Posted in Academia, Mentors

Academic Celebrities

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Many academic celebrities in the social sciences visited Wageningen University and Research in the past year. Blogger Nadya Karimasari shares her latest encounter with one of them.

I’ve lost count of how many academic celebrities I’ve met at Wageningen University and Research. I couldn’t imagine a better timing to do a PhD. Earlier this month, James Ferguson, a well-known anthropologist from Stanford University, USA, gave a public lecture at Orion about share, presence, and social obligation. A couple of days after, other famous names participated in the two-days Hauntology seminar on psychoanalysis and political economy. Don’t ask me about the seminar, I swear I have no idea.

While having my daily dose of sunbathing on the outdoor bench in Leeuwenborch, a participant of the hauntology seminar casually sat down next to me. My half-closed eyes were transfixed by his beautiful shoes. They must be expensive, I guess. He opened the lid of his cigarette box and asked me what I thought of the seminar. I looked up and my jaw dropped in disbelief. It was Erik Swyngedouw, a world-leading political economist from Manchester University.

Keeping my cool, I answered him in shameless honesty, ‘I didn’t understand a single word.’ Why pretend, not everyone is familiar with Lacan. A slight smile curved up in Erik’s face, ‘I still remember what that’s like.’ And that’s the beginning of our jovial conversation.

‘When I was teaching at Oxford, I was a regular participant at the monthly seminar of Amnesty International. I was a supporter. I always attended their seminar in order to purchase the ticket so they would get money’, he said. ‘In 1998, Slavoj Zizek was one of the speakers. I came out of the seminar, thinking: what a bloody circus!’ he told me.

‘I owned two books by Zizek because everybody said he was so good, but I just read the back covers and put them right back on the shelf. That day, after the seminar – I remember it vividly, it was May – I went straight to a very beautiful bookstore …’ I cut him off, shortly, ‘Blackwell, was it?’, ‘Yes, Blackwell’, he continued, ‘I bought more than ten books by Zizek and paid around 400 pounds.’

‘Later, during the summer holiday, I spent three months reading all his books at a house by the sea. I read from morning to evening, just having a break for lunch, and I still didn’t understand most of it. Only around ten years later, in 2007, did I start to understand half of it. And now, once I got it, I can do whatever I want with it’, he said animatedly with his hands flipping up and down.

‘Learning is slow’, his words sounded like music to my ears. ‘Sometimes, students would think I’ve got it all easy. They only see me now. But I was also a student like them once. Nothing is easy. It was also difficult for me. I also took a long time to learn to finally get to where I am now’, he confessed.

‘The most important thing is to not give up on our enjoyment, and not give in to fear’, he added passionately. ‘I remember when I studied Marx when I was a student like you. Everybody said it was an academic suicide. But, I am still here’, he smiled victoriously.

‘I followed my enjoyment, and not gave in to the fear.’

as seen in Resource online

PS: picture of James Ferguson during his lecture, not Eric Swyngedouw – ‘coz I didn’t take pics of him

Posted in Academia

Don’t Panic

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Don’t panic when things don’t seem to fit. It might be your contribution to science! – Self-talk

Today as I finished my proposal I’m freaking out and shedding tears – woman, the joy was very brief, shit, okay back to – … tears because I am looking at my two different set of papers, one is my proposal and one is my reality notes from preliminary fieldwork, in which both seem to be world apart and not relating to each other at all (underlined, bold, highlighted, italicized: at all).

What the hell am I going to do with this piece of concepts that I’ve just written, what the hell am I going to do in my long fieldwork. Why was I painstakingly writing theoretical concepts if it didn’t seem to resonate with reality or it might be tentative or it might still be very vague or it might not be directing and narrowing my focus in any way during fieldwork. Maybe I’m still confused about what the hell is a proposition and why do I have to think about proposition at all, and the proposition might collapse in the field and right now I can’t be relaxed about that very inevitable thing going to happen.

But, as I am writing this, I ask myself, why am I worried, why? … This is why I’m worried: this proposal doesn’t fit and I will be left with nothing (conceptual lens) to comprehend what’s going on during fieldwork. In other words I might be lost and return to a blank page without a clue of how to make sense of what happened during fieldwork. And also just the horror of having to cramp up a new write up on the theorization in two weeks (because that’s just how I did it). I have done it twice so why am I wasting energy. That was what I thought ….

Then just while writing this post status I see a silver lining. I am writing the conceptual framework to learn new things – well at least it’s new for me. It’s not about applying that conceptualization to reality. No. It’s about understanding that the concepts – as they are presented right now in the academic literature – is still very full of holes and unclear and contradictory etc. My job is to try to understand how and why the academic understand it that way – and differently, where’s the difference and why, etc, and then use my preliminary understanding as a tentative shadow that still needs to be furnished more and more through dialogue-ing it with fieldwork.

And in the field, when I am trying to comprehend stuffs, as people do stuffs or say stuffs, this universalized concepts in my mind are being refurnished and refurnished again and constantly to make it contextual and incorporating the lively mind and action of the people that I will be interacting with on fieldwork. Hence the people’s knowledge would gain a little bit more of a level-playing field in relation to the dominant academic way of thinking. It would enrich our understanding and trim the paralyzing conceptualisation and perhaps poke the power relations that keep the misunderstanding and misrepresentation persist over time.

So, I really do need to understand the abstract spirit of concepts, to let it enter my intuition and hence provide a lens that will make me notice stuffs that might not immediately seem to relate, also to have a dialogue to say why it doesn’t relate, what’s missing. So, anyway this is the reason why I had to write and learn that damn theoretical concepts, keep learning and might be rewriting it all over again from scratch or whatever. Destructing, constructing, it’s never a waste of energy, and I thought the process would be like laying one brick over another, but no, it’s not.

This piece of mind is also tentative though. Now, drinks. Thanks mom for loving me unconditionally.

Posted in Academia

March for Science

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Did you join the March for Science last weekend? Blogger Nadya Karimasari shares her thought on this first-time event.

Some of my friends in Wageningen, like Suzy Brandon, Lea and Tabi, went to Amsterdam last weekend to join the March for Science. This event was a protest against Trump’s administration in the US that routinely shows a blatant disregard for science.

Looking back, I would like to scrutinise what kind of science I would wholeheartedly march for. Will I march for science? It depends. Just using the word ‘science’ is not specific enough for me, because there are awful, unethical and dangerous forms of science – and I do not mean the subversive type of dangerous, but the lethal type of dangerous. I will share my personal experience on this matter.

When I finished my master’s degree, I was asked to assist in research on the social-economic recovery of disaster victims in my hometown, where a mountain had just erupted. I was shocked when during my first meeting, the scientists of this research team – mostly economists – complained mercilessly about how stupid and lazy the disaster victims were. ‘They have a beggar mentality! They are too dumb to understand our intention to help them!’ said these economists.

According to them, this was the reason why their business plan to recover the economy was rejected by the community. My blood was boiling when I heard them loudly scorning, condescending and blaming the disaster victims. I wanted to pour lava into their filthy mouths and minds. And they said they were scientists.

In disbelief, I wonder what kind of science allows them to behave as such. How their label as scientists could let them get away with such an attitude that does not hold the slightest spark of empathy. What kind of science buries them in such ignorance of their own scientific flaws and limitations. What kind of science makes them perceive themselves as know-it-alls in their narrow-mindedness. What kind of science restricts them from comprehending that actually, the problem was their faulty business plan, and the community was too smart to let their economy be wrecked by another, not any less destructive disaster.

I wouldn’t want to march for such science.

Posted in Nomad Family

Boekenmarkt

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During the Easter holiday, blogger Nadya Karimasari spent her day at the second-hand book bazaar in Wageningen Centrum.

Looking back, it seems weird that I’ve been anticipating the boekenmarkt since the very first time I had heard about it. What did I expect? I knew most books would be in Dutch, a language in which I have no vocabulary other than ‘ik begrijpt u niet’. I also knew that I wouldn’t be buying any, because the books would be most likely collectible antiques or English fiction paperback, which I would not read for the time being – I am staring at you, my beloved piles of research related books and articles.

It’s just the incomprehensible impulse to meet and be surrounded by books, no matter how foreign the written words are.

I marked the date on my calendar, set my alarm very early in the morning, quickly ate a bowl of blueberry yoghurt and granola – which I wouldn’t consider a proper breakfast on any normal occasion. I even skipped my regular ‘Skype Saturday’ morning with my husband in Indonesia so I wouldn’t miss this rare event in Wageningen. I usually have to travel to far-off Amsterdam just to find English second-hand books!

On that cloudy day, I felt a moment of bliss from looking at rows of second-hand book stalls. Where have they all been before? To my surprise, the first stall that I visited was remarkably suitable for my studies – and my wallet. It was a very small collection of an ecology student at Wageningen University, but it comprised the must-have anthropology textbooks. Every single book had to go through a long and thorough examination by me, as I had a difficult time to decide which one not to buy.

With such a high degree of book compatibility between me and the seller, I wondered for a split second what it would be like to see each other more often and having endless conversation about … books? Would it be like what people often said about the comfortable feeling of ‘meeting an old friend’ in a new person?

Like a snap, I was immediately brought back to reality by the sight of a beautiful sound story book that I eventually bought for my son.

more pics: here

Posted in Fieldnotes

On the Dinner Floor

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When conducting fieldwork, most anthropologists will have to eat with their host. Blogger Nadya Karimasari elaborates why this matter is not as simple as it may sound.

What I like most about my preliminary fieldwork is the interaction that it brought. Eating together is one of the most essential ways to build a relation. Providing food for a new ‘guest’ or ‘stranger’ is not just a simple act of hospitality. Through food, the community that I lived with offered to have a relationship with me. By eating the food together, mostly on the floor, I opened myself up to commit to this new relationship and be more than just a guest or stranger.

The generous act of giving and taking food is not to be taken for granted in every setting. In the first days after I arrived in a remote highland in Aceh, I spoke with a man from the city who worked for a development agency. The first advice he gave me was the following: ‘Don’t eat with them. Bring your own bottle of water and cover the top of your glass.’ Why so? ‘This community still strongly practises sorcery. They will poison you with their food. I immediately got ill after eating their food,’ he explained.

I can’t imagine people like him doing anthropological fieldwork in a remote area. Of course, social research is not only about trying to understand the community, but also trying to understand ourselves as a product of our social context and interaction. If he were a social researcher, he would have to be more aware of the origin of his judgement. For a researcher like me, this small conversation says a lot about the interaction and non-interaction through food.

In my case, I never did get any stomach ache, did not get any food poisoning, nor did I experience any sorcery. I ate whatever they ate. My hosts almost always ‘forced’ me to have some more. The more I ate, the more they felt appreciated. When I was feeling full, they would frown, ‘oh, our food was not tasty enough!’

Of course, I wanted them to be sure that I fully enjoyed their meal and our little moments of feast together. But I also needed to be careful not to let my stomach become too full, because it would mean that I would have to go to the nearest river… and, let me assure you, this ‘river’ thing is not any less complicated.