Kto kogo

12 January 2010

If you want to enjoy travelling, don’t become an anthropologist, unless what you enjoy is being made to feel like a cursed fantasy character with second sight.

If it was going to survive in the postcolonial academy, anthropology had to reorient itself towards exposing networks of inequality, exploitation and essentialisation. It’s the discipline that apologises for itself – which is one reason I find it such a challenging and exciting profession to work in, although after I say that I have to be aware that I’m constructing myself as the modern heroic subject with a privileged claim to knowledge, and that in fact I probably ought to be interrogating my choice of the word reorient.

I got so self-conscious about taking a camera on holiday, because of what we choose to frame in an image and what we don’t, that I eventually stopped doing it;  fine, except for ending up with nothing to put on the cover of a book we did at work.

Kto kogo, Lenin asked – who’s getting exploited by who?

You know one local hood or other will be benefiting from the pretty beach café; you think you have a pretty good idea what the cosy little cove and fishing boats are really used for, out of season. If there’s a military base round about, or anything that employs a large number of men away from their partners,you know a red light district won’t be far away. When you get home, you wonder what that shop on the corner is really up to, with the pretty fashion photos in the window but hardly any stock inside.

A few days after New Year, I was nurturing a plotbunny that sprang out of vaguely comically mishearing a traffic report, and that might just have made a story to submit to a magazine I’d always liked the look of which liked its stories light.

The child in me, who sat around one holiday with her parents all reading out of one of the early Discworlds, thinks she can do that. The anthropologist in me wants me to hang on. Where are the women? Whose unpaid labour is this system built on? That tunnel’s just going to get used for smuggling and human trafficking, isn’t it? And isn’t that ferry terminal going to be on the Soviet A-list as soon as there are threats of nuclear war?

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2 Responses to “Kto kogo”

  1. kate m Says:

    This made me laugh. I do this all the time. I don’t find myself agonising over where the women are (I write about lots of those)but I do lie awake at night worrying how my stories are “framed” because I don’t want to be adding to the world’s already enormous pile of exploitative books. And then I get cross with myself for being so precious. The whole process drives me up the wall.


  2. I worry about whether the women are passing the Bechdel test to the extent that I feel I ought to go back afterwards and check the men are passing it as well. Though I’m not really sure how the test gets calibrated if the world has more than two genders going on….


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