Amendations to the one below

In the midst of my trial run for a cake-bake-off (baking anthropologist resurrected in the spirit of competition), I've been contemplating what I said earlier. I don't mean to suggest that Elizabeth Edwards ought not to forgive her husband, nor do I think women should simply drop their husbands because they cheat. It's precisely the fallacy that "good people" are able to resist sexual desire that I would like to challenge. What annoys me is the expectation for his wife to be a saintly wife. In this story, (from which I quoted in the earlier post), he says, "She was mad. She was angry. I think furious is a way to describe it. It was painful for her." Again, ultimately, Elizabeth Edwards is the stalwart, long-suffering, ailing wife. It's a bit too penny dreadful for me.

Laura Kipnis's book, Against Love: A Polemic, does a decent job exploring infidelity and love. I do think, however, that Kipnis ends up replicating the very problem with the way we think about and over-romanticize love by simply claiming that extra-relationship (not really just about extra-marital) affairs provide a different outlet or challenge the idea of monogamy. She interprets affairs as a delicious alternative to the monotony of committed relationships, which I think is true, but the illicit relationship ultimately doesn't have its own shape. It exists as a thrill, and it's that disruption of the quotidian that Kipnis thinks is valuable. Clearly, there are lots of ways to get thrills, and I'm not sure what's unique about the affair (for Kipnis), though she is trying to use adultery as a way of conducting larger cultural criticism (which I appreciate enormously).

She argues that monogamy is a form of perpetuating the liberal state and institutional. In contrast, she sees adultery as "small-scale social sabotage," though she also acknowledges that adultery requires the institution of marriage (or monogamy, for those of us who are disinterested in marriage) in order to exist and undermine it. She doesn't actually suggest that we need a new way of thinking about relationships and monogamy more generally, which I would suggest is an important direction to take the debate. I'm much more interested in re-imagination of institutions than trying to do something blatantly "different," which I think is often just a way of replicating by thumbing one's nose at the form. (The danger of setting oneself up into a dependent relationship on the original against which to construct the new form seems much less interesting than simply creating the form that fits instead of some kind of oppositional dynamic.) I'm not actually arguing for non-monogamy or non-relationships, but rather suggesting (as I suggested a month or two ago in talking about relationships more generally, friendships and love/sex relationships) that we need to re-examine how we expect certain kinds of fulfillment from love partners.

The Problem with Edwards' Statement

I try not to write on politics much, since I find politics exhausts me. I've yet to feel deeply enthusiastic about any candidates (though I remember giving money to the Democratic Party during the 2004 election -- mainly because "anyone but Bush" was my motto). This morning I was listening to the NPR coverage of the Edwards' admission of his affair. I find it amazing that we still get riled up about politicians' infidelities. I think it's stupid that they all purport to be morally superior, when obviously they are only human and fallible. This has been my main irritation with the Obama campaign, the eagerness with which his supporters have wanted to believe he is beyond reproach and progressive to the bitter end. He is a politician. Politicians are not just in politics for their investment in public service. It seems particularly reckless to engage in an affair when one has political ambitions, since Americans still want their politicians sexless and (Christian) morally pure.

So, Edwards had an affair. Blah blah blah. But what I wanted to note was how he portrayed Elizabeth Edwards. I can't easily find this statement online, but on the morning NPR show, he comments that when he told his wife, she was angry, and "she responded exactly like the kind of woman she is. She forgave me." This statement upsets me. The implication is that a good wife, a moral and Christian wife, will stand by her man and forgive him. I think Feministe or Bitch, PhD, have covered this bullshit before -- how political wives have the responsibility to be the moral compass for their politician spouses. "The Wire" actually shows this quite well, though seems to think the mayoral candidate's wife is a bit of a drip, so no wonder her hot-shot husband (who becomes mayor, sorry for the spoiler) is sleeping around.

Has anyone else noticed that these wives are never given any form of sexuality of their own? They are the anchor for their husbands, and dear god is this tiresome. I'm not a fan of Sarkozy, but I love that Carla Bruni is his wife. She may have used her sexuality and her beauty in manipulative ways (she's been involved with all sorts of high intellectuals and men of power), but she's also obviously extremely smart and competent. While there's lots to say about the problem of women having to use their bodies and their looks as their leverage for power, I also respect a woman who can go from Bernard-Henri Levi to the president of France. Though, I guess I wish that Bruni's power were not directly identified by her sex partners. I mean, she makes pretty good music. The Hillary Clinton Problem was that she was not recognized as her own woman, since no matter what she's done, she's still known as Bill's wife...what we need is strong women politicians who are not married to/sleeping with power. We have some women like that, but I do believe we're still only at 16% women in Congress. For those unaware, women make up about 52% of the population, and probably if you looked at the demographic distribution of congresspeople, most of them are probably over 40 or so, and as you get older, women make up more and more of the population....So it's quite possible that among the age group of Congress, women make up more than 50% of that age demographic. I am too lazy to look up U.S. demographics right now.

This is sort of tangentially related to the Alison Bechdel strip on "The Rule", which I think will become a teaching staple for me. The characters in the strip discuss what qualities a film needs to have in order to be worth seeing. The film has to have at least 2 women in it, they have to talk to each other, and they have to talk about something other than about the men in the film. This seems like a silly set of criteria, but if you stop and think about most films (and many tv shows), it's actually quite hard to find films and shows that can fulfill those expectations. Try it.
p.s. I re-read this and realized how hastily I threw this together. Non-sequiturs all over the place. I mention the Alison Bechdel strip to point out how power is related and who gets top-billing and legitimacy. Most of the films, in which women are usually accessories, rather than protagonists in their own right, depend on female characters as means to promote/prop up the male characters. It just doesn't seem awfully different from the way in which female politicians and wives of politicians end up playing supporting roles.

More Publicly-Engaged Anthro

I just received the notice of this Anthropology Now publication, which looks great. Many of my friends and I have discussed and debated the ways in which to make Anthropology a more publicly-engaged and meaningful discipline. Anthro has a lot to offer, and it's unfortunate, as the editors describe on their "about" page, that our work gets so readily dismissed (see every rant on this blog, I fear).

A number of the articles don't seem to be available yet. There's a great short article by Tom Strong (who is often on Savage Minds), debunking an article by Malcolm Gladwell about emotions-theory. Having taken an entire class on "emotions" -- and having found it particularly dismissive of cultural influences on people's experiences -- Strong's criticism of how Gladwell accepts the emotion theorists' interpretations of behavior and attitudes is really well-conveyed and an important challenge to emotions research. Gladwell often has this problem, of doing an amazingly good job at making everyday phenomena seem complex and worthy of inquiry, but he often fails to substantiate his claims or really ground his interpretations in anything other than his own personal opinion. (Yes, yes, I do this too, but I have yet to be published in the New Yorker or had two books out.) Strong's challenge points out that we have to go beyond what researchers tell us and think a little more critically about how information and knowledge are shaped. And I obviously love that.


Savage Minds -- as usual, more eloquent than I

Savage Minds, a great Anthro blog, addresses the experience of anthropology as "personal transformation". The comments also capture the tension within anthropology to resist the dangers that some blame on the "reflexive turn" of the 80s. One commenter said he had been thinking of writing a piece called, "I am A Tool" -- which is exactly how I try to explain to others the experience of fieldwork and research.

It is comforting, in some ways, to hear the experience shared over and over again. It is disheartening that it is an experience that seems to be kept under-wraps for the most part, while one is being trained in school. There is definitely a fear in being too emotional or too personal in academic writing. At the same time, without the acknowledgment of the personal, writing becomes alienating and alienated, and the idea that one's work (especially when it involves fieldwork, whether sociological or anthropological) doesn't affect you as an individual seems absurd. Though in another post on the topic, one commenter wisely points out the danger of the sloppy "I am my own fieldnote" ethnography -- which is what I feel happens here on the blog. Hopefully what happens on my blog will not happen in my academic work. (And in many ways, this blog is an outlet for this meandering self-reflection, to keep it from becoming the form of my academic work...they are separate. I know that.)

And maybe, if this debate were more public and explicit, each student wouldn't have to tread the boring path (because I recognize that there is something tiresome about my concerns, even as I experience them nonetheless) of grappling for how to articulate the experience. Of course, just as our parents may find our youthful stresses and problems predictable (having already gone through the trials and tribulations of life), I suppose one has to "go through" the fieldwork growing pains in order to come out at the other side as a better and more reflective researcher.

Pharma creates new syndromes, or how we are all pathological

There have been a number of interesting articles about the ways in which pharmaceutical companies market problems to us. Meika Loe has a good short article in Contexts about the new generation of kids raised on pharma. (This is only the abstract, alas, as I don't know how to upload pdfs onto blogger. Will work on that.)

Alternet has one about Pfizer funding more studies on whether Viagara works for women. With a study sample size of 98. I love that...when anthropologists conduct research with only 25-30 people, we're denigrated for our lack of scientific reroducibility (that may have some truth, if that were all we looked at, but few anthropologists make claims with research conducted only through a few interviews), but when big Pharma conducts studies with fewer than a hundred, they still manage to be picked up by major news outlets. One of the observations the article makes is that the patent on Viagara is set to expire in a few years. I spent a summer interning at an advertising company that created ads for pharma. We worked on a new "extended release" antibiotic that touted itself as a solution to the heightened resistant strains of bacteria. Ironically, it seemd to me, much of that antibiotic resistance came from the over-prescription of the company's own antibiotic. In addition, their patent was about to expire, so it must have seemed a perfect time to launch a new and improved version of their formerly rockstar drug.

I know much of what I'm saying isn't terribly shocking to most who are paying attention to these things, but at the same time, finding multiple examples in which pharma creates demand is important, to confirm what I see happening with the vaccine I work on. In junior high school, my father started working on medical education, and that included direct marketing to physicians. I used to ask him how or why he could justify his work, and he would argue that medicine is not cut-and-dry a bad thing. Perhaps, at 14 or 15, I presented my argument too simplistically. It's not that I want to suggest medications are "bad". But I do think we need to be careful to note how we're implicated in the marketing of pathologies. As I get older and find my body more fallible, it's hard to resist the magic pills (whatever those might be) to cure or solve my discomforts. I can't help but wonder about those who are less medically-savvy or less aware of these nuances, and wonder about how they're affected by the commodification of health and the market of pathology.


Fieldwork bleeds into my spam folder

The most intense interview I conducted has resurfaced. It's strange because I have been thinking about her a lot lately. I looked at my spam folder, and she's added me as a contact through "reunion.com". I didn't even realize I'd joined this site...probably many years ago, when we were all very naive about joining various internet groups, I signed up when someone I knew added me. Possibly, in fact, certainly, pre-Facebook, MySpace and Friendster. It just feels incredibly weird to have her a) think of me (though the reflexive nature of voyeurism seems to be extremely relevant right now in my life -- watching people, watch me, watch them...etc...so Alice in Wonderlandesque) and b) to have her actively type my name into some search engine and pull me out.

A fellow grad student ended up changing her cell phone number when a woman in Baltimore would call her regularly to ask for financial support. This motivated me to get a second phone for research purposes, so none of my research participants have my main cell phone. It's a problematic way to distance myself from participants, but it also is a way to maintain control. I'm less good at the full-immersion aspects of anthro, as I'm wary even in the "real world" of my own life about keeping people in very distinct circles and trying to create limited access (though that rarely works).

I'm going to continue to pretend that I never saw the email, but I suspect she may call or email at some point. And in theory, I should go back to the mother's group, next time I'm in LA (which may coincide with the monthly meetings). I may see her again, but her attachment to me makes me uneasy. It sounds like vanity to call it attachment, but that's what it was. And I find it painful, too, to feel so hyper-aware of her yearning.

Flea Market Spectators

I love these two photos... I feel like it captures something very American about the social disengagement.

This was at the kettle corn stand, which included a spectator/eating station. With vintage chairs, of course.

more bad cell phone shots. But I'm trying to be a bit more fieldworky in my every day life. Even when it takes me to bars and flea markets. I'm an Americanist, so I can totally justify such indulgences. No?


"Me, you, and everyone we know"

I steal from Miranda July, whom I love sometimes and who drives me up the wall other times. Though, I suppose that's true of almost everything and everybody, so at the very least, I want to give her credit for a perfect summation of life these days.

I was writing to someone about what I miss about the neighborhood where I grew up, and I said,
I'm pretty heartbroken over how much the city has changed, and I miss the neighborhood I grew up in -- which was a pretty rough, but very community-centric place. I learned a lot by being raised there, and it makes me sad that the things that made it distinct are quickly being erased.

I feel like I keep coming back to the problem of individuality and what a supreme fallacy this is. America seems very obsessed with originality and proving one's uniqueness, especially in a city like San Francisco. It's kind of exhausting. And I'm not sure what the anxiety over proving one's inimitability is about. I suffer from it -- feeling that I need to be different in my own way. I guess that's why I quote myself (the arrogance), to point out the romanticization of my unique upbringing. It was unique, and it was irreplaceable, but I'm not sure why that matters in the scheme of things.

A friend recently told me that after spending a number of days with me at a wedding that he hadn't realized anthropology was an actual "skill" (his words, not mine). So maybe my main point is that specificity of experiences may in fact have a value -- that it allows you to perceive the world in certain ways. But then...I'm not entirely sure why or how that matters. So what? Another friend has noted that I'm an expert at discarding my emotions and moving forward, always asking, "what's the point" of dwelling on inconvenient feelings or past disappointments. So I guess I integrate this willingness to find no meaning in anything (nihilist!) into my larger research conundrums right now. But then, I get these weird moments of pollyanna-ism, and I'm much more positive (though not a positivist). Perhaps others out there in my mini-audience will weigh in (you are not adequately participating in my expectation of public discourse...) as to whether one can find a point to all this uber-self-reflection.


I got asked back to teach an "intersession" class I taught last winter. It's kind of awesome to a) be asked to teach; b) be paid to teach; and c) be paid to fly back east to teach. I really enjoyed teaching that class last year, and I'm looking forward to refining it and thinking about it more critically. Plus, it's Baltimore-centric, and I have a major soft-spot for that city. I like the ability to influence the freshmen's perspective on the city (as it's a freshman-only class). Makes me feel like occasionally, what I do is respected...by someone...somewhere. As I'm about to re-embark on grant-writing (endless chore of academia that I really hate with a passion), it's these sorts of affirmations that make such a difference. Unfortunately, they're too few and far between and they require so much work (usually) to come together. Hence the delight in being solicited and not having to throw myself shamelessly at the deciders. Sometimes, it's nice to make a quick buck.


Fieldwork @ the bar

I wish I had my proper camera with me, as my cell phone camera doesn't do it justice. I had been telling my bar companion about my work (a fellow academic who may have been indulging me or may have been genuinely interested in my rambling, time will tell, I suppose), had to pee, went to the bathroom and discovered this...

yeah...I don't think it's legible. I'll have to go back and bring a camera with flash. (bad anthropologist, not ready to whip out her research tools even when out on a social call.) I'm not sure it's actually all that interesting, but it was weird timing. And who decided "pabst smear" was a good idea?



So, it's all well and good to point you to interesting scientific analyses of human phenomena. Because, yes, attempts to "legitimate" human phenomena are interesting as cultural productions in and of themselves -- but that's also what I find so irresistable. The idea that we should just take scientific knowledge, nod our heads, and accept its self-evidentness. A year ago, I forwarded to some friends the Guttmacher Institute's article on the fact that most people in the U.S. have engaged in (or are engaging in) premarital sex. Its very obviousness was fascinating to me -- what I find compelling about these sorts of studies is how information needs to be disseminated and how there's an anxiety about not having hard cold data to defend any sort of position or attempt at re-imagining our current intervention methods. The article I linked to below is sort of in the same camp as the "most people have had pre-marital sex" (I mean, you wonder about all those people who never marry or those for whom legal marriage was never an option to begin with, in most states). Quantifying everyday human behaviors somehow makes it all seem more substantive and worthy. My investment in qualitative research methods comes partially from the desire to allow the messiness of human behavior to bleed into research. Surveys get you only so far. And hearing how people think and talk about behavior seems important to me....

I'm not sure why I wanted to defend this position (and perhaps this is totally redundant as I've said things along these lines many times before). Still, I think it's important to clarify and re-clarify why I find certain kinds of science interesting and useful.

A link -- and not so much damn navel-gazing

From HL. All hail camera phones.

I've been a slacker on the linkages...
Today, I keep the meta and the analysis a bit tamped down and offer this fun link/site/information about hyperventilation, sex-noises, and sex. It's all scientific, and shit. Because I believe in being as erudite and research-y as possible even when (and maybe especially when?) talking about sex.


Plus the blog has the great name of Neurotic Physiology with the sub-heading of "are you sci-curious" -- and that's pretty awesome in and of itself!