So, some dissertation-related news: I’ve got a new set of deadlines. The UofC centre has a doctoral seminar running over here, and I volunteered to present a chapter to the group on the 4th of December, which means that I really need to have something ready by the beginning of that month. So, in other words, I have one month to squeeze out a chapter. Let’s see how that goes.
Also, there’s a dissertation-year fellowship (Mellon/ACLS) that has a deadline on November 12, and the application instructions demand a chapter that is neither your introduction nor your conclusion chapter. So, in fact, I’m going to make a mad dash to have at least a reasonable draft of my chapter for November 12…precisely 3 weeks away.
To add to the tension, I went to the first meeting of the seminar today and came to the conclusion that this group is going to HATE my work. There is one anthropologist, who defended her thesis proposal today, and a whole slew of literature (and some philosophy and history) people. Now, back in Chicago I work in a reading group that has a very mixed (and mostly literature) disciplinary demographic and we manage to talk to each other, but this seminar has a very different tone. This woman’s proposal was, like most anthropology proposals, very tentative about defining “common sense” terms like “belief” and “faith” (she’s working on “secular Catholicism” in modern France), since those sorts of concepts are supposed to be derived from the fieldwork (i.e., interviews, observations) that she is about to do. In contrast, archive-based Humanities proposals tend to want all the theory worked out in advance, because this will structure how the project will proceed, what will be excluded, how texts will be interpreted.
In other words, most of the seminar members pounced on the fuzzy definitions and open-ended concepts and wouldn’t let go. Part of this was also due to an ignorance of disciplinary history, though; I’m guessing that most of these other scholars weren’t aware of anthropology’s “Crisis of Representation” in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and the effect it had on anthropologists’ views of their own theory-making. Most scholars in ethnographically-based study are now hyper-aware and self-conscious about how their own terms and concepts risk distorting the results they gain from those they consult with; for example, a North-American notion of secularism might not be the same as the French one, and presuming as much may cause you to misinterpret things and to come to erroneous conclusions.
So, anyway, I’m expecting to show up in December with my soft, weak, vague notions of intimacy, publics, solidarity, affect and so on, and to be savaged. I’m certainly ready for it—one thing UofC teaches you is how to defend your ideas against ruthless critique—but I’m not looking forward to it.