Anthropology of the academic conference

An academic conference is a social event and so much more, concludes blogger Nadya Karimasari after attending a symposium at Oxford University last week.

Subscribing to academic list-servs, checking call for papers, getting in touch with panel organizers, submitting abstracts, and finally presenting research findings at academic conference have increasingly becoming a ritual for both emerging and seasoned researchers. Such events are expected to circulate ideas, broaden academic network and boost the outreach of research.

When I was in Oxford (and at other conferences in the past), most symposium participants wore their conference name-tag outside the venue. It is not clear whether their mind were too preoccupied with research knick-knacks hence they couldn’t bother taking it off, or is it a deliberate act with hidden meaning.

Conference name-tag serves as a symbol to distinguish the wearer from ‘other’ random passers-by, tourists, or jobless ramblers. Perhaps it resembles a much-deserved badge of honour worthy of showing off to the world. It might also be worn like an imaginary shield to soothe and temporary protect the researchers from their own constant horror of being irrelevant after long and painstaking research process.

Conference name-tag serves as a symbol to distinguish the wearer from ‘other’ random passers-by, tourists, or jobless ramblers.

Or, maybe, it is a sign that researchers are secretly expecting to be found. To be recognized. To be discovered instead of discovering. Although, it is yet to be known whether wearing such symbol would ignite conversation with people or shoo them away.

Other researchers had enough of academic conference. They are not eager to unwittingly spending time for long-distance travel that could otherwise be used to simply sit down and write. ‘All this effort, just meet each other and talk’, as my colleague phrased it.

Yet, the mystique of academic conference have magnetic power that does not easily wear off. Researchers delve deep into their topic and specialization, making it harder to find other people who gets them. All the extra efforts to ‘just meet each other and talk’ would hit the jackpot when they finally find ‘academic soulmate’ who share the same level of enthusiasm on similar topic.

It is not easy to find ‘the one’ who ‘just clicks’, but it’s worth the try. Hanging that shiny little plastic name-tag might just be the key for researcher to get noticed. Keep trying.

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