Somewhere there's fieldwork

I've been a bit of a slacker...though that implies a decision to slack. I'm not sure how much of a decision it's been. I've done a bit on the public health side of things, but really, I feel, at the 6 month mark, a bit of exhaustion and uncertainty. The project is shifting, and I've started to lose focus in the actual work and where my fieldwork is situated, even as the ideas that I think are compelling seem to be more clear. I actually am starting to develop a bit of a theory about things. That sounds so grandiose. It's just that for so long, I've been cobbling other people's theories onto my own work. Sort of stuffing my ideas into a framework that someone else has developed. Hoping that all these citations and references will convince someone that I know what I'm talking about.

It's a weird shift, to go from the earnest graduate student to the more laconic theorizing slacker. I think that might be a brilliant evolution, to be able to capitalize on the lifestyle academia affords. But, ironically, it doesn't really "afford" much of anything, hence prompting my anxiety about collecting research. Conducting research. Doing...something. Not just lolling about thinking about what I am not doing.

My friend SJ came to spend the night last weekend, and I launched into the early stirrings of this theory -- some of which I began to articulate (inarticulately) in the Slate comment, posted below (from days and days ago, it seems). Maybe I'm just a big conspiracy theorist at heart, but I'm pretty convinced that the work that I'm doing is a bit of an echo, or a snippet of something larger. I like theories and research that are expansive, that cross boundaries and challenge disciplinarity. This has not won me many supporters -- academics can be a bit touchy about interdisciplinarity (not all academics...duh).

I had lunch with one of the public health people I'm working with, and she commented that I stand out on the west coast because of my pedigrees and higher education. She asked me about how I got to be so ambitious. It was an odd question, because I don't think of myself as ambitious. I think of myself as a perpetual student precisely because I lack ambition. It's a distraction, all this education. But somehow I then launched into a bit of a monologue about my trajectory, and how I think public health is very nervous about being truly interdisciplinary. She concurred, saying that her medical director boss had said that not specializing in a field is a bad thing. I pointed out that public health, perhaps more than some fields, can be quite territorial and that unlike medicine, it is intrinsically an interdisciplinary field. (Anyone who studies non-western medicines will realize that successful medicine must be interdisciplinary -- or at the very least more holistic than the increasingly specialized western medical field usually is.) I think public health struggles with the shadow of medicine and the natural sciences. Or really, what I ought to say, it seems that a lot of the social sciences demand a level of defensiveness to assert their authority. It's nerve-wracking to realize how broad the effects of your object of study might go. It gets messy, when you start looking at structural determinants of health, for example. Where does it end? Who's ultimately responsible? Etc...

I need to get back on the fieldwork wagon, but it can be incredibly draining chasing after subjects and pursuing people. It's hard to do for 6 months and to know that it will continue for a while. I've lost touch with the minority women's health group, though I emailed last week to see if they wanted me to come in. I was, again, put off, told: maybe Friday afternoon or next week. I interpret that comment as ambivalence about my returning. And maybe it's not, but it's hard to put oneself out there over and over again. I'm not good at deflecting various forms of rejection. I find it tiring to continue on as though all the subtext weren't there. And it seems to me that is how one has to go about doing fieldwork, shaking off the disappointments and soldiering on. Hmmmm...remarkably like grad school in its own way. I admit, shame-facedly, that I have not read Beckett, but I often find "I can't go on. I'll go on," to be perfect for so many occasions.

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