Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Paradigm shift.

There are some points in life when it becomes so incredibly clear that things are changing. That the world around you is changing. That you are changing. It’s not hard to imagine that these moments are most noticeable with starting anew in a new place. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen that I’m beginning to undergo a process of incredible change, a paradigm shift if you will. I was expecting there to be a learning curve with starting grad school in another country but expectations rarely translate into actually experiencing things. Everything, from buying groceries to comprehending a different education system, has been a learning process, often by means of trial and error.

At university, I’m relearning how to learn. Unlike in the States, professors don’t lay out in lectures what it is you need to know. Instead, they point the way to which readings might suit your own unique interests within a given framework, such as political anthropology or documentary film. I’m relearning how to read. Read once for a general overview of an idea. Read twice for the detailed nuances that the professors will expect you to notice. Read three times to form your own opinion. I’m relearning anthropology. Much more heavily influenced by French philosophy than Germano-American anthropology, Anglo-French anthropology has moved beyond post-modernism. Ethnography is viewed as the art of in-depth speculation charged with representation of social reality. Anglo-French anthropology steers away from the comfort blanket of science that has at times lead Germano-American anthropology to claiming ethnographic data can lead to truth. Here, there is no one right answer about humanity. There is no ‘truth’.

I’m relearning vocabulary. New and seemingly unnecessary words such as historicity and contemporeanity and bio-socio-biological are entering my list of words to pull out in extremely highbrow situations. I’m relearning what it means to be away from family and friends and what it means to build community here. I’m relearning how to make friends and how to manage my time between school and social life. I’m relearning how to cook. Fun fact for you America: here, food goes bad after a few days instead of mysteriously lasting for weeks without molding. After talking to a friend living on a farm in Argentina, I realized my tiny make-shift kitchen isn’t so different than hers; no microwave, no freezer, and only a limited space for storing cold items. I’m relearning where to shop and where to buy foil and black beans and cornbread. I’m relearning how to open doors (those damn Victorians had such heavy doors with all kinds of locks imaginable and no two are the same). Today I even learned what happens if a pigeon gets caught inside a train (after significantly raising the anxiety levels of passengers, he simply gets off at the next stop).

And of course I’m relearning myself along the way. I’m currently facing the decision of where I want to do my summer fieldwork. I basically have 4-8 weeks to live in a culture before some hard-core hermiting while I write my dissertation. I’m deciding where I want to be in summer, and where I want to be in fall when my visa expires and I turn to the job market. I’m deciding what at what level I want to commit to anthropology.

All of these are things I’ve faced before and figured out in the past, but once again they are changing. I’m adapting. It’s an odd process but not an unwelcome one. It’s part of challenging the old mode of thought and building on it. It’s what we all do, though at some moments it’s easier to notice than others. So this is my moment. This is my change. 

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