more existential one of “What are you?” or “Who are you?” Anthropologists wish to make it known that their job is much more than that, and the content of their knowledge production should, ideally, go much further than fulfilling the scholarly or political purposes of an academic career. The strict or academic definition of scholarship is far too limiting for the ecumenical character of knowledge concerning cultural diversity that breaks open traditionally conceived disciplinary hierarchies and their scientifically defended territories.
I have gotten everything that I wished for. They say, you know, “be careful what you wish for, as you might get it!” but this is what I wanted—I could not have anything better than to travel the world, meet very different people and come to know them, and be changed in an existential sense, be changed into much more than we can be coming only from our own cultural background. What other vocation could do all of this and yet also do it reflectively, make a science out of it? It's about the very nature of what human nature is, and it would be a shame, I think, if we remain bounded within the norms and forms of only our original social environs. [interview, anthropologist]
We have seen hints in the above at the privileging of a kind of vocational discourse by the denigration of those who see professionalism as merely a form of career etiquette. We can now turn to more direct statements of what a vocation might mean for anthropologists, and how in turn it itself gets constructed by a professional training that must either emphasize a pretense of “spirit” or else actually allow some kind of extradisciplinary spirituality to come into play during the process of becoming and continuing to be an anthropologist.5
If a calling there be, then how does one hear the call? Once again a combination of the influence of teachers (one that may be generalized cross-disciplinarily), and the experience of “the field” (one more unique to anthropology), seems to give anthropologists a sense of rightness, and sometimes even righteousness, in what they are doing. The “transformational qualities” of doing fieldwork are sometimes seen as seminal for the production of an anthropological worldview, as in the following, transforming Western values first:
I rejected the dominant values of modern western materialism very early—maybe this was a function of my generation's ideals—you know, the hippie kind of turning away, tuning out from the day to day and its rat-race. Now, many of my friends from that time returned to this mode of life, but I did not, and paid a kind of social price, ultimately, for not doing so. I think that is what most anthropologists are like. No one really listens to us at the top power levels, it's all economists and the like. So we are a bit of a pariah community in the academy. Even our object, our science, might be seen by the hard nosed people in the sciences as fit only for an old human curiosity shop of some kind. [interview, anthropologist]
Loewen: How do you think anthropology represents itself as an alternative?
The difference between courses and fieldwork is as broad as the difference between the book and the world, or maybe love and marriage! Or maybe more darkly, between military training and combat, but you get the picture. I cannot imagine living any other way. It is a part of me like no other experience. To learn a vastly different language than your own, to live with others who are human and yet so alien, what a life! The idea that I should take a white collar job, while, this is not for me. I mean, there is administrative work in the university of course, but these people are members of a tribe as well, and a rather odd one, to be sure!”[interview, anthropologist]
This sense of vocation, coupled with the transformation of an entire life, the anthropologists later carry over to their own teaching and to the politics of their research strategies. Always cited as pivotal, that is, as a space for the opening of being and the realization of past selves, memories of fieldwork trace perhaps overused autonostalgia. At the same time, such memories trace out upon the experience of the radically new, commencing the work of a now fragmented social self. Fieldwork often, but necessarily always, changes one's outlook, as can be witnessed from two differing opinions:
Loewen: What did fieldwork do to your worldview and how you saw yourself changing through this period? How did this affect the manner in which you constructed your world?
The first couple of months did not go so well. There were some people that died, you know, and I gradually came to realize that this was not especially abnormative for people in this region, or culture more particularly. This was really a shock to me, coming from the so-called developed world. So it took a bit of getting used to the sense that life was different here, a different world, and the value of life was not at all what I had grown up with. Not that these people did not value human life or their loved ones, but it took on a different tenor. There is nothing in textbooks that can prepare you for this kind of thing. Maybe one's own life experience, if you have someone close to you die, might be akin to it, but this is where ethnography and literature, the prosaic and the prose of the world may need to come together more closely. You just do not get a sense of the world through one's professional training, without the field experience, whatever may be its form. [interview, anthropologist]
The intimacy of some types of fieldwork relations can allow for the expression of a non-academic set of field methods. These tend to aid enormously in clarifying what the interviewed anthropologist actually wanted in going to the field in the first place. The very humanity of the apparently universal occurrences in the human lifespan appears on the ethnographic scene, making it at once more real and more surreal. It does so because of the concept of calling or vocation. Anthropology becomes defined as “anything human” and the anthropologist is then already human and doing anthropology. The “profound” experiences that later motivate academic research are not merely there, in the space of research, but they are present as memory culture both in personal narrative and as a part of the professionalization of anthropologists. “I had this experience in the field” is a classic but very complex statement that only seems simple because it is simply put.6 Although more positivistic senses of place and time are important as a physical backdrop to this kind of human profundity, they are not in themselves what makes experience profound. It is rather the interaction with other human beings, and the discovering of oneself to be human, as well as realizing that anthropology must take a second place to the humanness of working and living that can be understood as the germination of vocation. Fieldwork, however, as mentioned above, is not always the space of such seeds:
It was not those experiences which truly changed me. I already had some sense of conviction, and I already had travelled a bit, you know, and tried to speak a little of other tongues. I was ready for adventure, but not in so naive a sense that I have seen in others or my students. I was nervous of course, but not so much as others. It was an odd combination of having a big ego and yet also being humble—the ego part came from knowing that I was experienced, and the humility from the same source. [interview, anthropologist]
Anthropologists in this study attributed their individuated consciousness to the experiences and memories of their senior colleagues and peers within the discipline. These were not seen as so many categories in which one could place a life as career, whether these were personal or disciplinary categories:
Although I was compulsive about my fieldwork, it did not change me in the “culture shock” kind of manner you hear about—it did change the way I thought about the models that anthropology had put forward over its history, but not me in any existential sense. But because of this I had a bit of bad conscience, why was I not changed in this more romantic manner? I wondered. Returning again and again, I had a rather schizoid sense of place—the academy and the field began to merge and that prompted further reflection on just what the nature of cross-cultural experience was. [interview, anthropologist]
If perceptual categories were not closed nor circumscribed by field experience, neither were they seen as merely a series of finish lines. Instead, anthropologists here suggested that it was by following anthropology as a quasi-spiritual “discipline” that allowed them the necessary means to live a potentially fulfilling life. And for the most part they felt that it was they themselves who ultimately made such decisions, whether in the field or, later, as professionalized scholars.7 Yet the help they did have always received special mention:
Mentoring is in itself kind of romanticist. Kroeber's whole thing about “just take a pencil and some paper,” that sort of thing, well before courses in qualitative methods were on the books, or Boas' thing about getting the whole cloth from one thread. The discipline has changed, and become both more scientific and scientistic. We do not tell our students today to just wing it! Or that the knowledge you need will come from a kind of active osmosis, the vaunted participant-observation of the past lives of ethnography. At the same time, you must go and do it, for even without the science, the experience is the crucible of the anthropological worldview, the anthropological imagination, if you will. [interview, anthropologist]
The statement “I have been there, so I know what is going on” is also almost universally respected. The rite of passage of the field is what allows the further rites of passage of attaining the degree and the job some authenticity for those who believe in the spiritual odyssey of their disciplinary endeavors. This sense of place and experience, as well as the assumptions it makes about memory are almost universally accepted. And yet the romance of these ideas is also part of a larger metaphysics, in that direct observation is to be credited with a kind of truth. One participant suggested some threads for this type of analysis to unravel:
We do science but we do it with other people. It is not nature we study but human nature. What it really is, I am not sure—it is not like other social sciences, not experimental or archaeological like psychology, not statistical like much of sociology or economics, and not primarily about space or time as in geology or geography. I know that the “exotic other” defined anthropology from its Kantian basis through to the last few decades, but now anthropology and sociology are almost the same thing. We have a “pride of place” like science in general, but we do not think about validity and certainly not about replication the same way as say does a chemist! [interview, anthropologist]
This being said, some still saw the field and ethnography in particular as a way beyond traditionally western definitions of world and experience, a new kind of teacher with a new kind of content, and most felt that this kind of human contact in general always has this displacing effect:
I was in psychology and philosophy, both very inward looking directions or venues, if you know what I mean. I wanted to look out at the world around me. Not that these other ideas were not valid or valuable, but my predilection was to see the world in a more shared meaningful sense, that one could actually share an experience and not be just analyzing one's own experience or one's own interpretations, even opinions. That is how it all started for me. [interview, anthropologist]8
Anthropology has been credited with making cultural relativism into epistemological relativism, but this movement was really already implicit in Boas, for example. Even more decentering is the sense that one cannot merely stop at epistemology. Knowledge on the way to being is sometimes not seen as enough to understand the radicality of differences presented by the human milieu.9
Two more examples of a similar moment suffice to give a sense of the calling of anthropology. Sometimes it calls quickly:
I had a sudden urge—like a religious kind of epiphany, where I realized that I wanted to learn about myself through others—vastly different from what I had known as possible. Economics was not cutting it. What did Geertz say about that—lots of talk of “Man” but no “men,” kind of sexist now, but the point remains. Structuralism and the like were too abstract for me. I needed the real people of the world, and the reality of the other culture to which I was drawn suddenly. [interview, anthropologist]
And sometimes after a fashion:
I had three or four potential careers before becoming an anthropologist. Looking back at it from a perspective of many decades, I can now see a pattern—all these other venues were kindred to anthropology—journalism, for example, cultural geography, politics and geography. Anthropology brought it all together, but I was not altogether an anthropologist for about ten years at least. No doubt these other vocations made me a little smug when I discovered the whole thing, as it were, but I also felt a little foolish because I had not put two and two together for so long. [interview, anthropologist]
Or finally even as semiconscious:
I kind of droned, or floated my way through the whole process, including even the Ph.D. degree. I realized at length I was, after all, an anthropologist and this was quite a shock to me. I had become something without even knowing it, and, thus, I had to come to terms, at length, with coming to know myself in a new way. I was no longer the sleepy undergraduate who would fantasize about the guys or even the male professors! But more it was about their intellect, their concern for knowledge, and only half erotic. Maybe the idea of concernfulness always has an intimate or even sensual aspect to it. One loves what one does and it shows in many ways, perhaps. I was a professional, and my sense of learning became much more active. But consciously, no, I never made a decision, it just happened. Some people live life like that, after all. [interview, anthropologist]
The actions of the teachers involved in anthropologists' professional training was often cited as the key impetus for joining the ranks of the discipline. Whether one could oneself become a good teacher depended largely on the ability to recognize good teachers in others along the way:
I had very good pedagogic models throughout my student life, even at the very earliest; I can still recall their passion and sense of vocation. George Stocking, John Searle, and Kenneth Pike amongst others. These were very good role models though in very different ways. I try to emulate their attitudes and brilliance, at least in the classroom or in other student oriented venues. I came to know a few of these characters as real people too, but no one ever shines holistically in the same way as they do within their calling. They say that Goethe was the true artist also in life, but these people I imagine are very rare. [interview, anthropologist]
It was generally agreed upon that to be a good teacher one also had to have something to teach, but the presentation and the process of construction of such knowledge, what is generally referred to as “professional scholarly integrity” in a somewhat bureaucratic style, or as a “passion for knowledge” more romantically, is in fact the prime influence for motivating interest in anthropology as a place of work. In some contrast to its enlightenment siblings, anthropology does not reify its scientific content. It also does not reify itself as a scientific Truth regime. It aims, in the classroom, to show a kind of knowing that is based on other kinds of living. It is much more rare to find even an acknowledgement of the existence of these “others” in any of the other human sciences. Another example:
The sense that how one asked questions would in large part determine what kinds of answers you got was key for me. The best teachers knew how to ask the right questions. Not that there were “wrong questions” in that adage like sense that you don't want your students to think that there are stupid questions, but some questions are nonetheless more profound than others. To be directed at the positing of these kinds of queries was crucial in me understanding what anthropology could be, and also what it could be for a woman academic, in a time when we were not as welcome as we are now—or perhaps, others have just gotten used to us being around! [interview, anthropologist]
Questioning one's own cultural backgrounds was also seen as key to success within this assignation. This art of critical questioning often came from frustration with the local norms, or what “everyone else was doing.” In exercising critique, this place of frustration gradually gives over to the sense of vocation—enjoyment, thrill, inspiration, passion—which imports work into life. Another example suggests that it is this learning by active osmosis that creates the scholarly vocation in a very informal manner:
Yes, personal mentorship, and just simply hanging around people with good minds, hearing their conversations, and becoming inured to their sense of intellectual life—the company you keep—it really is like this. You can be dumbed down by menial task or have your consciousness raised by those profound. It is just like Becker's marijuana users—you learn as a community and what you learn is exhibited by those in the know. So having Cicourel, Goffman, Parsons, and the like off and on when I was a student, well, these were ideal contexts to glean a sense of thinking, to practice thought itself. [interview, anthropologist]
By the same token, poor teachers constrict and obstruct the students' abilities for or wishes to practice learning.10 Anthropology has even studied that which in a sense it already knew by researching the inheritance of knowledge not only in schools but in teacher education:
It was clear that when we studied educational processes and contexts, that what was taught as good teaching and learning was not what was being practiced, and in fact the actual practice of it, tempered as it was by a history and inertia of real contexts of teaching and learning, far surpassed in quality and superiority the training stuff. This occurs, I think, in many disciplines, but not so much in anthropology. The only real disconnect is between methods courses and actual fieldwork. Maybe it is even set up that way! [interview, anthropologist]
Hence it is not the content of the methodology of teaching or research, in the classroom or in the field or composing lectures, which necessarily guides anthropologists' thoughts on the doing of these aspects of disciplinarity. In some real sense for anthropologists, it seems that the doing of these both makes anthropology what it is and unmakes it as what officially—within lectures, journals, and “field guides”—it says it is. The ambiguity of anthropology in its self-representation has something to do with the ambiguity in which the larger culture in which it is ensconced represents to itself the notion of “work” in general:
Our own ideas about work are very ambivalent. We often say to others upon parting “Don't work too hard!” and yet at the same time most of us want to be known as “hard working” and to have a “fulfilling” career. The duality of the Protestant ethic in the latter part of the twentieth century is in extreme contradiction in the world of work. The indolence and the style of the idle rich may be popularly sought, but the idea of being unemployed or without a career is also anathema for most of us. As children we are punished with work—“chores”—and then rewarded for exactly the same things with “allowances”—our first pay. Work is the universal double bind of our culture. [Stephenson 1986:96]
It also seems thus to be binding in anthropology, where, like classic native actors the world over, anthropologists say one thing and do another, often very different, thing. In part this is because the motivations that lie behind the vocational sense of teaching and research in anthropology cannot be taught or researched in the same manner as one might teach methodology or epistemology, or the content knowledge of a particular ethnographic area. This is why one of the speakers above suggests that it is the process and representation as well as the performance and placement of research and teaching from which one learns. Ironically, it is this other aspect of anthropological life and work that forms the schematic of anthropology. In fact, without the interviews, this project would probably not be able to help but imitate that schematic and in many senses sterile “sociology of knowledge” or “philosophy of social science” viewpoint. Only by going native to at least the point of talking with the natives and trying to understand them and their concerns, could one become more intimate with the ways and means of doing and making anthropology.11
It may be that the individuating consciousness that is inspired by both the romanticized concept of the field experience in anthropology, as well as motivated by the political isolation one can often feel within the system of political alliances and axes in academic circles, breeds a certain distrust even among anthropologists regarding what they themselves say to each other about what they do. It is almost as if the native actors say one thing to the ethnographer, say another to themselves, and do yet another. Thus, the texts of anthropology are saying again something different in that there is a process of distancing concerning the difference between saying and doing in ethnographic context.
This may be one of the reasons that anthropological texts were just as frequently cited by research participants in interviews as not as important for turning the student on to a scholarly vocation. One example:
You always study the history of the discipline—this is no big deal in a sense—sure it is interesting to see what people have thought and to see where our ideas we have now come from, but one can do this in any field, in any science. So anthropology is really about going beyond the textbook rendition, it goes—in the experience of becoming an anthropologist—beyond its own history in a sense, even though we are reproducing a kind of archetypical history inscribed within ourselves. We are doing anthropology in part the way it has been done, but also in a manner in which older folks in the discipline would not have thought of, would not have dreamed of, even. [interview, anthropologist]
The human beings whom ethnographers study in the field, for example, are often seen as more similar in spirit than a traditional science, wary of protecting its own discursive interests, is able to recognize. But anthropology too can be an other. Not merely to itself, as it expands or changes its understandings of multiple worldviews, but to all other academic ventures that privilege a kind of normative science or even scientism at the expense of the social realities of structural variables such as language use, class, gender and ethnicity, as well as region of birth and potential metaphysical adumbrations. Differing politics, epistemologies, ethnographic or other research contents, all provoke isolation and difference within a discipline. What binds a discipline together, say most of the speakers in this study, is the sense of vocation. Once again:
I never feel like I am going to work, in the usual sense. I refer to it as something else. This is part an egotistical thing—I am better than a mere worker, type of deal, yes, but also it is a response to the avocational quality of the work involved. It is more like the German werke, rather than arbeit, or labor. In spite of our theoretical differences, this kind of sense of calling is what makes working with colleagues at least tolerable, if not enjoyable, and very often it is enjoyable when this sense comes to the fore, as with the training and education of students or portraying ourselves to the wider scholarly community [interview, anthropologist]
The inability to understand the work as mere work, or profession, is characteristic of anthropologists' attitudes toward those either obsessed with career-oriented individualism or those who get too comfortable or lazy once attaining a privileged position. The amount of work and training that goes into the professionalization of an academic anthropologist is seen as wasted if not in continual and somehow spontaneous or at least self-motivated change and growth. These changes are often seen as diverse by anthropologists:
The training I received was cosmopolitan. A true liberal arts ideal. Anthropology settled into my consciousness through its history of settling the score with all of these other points of view—the Meadian sense of cross-cultural perspective lent credence empirically to the historicizing analysis of philosophy in the nineteenth century. You did not need a “revaluation of all values” to notice that—hey—there were values that already called into question the very being of those that the philosophers railed against—it was something to do it from within, I suppose, but still. [interview, anthropologist]
The goal of these other value systems was the same as our own, the reproduction of the wider culture over the generations. Yet to no distinct purpose are we so defined—in spite of our growing recognition of the content knowledge of aspects of some disciplines, we do not grow as swiftly in reflective knowledge about the manners in which we are becoming so knowledgeable. For example:
I did not notice becoming a professional—I just had no experience with anything at the time—I had someone who mentored me by speaking—a kind of talking cure, curing me of my naivety that comes from any parochial or local knowledge. Local knowledge is good for its own sphere of influence, but rapidly breaks down in the face of the world as it actually is, rich and diverse. [interview, anthropologist]
There seems to be a kind of authority in anthropology that links up life and text in an intimate reciprocity. Experiences not directly associated with anthropology, because of anthropology's scope and focus on human experience in the most general sense, are seen as informing both the person as human being but also the person as anthropologist, to the point of nondifferentiation. The participants in this study all recounted larger than life narratives that seemed to be somehow apart from the quotidian events of day-to-day reality. Yet anthropologists also seem a fairly reality-bitten bunch in general, and it is to either personal or otherwise ethnographically documented life experience that most turn when asked about motivations for or influences on research.12 The structure of the following example is typical without the content being so, which in fact is also typical of the diversity of anthropologists:
The institution of culture and cultural institutions were similar in my mind. I wondered if you could diagnose the patients within this or that culture—kind of like the old culture and personality school of Kluckholn and the like. Both my parents were psychologists, so there was an avid influence on me to correctly understand how people were thinking and what made them think like that. [interview, anthropologist]
The way anthropology presents itself is of course directly affected by both anthropological saying and doing, and there seem to be even stricter ideals regarding the pedagogical representation of anthropological knowledge to its inheritors. It is in the classroom that an exemplary mode of discursive nexus shows itself to be a more or less viable space of saying, doing, teaching, and calling. In teaching, anthropologists present “the call” in similitude with “calling” students to become anthropologists in so many words, to join those already “called,” and thence also join “the calling.”13
Anthropology suffers immediately from two things: (1) it is not taught in the high schools—this can also be an advantage though because students are not immediately bored with it, as they are with history, for example, and (2), that it is a marginal discipline which seems to be about nothing relevant to the life of the student—this is something that is key to overcome early, and of course it can be done with aplomb. But yes, these are the two deficits, and when students question you, it is mainly along those two lines of lack of experience with the discipline. I want anthropology and its imagination to ring true for their lives in a gut sense. [interview, anthropologist]
The concept of integration of life and work under a coherent set of circumstances and ideas comes from both the historical consciousness of anthropology as a discipline, one with textual or human canons, one with famous departments and schools, one with profound subjects and objects, and one, most importantly, with an inside and an outside that are all part of the “call,” and that at the same time gives the call its own content and authenticity. For it is not so much that those being called to anthropology contribute to the form of the calling as much as they do the content, through their very reaction to what they have been told is anthropology by other callers. We, as teachers of anthropology, are constantly caught up in the diverse Babel of different anthropological voices, and find ourselves responding to these more often than not by echoing each other to those called, thereby building up yet another circle of reproduction (Bourdieu and Passeron 1992:218). If this is the downside, the idea that anthropology has noble worth in the sense that it can be a calling in the first place is the hope.14
The proselytory nature of anthropology in the classroom can be directly linked to a vocational aspect of knowledge production. The manner in which this is accomplished is fraught with the tension expected from both the vertical hierarchies of faculty and students in a bureaucratic institution, but more importantly for anthropology, in the attempt to make a once vertical relation (we the civilized and they the primitive) into a horizontal one (you and I are different, etc.). Along these lines, however, anthropology does have some limits in its application and hence in its scope of knowledge:
It is not a matter of missionizing. This takes the integrity away from the discipline as a science, and makes it into a kind of latter day ideology or even religion. Yet, at the same time, we do see ourselves as promoting a moral vision, a better and more knowledgeable way of life or worldview. This could well be how science inherits its mantle from religion, in that old Durkheimian fashion, you know? So there are some limits. On the one hand, we can't replicate science as a religion, but on the other, we cannot hold scientific knowledge to be without value, and, specifically, a moral value which says to the students, and to ourselves, I am better because I know this, or I have experienced this. I am a convert of sorts, but not to an ultimate faith. [interview, anthropologist]
The idea that knowledge has value or cannot be divorced from a kind of morality of knowledge in terms of its use and communication, as well as in its very construction, returns us to the suggestions that ethics in general is more important to anthropologists than any epistemological discussion. That this line must be drawn for anthropology is a notion that reaffirms the understanding of the process of gaining knowledge as an assignation, and as a moral one. Thus, the objects of anthropology are not to be understood as empiricist artifacts, to be possessed, measured, and stored in neocolonial reliquaries, as if the sacred character of its vocation had suddenly been projected into an Arcadian space, that of the “ideal world as known by anthropology.” The discursive toolbox of anthropology cannot be used under the standard or rhetoric of a mere neo-positivism for self-counsel, for instance. Although doubtless counseling tends inevitably to be part of the teacher's vocation, it is not part of the content of teaching anthropology as a discipline. Yet the one cannot take place in total isolation of the other, if anthropology is not to become a mathematics of culture rather than an interpretation, examination, understanding, or even a description of humanity. Some speakers went out of their way to describe their ideal proselytizer as one who works in the thrall of thought in general, and not just a discipline in particular:
Not just the facts, ma'am. Not a mere Gradgrind. It must be a way of thinking. Like any other thing here at the university, this is also our ideal. How to think, what to think about and why, and why certain kinds of thinking are sanctioned and others not, pending time and place, age, or fashion, all of this is of the utmost. I teach thinking, then, and anthropology is just a vehicle for this, though a very good one and one that has distinct advantages over other disciplines. It is similar to sociology in this ability—critical and self-critical, not willing to just go with the cultural flow, if you will. It is about thinking well and thoroughly about one's assumptions which come, at length, from the culture of socialization. It has a vision of a better world which can only come from reflective knowledge. [interview, anthropologist]
Teaching students to think involves as often as not going beyond the already drawn boundaries of the disciplines. In a sense, thinking is that very motion of going beyond the lines that are now seen for the first time to be drawn in the sand. The question of where could one draw even a shifting line perplexed anyone in anthropology who became too loyal to its discursive label. Because of this, some anthropologists found that they continually went outside of anthropology as a professional disciplinary organization of knowledge:
I am constantly reading other stuff—once you go through one discipline over a period of years or even decades, it is high time to branch out—you owe it to yourself and more so to your students. They come in rather blank—not the tabula rasa kind of blank, obviously, but rather dim regarding just exactly what is out there—there are worlds aplenty in discourse, and the anthropologist has a unique and insightful lens with which to bring these worlds into focus for young people. [interview, anthropologist]
Although anthropology is often seen as having an internal consistency that can stray outside the boundaries not only of “good taste” and anthropological etiquette but of political discourse and gate keeping, it is suggested by anthropologists that beyond all these there is a region where anthropology itself may be considered vocational, as apart from but also as inspired by the vocational legacies of various individuals' journeys through it.15 Beyond this, or perhaps because of such, is the ability of anthropology to inform other disciplines and anthropologists to work with other scholars, which is also seen as important for the construction of a wider field both of and for anthropological knowledge:
It is not only necessary for the discipline to survive, but also for us to survive within or as the discipline itself. Anthropology must have allies. That may be a lesson from much of our work on the historical nature and purpose of kinship networks! But even so, it is as true today as it may have been in mechanical societies. The advantages are then many-fold: we maintain our relevance in the world of science, in the institution of the academy, and in the classroom. Anthropology is about all things that humans do and think, so nothing that other disciplines work on is truly outside of our purview, although it may technically be beyond us in its skills and language. Even so, we have learned all the languages of humanity, so why stop there? [interview, anthropologist]
Anthropology seems to see itself at least part of the time as a consistent combination of preacher, pedagogue, and “tentmaker” through not only the diversity of cultural knowledges, not merely the multiplicity and fractiousness of the its many sayings and doings, but as—and most importantly in its memory culture and, thus, the historical consciousness any ethnographer can have of it—a trace of all these things. This trace defines certain vague limits, but these are the limits as well, as in the following extract, of our own mortalities more generally:
The limits of anthropology lie not in its objects, humanity in general, but in our way of dealing with the discipline's own history and its present position in the political sphere of what humanity is now. We do not really know where the limits are, and this is, in a sense, the limit to our knowledge, just like Wigener back in 1950 said about science in general. We could easily disappear up our collective posteriors, excuse the phrase, if we began to think that anthropology had done all it could to expose or reveal the inscrutable nature of humankind. [interview, anthropologist]
Vanishing is never done without a trace. That anthropologists sometimes never return from the field, or that they retire so far away from it is a risk that those who have been called to task by the history of their own being are willing to take. This is entirely consistent with the anthropological credo of knowing the self through the other as opening and death of self, and with its credential of having done so through moving as anthropologist somehow outside of anthropology—as seen by native anthropologists at least—through fieldwork, interdisciplinarity, teaching, or living, to give life to the recurring theme of many interests, one work, many careers, one journey, many data, one knowledge.16 The trace of today's living anthropological doing and saying is tomorrow's history of anthropology, germinating overnight. Our awakened ongoingness and otherness is erased by its very ability to go on and be again present:
The trace is the erasure of selfhood, of one's own presence, and is constituted by the threat or anguish of its irremediable disappearance, of the disappearance of its disappearance. An unerasable trace is not a trace, it is a full presence, an immobile and uncorruptible substance, a son of God, a sign of parousia and not a seed, that is, a mortal germ. This erasure is death itself. [Derrida 1978:230]