I’ve recently been thinking a lot about socialization of graduate students in anthropology, and on Friday just had a very exciting session at the AAA Annual Meetings, which I titled Trauma, tactics and transformation. I won’t repeat here what I’ve said elsewhere about the ethical need to analyze our own profession and reckon with our own moral contradictions. But I do want to report on some of the major issues I left thinking about:
- At an abstract level, how should socialization of graduate students look as a process? Should it be auto-socialization, self-socialization, where we mostly do the work of socializing ourselves into the professional world? Or should it be faculty-directed, top-down, a process of being led into the promised land of scholarly pleasure? Or should it be group-organized, a process in which students socialize each other and form a kind of social collective that learns from and teaches itself? Of course it is all of these, but I think that often our dissatisfactions have to do with the proportions between them. Each has its disadvantages: loneliness, authoritarianism, peer pressure.
- Thinking about graduate education is a form of reflexivity, but reflexivity has its disadvantages: it can waste time that could be better spent elsewhere; it can be a means through which we end up resigning ourselves to the present; it can even become a weapon turned against our colleagues. Still, the first question in the panel, and one that I like very much, is: what are the costs of not being reflexive? As Anneeth Hundle pointed out, these can be very concrete: the perpetuation of bad racial dynamics in a department, for instance. And it seems to me that the ethics of the status quo are inherently bad ethics, because they seem to presuppose that the actual world is as good as it can ever get.
- But the thing about reflexivity is that you have to be reflexive even about your reflexive moments: a potentially infinite regress. And one of the new questions that comes to my mind is: what kind of recognition and reward are we looking for in questioning graduate education? Do we expect to be pleased through the validation of our peers? The panel wasn’t perfect, in those respects; everyone surely had to walk away without feeling like their concerns were fully answered.
- Dominic Boyer argued (gently) against me that reform is impossible, and that thus we should settle for therapy. My first thought here is that even doing therapy is already a kind of reform, and that he’s understating his own accomplishments in teaching theory reflexively. (Though the crucial question might be: does he believe in therapy that cures? Or just in therapy that helps us cope with what we can’t change?) My second thought is that I don’t really care if we call it “therapy” or “reform” as long as the underlying ethical and psychological issues are being addressed. But my last thought is that I wonder if it’s worthwhile for us as graduate students to try to reform the current system at this exact moment. What if we ask instead: how will we do things differently when we are in a position of institutional power, when we have our own students; how does graduate education look when we dream of ourselves as the professors? The status quo has so much inertia that I think we need to look for hope partly in the future rather than in the immediate present.
- Finally, a major issue, raised by Anneeth Hundle but not finished, is: how are we silenced by academic institutions? And how are these silences structured and distributed? It’s a question with no immediate answer.