I think leaving the field is one of the worst parts of being an anthropologist for a living. Life as I have come to know it in the field collides with life as I used to know it at home. It is one of the big steps of data processing; transforming the lived life, shared concerns and thoughts, experiences, aesthetics and skills learned during the fieldwork from “stuff that is going on in my life” into “data”; the object of analysis and writing academic texts and the like. Suddenly everything, both “here” and “there,” is strange and awkward.
Me and the awesome assistant Shari felt this in full a few weeks ago, as we finished up and said goodbye to friends at Hanover Park MOU and at the courts we had been hanging out at, and then drove straight to University of Cape Town for me to present at the research seminar of the Department for Anthropology. We were late, and I was nervous and had bad stage fright.
Luckily the theme was Permeable Boundaries, and I was presenting with my buddy Rogers Tabe Egbe Orock from Wits University. We talked about the concept of “BIGNESS” and power in our fieldworks in Cameroon and Uganda, and in African anthropology more generally. But we also talked about our shared background as PhD students in Århus and the pathways of being a young(ish) scholar. The questions from students and colleagues led to important discussion about stereotypes in African politics and the materiality of fame and power.
Letting the calmness and openness of hanging out at Hanover Park seep into the seminar room for me brought a gentleness and humor to a genre, the staff seminar, that us usually either dreary or scary.
”Hinging on the concept of permeability, we hope to preliminarily imagine and practice an intellectual collegiality that will help us grapple with some of the core issues of the current political moment. ” (from the Anthropology Seminar blurb)
The seminar also marked the end of my time at UCT as a visiting fellow, and I left Cape Town grateful for the wisdom, tough questions, and generous help and friendship from colleagues at Anthropology and the First Thousand Days research group.