One of the things, totally unsurprising, about the social world where I’m working is that it’s full of texts. Even restricting ourselves to written texts, we find not only books but also articles, dissertations, textbooks, pamphlets, blog posts, media coverage, government proclamations, analyses of government proclamations, activist manifestos, online books, posters, banners, schedules, graffiti, email, text messages, announcements of the birth of professors’ children, warnings not to break the sociology department copy machine, security warnings, maps and directional signs, historical placards, captions attached to bombastic statues, conference programs, course descriptions, online discussion forums, advertisements printed on the outside of bookstore sales bags, activist pin-on buttons, government ID badges, and the like. I’m sure this isn’t an exhaustive list of the written genres I’ve encountered — and of course, most of these genres are themselves compound genres containing other genres within. It would be a project in itself just to diagram these genres and analyze their interrelations and metapragmatics.
With the onset of summer, I’m faced with the end of the academic year, the end of class meetings and conferences, the end of departmental meetings and protests, and hence the temporary loss of most of the usual opportunities for face-to-face ethnographic observation in the traditional sense. My field site is shutting down. But I’m trying to ask myself: what do I make of the fact that I still possess an wonderful, unmanageable number of printed pages, of written things, of texts, that I need to read? And that this reading is simultaneously a chance to do textual analysis but also, and this is what seems to deserve more attention, a form of participant-observation in the world in question. Academia is nothing if not a community of readers. What then are the tactical or theoretical implications of a summer spent reading in a project on academia?