One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

Grad School Experiences with the Help from Calvin and Hobbes

dbd1da10d20538b851ee7c7bd4a2196cI grew up reading Calvin and Hobbes comics. And like Disney movies, when you are a little kid you like it for the entertainment factor but you are unaware of the ‘adult’ side of it. Now that we are older we get it.

Lately I have been coming across Calvin and Hobbes and I have been relating much of what Calvin says to my experiences in academia. For a 6 year old, he is a really deep thinker and intellectual. Here are a few that I have came across that I think relate very well.(Along with my rants about grad school)

We all get that feeling when we are in school, that it is never going to end. For some of us it just might not until we are done with 6+ more years to achieve a PhD. While in grad school, the constant question that comes into light is “why the heck am I doing this?” Adding more debt that I collected as an undergrad, going through all the work, research, papers, and all that plus having to work a job to keep up with rent and bills monthly. Seems crazy?! Well it kinda is, but I believe it is worth it. I have some amazing professors who have pushed me and educated me to see the BIG picture in the end. Although we accumulate school loans and debt, it is worth it to learn from those who have been through the experience  understand when you have those crazy weeks of freaking out due to stress and hyped up on too much coffee. Many also have to realize that EVERYONE has some sort of school loans and debt, school isn’t cheap. But it is the experience and the education that is worth it. Worth it to have a better chance of a career and networking. I was fortunate as an undergrad to already build those connections with my undergrad professors, especially Dr. Margaret Huber who has been a great influence on my decision to go to grad school, helped me get in, help me achieve my first conference publication, listener to my grad school rants, and is now going to be on Thesis Committee. Even though grad school can be intimidating at first, you build friendships with those who understand completely what you are going through and you are not the only one.

1f1206336f9936929dfb1166f5e01317When going to grad school, be prepared to do the basics – read, write, coffee, repeat….

There is a lot of reading of boring articles that you will probably never again in your academic career and there are some that will haunt you to the end of your days. I don’t know how many times I have read Clifford Geertz’s Thick Description  or Bourdieu’s Outline of the Theory of Practice. Undergrad and grad, and possibly again when I go for a PhD.

Not only reading but also writing either a mini 2-4 page paper on the article or a paper on a theory that you were suppose to be thinking about the entire semester. calvin&hobbes1My point is, just be prepared to write. To be honest, I much rather write and express my thoughts about what I have done the semester than take a test.  I have not encountered too many tests in my grad classes, I think semester will be the first that I will have to take a final exam in Primatology. Honestly I measure intellect based upon what can be expressed through writing  it shows that one can think, plan, and organize thoughts. Test taking, I believe, shows that one can memorize facts that may or may not be retained. I didn’t take any written exams in my last years of undergrad, it was all papers. calvin-strip2And I learned a lot more writing and organizing within a paper than when I tried to cram for an exam. When I was working on the application process for grad school, one of the requirements was to take the GRE…the worst thing in the world and only proves if you can take a test and if you can do it well. I am a horrible test taking because I get testing anxiety really badly, it is probably because I do second guess myself and I start to panic about  what could happen if I failed.

3d111e36da2a5fdd5947a972d7da528bBut as far as the GRE, like I said it was a waste of time. The GRE has three components, much like the SAT, math, reading comprehension, and writing portion. I hadn’t taken math since my freshmen year of undergrad and there was a reason for that, I hated it and I was not good at it. My brother-in-law, Nic, had to reteach me basic algebra for this test. And guess what? I am not taking ANY math classes as a graduate, funny how that works. Again, I feel it just demonstrates whether or not you can memorize facts for a short period of time. But I may be wrong, that it just how I feel about test. Some are better at writing than others and some are good at taking tests. I am not one for tests.

As far as writing goes, I think I have improved upon my skills as a writer. 5ebd9565f489868b8e61bfb65148720fI will fully admit that my brain thinks faster than I can type, resulting in many grammar errors, which is evident when I get my written assignments back. But I have been better at going back and going through my work to correct it as I go then just sending it to Brian and asking him to edit it. Which is still what I often do.

You are often told since high school, don’t leave assignments and projects to the last minute. We all know we do and it is inevitable. We stay up late to the wee hours of the morning working on a project, sleep for 2 hours and then have to be up to turn it in. I was told by a professor that you are not a true scholar or academic if you don’t leave things at the last minute. I have left many things at the last minute, depending on the assignment and class. Last minute meaning, the night before. There are many who do assignments the day of or 2 hours before it is due. Again, it depends upon the individual. I try to get a majority of what is due for the week done at the beginning. Readings I usually do the night before so it fresh in my mind and I take extensive notes.CalvinAndHobbes This semester I have only had a couple of weeks where I haven’t really read the material and it showed on a couple of reading quizzes. But everyone has  those weeks.  Despite that, writing assignments however, I do start working on those little at a time and then tweak it as time gets closer to turning it in. 07bec445f126c7cfc7be05c55cff3568I will admit there have been a few times where I just write to turn something in, again that also depends on the work load of that week and what I already was working on. Some times it is my best work, others it is not. But everyone is different, some people can  and work better at the last minute panic. I, however, am not that type of individual. I would get too stressed. It is better to get into a habit of organizing yourself for grad school because there is a lot of work and you are expected to accomplish it and produce good, quality work from it. The thing is, like I stated earlier, many professors understand that you may have a couple off weeks and life gets in the way that may hinder you for that time period. And it isn’t like undergrad where many of the students are still fresh out of high school, first time away from home and parents, don’t have jobs, or many obligations. Graduate students are older, with jobs, may or may not have families of their own, and have ‘adult’ responsibilities and problems. (not saying all but many) I was the undergraduate that worked 40 hours to pay for the 21 credits I was taking each semester. Even 106679084893308864_Bp3bRQZK_cthough I do not fit in the norm, many do. Again, you must able to organize your life in order to incorporate school and life during the same time.

As I stated before in earlier posts, I have to juggle being here  in Florida and trying to help with my father who has cancer who is in Virginia, over 700 miles. And on top of that, my fiance who is stationed in another state. All of these factors have affected me many times during my studies, where I get a phone call from my mother to tell me the latest news from the doctors, my father calling me to tell me that he is scared and needs reassurance, and my fiance who I have leaned on during the hard times, I am only able to call. I see everyone that I am friends with here being able to live with the ones they love. I never thought that I would be in this position where I am doing what my father wants me to do most at the expense of being over 700 miles away. I do not regret this decision, just wish I had this experience at a better and happier time. Thus is life, it never is fair when you want it to go your way. Again, it could always be worse.

On a happier note, my experience as a grad student has been a rewarding one. As an undergrad I was exposed to mostly cultural anthropology and theory with some archaeology in the Historic Preservation department. Here I was able to get some experience and knowledge about biological anthropology as well d83a3e69350617edccb1e8c28fea8e04as applied anthropology. Although I like my cultural anthropology and my theory, I am thankful to be exposed to other subfields to have a more rounded knowledge of anthropology. It has also been an experience with being in classes with undergraduates and listening to the conversations and class discussions with them. It makes me very relieved to go to my graduate classes. It is interesting to hear when people get exposed to the first time to anthropological theory, but it is also interesting to note WHAT they are getting hung up on. For example in Primatology, when we reach the part in the lecture about a primate species’ mating, it is the sexual part that we have the most discussion about. Why? Maybe because sex is an interesting subject or the fact they don’t know anything about it. Who knows, but to me primates have sex because it is a part of life, whether it is for fun or for reproduction. THE END. But no, it doesn’t stop there. That is just one example, there are many. Regardless, it is entertaining to listen to and interesting to see what happens next. Again, usually after those classes I am glad to be in my graduate classes.

d94759b13a7571497ed7bb7475cdeac8Alright, well I think I have made this post long enough, but I want to share some experiences of grad school with you. I actually had a request to make a post about my experience by someone who commented on one of my posts. This is only my second semester here, I will have a few more plus the summer. So there will be more experiences to share as well as some updates of thesis research and other project I will be working on.

Hopefully, you also enjoyed the Calvin and Hobbes comics that I included. Many of them to relate to academic experiences and some I thought related very well to anthropology topics (like gender and identity).  And this last one to my thesis topic. d6cdadd0441e6ecb53ed37a9fad75463


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Thesis Update – Literature Review

This past week we had to write a preliminary literary review for our thesis topics. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be other than the confusion of what to include in it. I was always under the impression that a literary review was just scholarly or academic work that helps with defining and backs up major themes within personal research, there is little to no personal theory.

I decided for my literary review to break down the structure in major themes: mythic thought, liminality, dual sovereignty, and exchange that includes Levi-Strauss, Leach, Needham, Van Genep, Guenon, Mauss, Weiner, Sahlins, Ginzburg, and Weber. As I wrote this I forgot to write a few other key works, but this is just a draft. But here is a preview of the first draft of my literary view.

Structures of Mythic Thought

Myth is a narrative told through a repetition of a series of events, described through collective symbolic imagery that conveys events of the past and present and can possibly predict the future. Myths are more than just a collection of symbols, it carries meaning within the meaning itself. The purpose of the myth is to create order and make sense of the disorder of the world and transfer the meaning. In Structural Anthropology and Myth and Meaning, Claude Levi-Strauss defines “myth as a language,” from which it can be implied that myth is constructed by the same rule as language: a communication of the ambiguous signifier with the collective signified in which it must be told to exist (Leach 1976; Levi-Strauss 1963). Myth-making is the relationship and interaction between the signified and the signifier and is then the reinterpretation of the narrative back to the signifier. The myth-making process must be repetitive in order to be a part of the cultural structure (Levi-Strauss 1963).

In Myth and Meaning, Levi-Strauss argues that although we may see mythology and history as oppositions to one another, as history being real and mythology as unreal, they are structurally constructed in the same way (Levi-Strauss 1979). Levi-Strauss states that history is a continuation of myth that fulfills the same function, to relay past experiences through a constructed narrative to be passed down through time. In the same text, he argues that music can also be treated as a myth. Whether classical or modern, music has always reflected the culture in which it has originated and always consists of a story that can be told with or without words.  Both myth and music have a beginning, middle, and end and must be constructed to captivate an audience. He states that music and myth must be read vertically and horizontally to be understood in its totality or as a whole, to have just one piece of it makes the entire work incomplete; myth or music (Levi-Strauss 1979). Levi-Strauss is trying to convey a message that every culture has music, history, and myth and although they all may be uniquely different in each culture, they have similar structures.

In Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities, Marshall Sahlins argues there is not a difference between Hawaiian myths and the historical reality of the first encounter with Europeans and Captain Cook. Cook’s arrival and subsequent events that were told by the English were considerably different from the Hawaiian tale of the events. History, in western context, is a metaphor for belief and reality as determined based off relevant myths. Sahlins uses this analysis to explain the events that took place during Cook’s presence at the islands, and as well as the transformations in Hawaiian culture (Sahlins 1981). Structure is the existing method to the chaos of life that defines the ways individuals respond to different situations that can determine reactions and decisions of individuals. Events focus on the overlapping and interconnecting pieces of the structures while reenergizing and charging the existing structure, allowing structures to continue or be replaced with new structures (Sahlins 1981).

The purpose of a myth is to gain a collective acceptance that allows it to exist through time. If a myth was not popular, it would not exist. Carlos Ginzburg in Ecstasies researches the European history of witchcraft and the origins of witchcraft that have been associated with two things: marginalized persons and death (Ginzburg 1991). Over time, Ginzburg connects various local traditions of the witches’ Sabbath, a journey to the realm of the dead and back, to other concepts like were-wolves that have transcended through historical documents and into popular media (Ginzburg 1991). Ginzburg also illustrates the necessity of heroes, using Greek myths like Oedipus, being liminal characters in juxtaposition to witches that transverse the world of the living and the dead (Ginzburg 1991). Ginzburg portrays the universal messages of fear, acceptance, life, and death that are woven into the tapestry of human understanding and every culture.


In various events throughout the fictional narrative, characters often experience an in between time of various states: life and death, adolescents, rites of passages. In his work: Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage, Victor Turner regards the marginal, liminality, as “interstructural situation within the structure of positions of society;” as a time and place of withdraw from the norms of society. All liminality will eventually dissolve because of its intensity if it does not have some sort of structure to stabilize it (Turner 1967). Therefore an individual will return to the norms of the surrounding social structure or liminal individuals will create their own internal social structure, normative communitas. Liminality is a period in time that an individual is suspended until the ritual is complete or an individual returns to the social constructs of the norm.

Liminality is a term used by Arnold van Gennep and later taken up by Victor Turner that describes a period in which an individual is ambiguous between time and states. It is commonly used in rituals when an individual must pass through one phase of life to another, rites of passages: childhood to adulthood: life to death. To talk about liminitality we must associate it with rites of passages. Van Gennep describes liminaltiy in his work Rites of Passages, as a change in an individuals’ status within a society and a transitions in the passages of time through a three-fold sequential structure: preliminal rites, liminal rites, and postliminal rites, in which an individual must transcend through symbolic markers of social time (Gennep 1960).

Much like van Gennep, Victor Turner and Edmund Leach believe that rites of passages, or transition, are found in every society in which rites indicate the transition, or transformation, between states (states regarding as fixed or stable conditions of an individual or group) through a triad phases of Separation, Marginality, and Aggregation. The actor of the ritual will pass through each of these phases to achieve the ritual goal beginning with separation, the symbolic behavior signifying the detachment from a fixed point in the social structure; becoming marginal where the individual as ambiguous “betwixt and between” time; and ending at the aggregation where the individual is consummated, the ritual ends and the transformation is complete (Turner 1967). Rites of passes are “interval markers of progression of social time” (Turner 1967).

In Culture and Communication, Leach describes it as a liminal zone where it is scared and performed by ritual leaders who are themselves liminal beings or the individual who is transcending through the process from one state to another. Liminal beings can be those individuals who are in direct communication with the Other World like shamans or priests, who are given abnormal rights than those of normal men because they can transcend from one world to the next either by mediation or spiritually. Liminality is defined by its cultural construct, the symbolic meaning of transformation or transcending through time and space (Leach 1976).

Exchange and Inalienable Possessions

Marcel Mauss in The Gift argues the ubiquitous gift that he deemed it as a “total social phenomenon” wherein “all kinds of institutions are given expression at one and the same time” (Mauss 1950).  According to him, with giving come three obligations: the obligation to give, to receive, and to reciprocate (Mauss 1950).  To refuse to give, is to refuse any social relationships; likewise, to refuse the gift or refuse to reciprocate, is to refuse the giver (Mauss 1950).  Taking it further, an unreciprocated gift makes the receiver socially inferior to the giver. To give back less than was received, makes the reciprocator inferior to the initial giver (Mauss 1950). To Mauss, the gift is only a means of creating social relations and bringing groups, or individuals, closer together.

Annette Weiner in Inalienable Possessions argues that the socially constructed value of things and people is related directly to the lack of exchange surrounding inalienable possessions.  These inalienable possessions are “certain things [that] assume a subjective value that place them above exchange value” and possession of one such thing “confirms difference rather than equivalence” (Weiner 1992).  “The possession not only authenticates the authority of its owner, but affects all other transactions even if it is not being exchanged” (Weiner 1992).  In this way, exchange and control of exchange accords and deprives authority and power, creating resentment and social distance, not bonds (Weiner 1992). According to Weiner, it’s not reciprocating that makes exchange, but the important inalienable possessions kept out of it or “keeping while giving” (Weiner 1992).  In conclusion, “the social identities of the participants, what they have that makes them different from each other, color the styles, actions, and meanings that create the exchange” (Weiner 1992).

Exchange is much more than the transfer of tangible things from one person or group to another (Mauss 1950).  Exchange is systems of meaning that communicate cultural constructions.  Giving a gift defines an individual to the giver and the giver to the recipient. What is maintained is that gifts, tangible or intangible, do not only create social relationships, but maintain social distance. In every exchange is an underlying message of not only social relations, but the legitimacy of those relationships.

Dual Sovereignty: Power and Authority

            Throughout the narratives, there is a constant struggle for the seat of authority over a body of people or area of the world. These struggles of authority clash with the want and need to have power. Rene Guenon states in Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power that authority is associated with spiritual means of specific knowledge that is manifested with authority and power is temporal, in which the relationship between the two is unequal and power is inferior to the superior authority (Guenon 2001). Guenon describes power as being action and disorder that must be reestablished over time, and authority as the knowledge that maintains the order of a society.

In Max Weber’s work, The Types of Legitimate Domination, on legitimate forms of authority, he describes three types of legitimate authority – legal, traditional, and charismatic (Weber 1925). Legal is the first type in which the authority of an individual is obedient to the system. Whereas traditional, the authority of the individual is obedient to the position.  Weber discusses the third type of authority, charismatic authority as energetic and irregularity that the legal and traditional authorities lack. Charismatic relies on the obedience to a person who garners superhuman qualities “not accessible to the ordinary person, but [are] regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary” (Weber 1925). The individual is designated as a leader by their followers, but is validated as a leader by the masses that trail the charismatic leader (Weber 1925). The basis of legitimacy is based on “the conception that it is the duty of those subject to charismatic authority to recognize its genuineness and to act accordingly” (Weber 1925), not based on fixed traditions.

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Writing More

I know that I have been lacking in the thesis update department, but I do plan to get better at that. This week for Research and Design, we are working on building our literary review for our thesis. This is actually suppose to be a practice run of sorts. But the idea is to also improve our writing skills as potential scholars. Tonight we were discussing how important it is to practice our writing skills and ways to improve our writing skills. Personally I love writing. I am much better at writing by far than testing. I would also prefer to write a 25 page research paper than take a test, its not because I don’t know the information or the material, its because I get horrible testing anxiety that I blank out on tests. So writing is what I like to do. With that said, I know that I am not the best when it comes to grammar. I am frequently reminded by my fiance who looks over my papers. But when I do take the time to write a paper for whatever class or conference it may be, I do go back and edit my work. The tendency that I do have is that I like to write whatever comes to mind at that moment and time. It works at that moment, but I do put it away for a few hours to a day and then I go back to edit my work.

One of the tips that the professor expressed tonight was to write all the time and to practice writing even if there isn’t any purpose to it. So it got me thinking that I should do this as well through the use of this blog. I do intend to be better at posting more on here especially with thesis updates. This weekend I will post more updates on that subject. I do hope though that people who do read my blog have enjoyed what I have posted thus far. Well back to the grind stone!

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