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Posts Tagged ‘academia’

Anthropological Warning Signs and How to Spot Them

I’m engaged in research mode right now for the second book of Isabella’s memoirs. But this isn’t the focused, targeted research of the Onyx Court series, where I know my time and place and am looking for details; I’m trying to decide what time(s) and place(s) I’m going to be drawing from to begin with. Since the general sphere of this second book is going to be “sub-Saharan Africa,” that means doing a fair bit of 101-level familiarization, before I decide where to dig down further.

One of the books I just read had me rolling my eyes at certain obvious flaws, and I figured that when I write up my “books read” post in a few weeks, I’d dismiss it with a flippant sentence that would make teleidoplex and albionidaho laugh, and move on with my life. But then it occurred to me that the flaws I see as obvious actually may not be. I spent ten years in anthropology and related disciplines; I’m familiar with the ways in which anthropological writing can go wrong. Not everybody else is. And it might be useful for me to talk to more than just the anthropologists in my audience.

So here, with an illustrative example, is how to look critically at the genre. This isn’t in-depth technical stuff, where you need to know the region or the theory to spot where it’s going wrong; this is just critical thinking, of a mildly specialized sort. But the flaws are a type that can slip under the radar, if you’re not accustomed to them.


any sociologists out there?

Apparently I’m developing this thing for arguing with mind-melds.

In this instance, SF Signal is taking on gender imbalance in spec fic publishing. Lots of food for thought in there, but I’m at the point where my single overwhelming thought is this:

Is there, anywhere out there, a sociologist with both the necessary interest in genre fiction and the necessary methodological rigor to get us some actual data?

Because until somebody does that study, we’re arguing from evidence that is 98% anecdotes and gut feeling. Some magazines (Strange Horizons, Fantasy) openly discuss the gender breakdown of their submissions and publications; Broad Universe has scraped data from issue runs of some more. But where’s the data for novels? First novels, bestseller novels, big contracts, broken down by (admittedly fuzzy) categories of sub-genre, maybe even weighted for type of narrative if our hypothetical sociologist is good enough. Reviews, awards, hardcover versus trade paper versus mmpb publication. In a dream world we’d know the submission stats, too — but good luck getting those. Even without them, it would be a start.

It makes me regret my exit from academia, but truth is, I could never do this study. You really need a sociologist, not an anthropologist; this is not participant-observation work.

Some things we do know: that the people who say “I just buy/read good work, regardless of who wrote it” are naive. It’s well-established, in fields ranging from biology to symphony orchestras, that the perceived gender of individuals affects their reception: the percentage of women in orchestras went up after musicians began auditioning behind a curtain, with a carpet laid down so high-heeled shoes wouldn’t click on the floor. Swap the names on journal articles, and readers will rate higher the one they think is written by a man. Very few editors or readers out there are actively hating on women writers; the real problem is the inactive prejudice.

But we need data before we can get to the deeper questions of “why,” let alone “what do we do about it?” The relative absence of women in science fiction (as opposed to fantasy) no doubt arises from many factors, ranging from fewer women with the educational background to write hard SF, to less free time on their hands for the writing of it, to a reluctance to submit to markets they perceive as unfriendly to them, to editorial bias, to reader bias, and so around the merry-go-round. The relative presence of women in the current paranormal romance/urban fantasy borderland arises from a different set of factors. I don’t think anecdotes and gut feeling are without their use, but we might get farther if we had actual concrete information.

Decision time.

Those of you who read kniedzw‘s journal have already heard the news, but for the rest of you: my husband’s employer filed for bankruptcy today, putting him out of a job.

This brings into the open something I’ve been considering for a good year, maybe more. Some of you have heard me talk about it, but I haven’t said anything publicly because, well, public = real. (LJ = real, apparently.) But forming an agreement with my anthropology adviser constitutes pretty real, I’d say, so I might as well bite the bullet and type the words.

I’m leaving graduate school.

Yeah. Um. I have a whole lot to say on this topic, but to spare people’s friends-lists, I’m putting it behind a cut.

A year’s worth of thinking, maybe more.


(There are too many potential icons for this post, so you just get the swan.)

Attention anybody going to ICFA! I’ll be there, of course — proud attendee since 2003; I can advance both sides of my professional life by flying to Florida every spring, so what’s not to like? — and it turns out I’m going to be doing more than I thought.

At 10:30 a.m. on Thursday I’ll be donning my academic hat (and my legal name) and participating in an interdisciplinary panel about fan studies — a panel of the discussion type, not the “we all read our at best tangentially related papers” sort.

Also, at some point — I don’t know my time slot yet — I’ll be switching to writer-hat and writer-name, and reading in the creative track. I’ve been squeaked on to it due to other peoples’ cancellations, so I suspect I won’t be listed in the program, but they always post the errata next to the reg desk, so look for me there. (Yes, in my sixth year, the worst has finally happened: I’m on the program twice, under two different names.) I will, as you might expect, be reading from Midnight Never Come.

And lastly, I’ll be bringing some small number of ARCs with me, to sell in the book room. My ego loves the mental image of a slugfest over the last copy between a rabid fan and a dusty old academic in the narrow, book-strewn aisles, but since the universe is unlikely to oblige me with such a scenario, you can probably guarantee your receipt of one simply by looking early in the con.

Hope to see some of you there!

obvious things

One of the difficulties of getting farther into your field of study is, you start to take certain ideas so much for granted that you don’t remember anymore where you picked them up. And then you find yourself wanting to cite a source for one of those ideas, and you don’t have the slightest clue who writes about such things.

Where by “you” I mean “me.”

So, O my fellow anthropologists, please help me out: I need a good citation for two particular concepts in acculturation. One is that you learn by imitation, following the examples of the people around you. The other is that when you behave in a certain way, non-explicit social feedback tells you it is Good Behavior or Bad Behavior, and thus you are subtly encouraged toward the good behavior. (I’m pretty sure Judith Butler hits these ideas in the context of gender — am I right? I still haven’t gotten around to reading her — but it would be good to cite someone who talks about it more broadly.)

Failing sources, I’d even appreciate being reminded of what formal terms there are for those two concepts. I know the ideas, but I’m failing to sound official about them.


For the first time in my life, I find myself realizing that academic papers can have different voices, just like stories.

Maybe this was obvious to some of you. But while I knew I wrote papers differently for conferences (where I read out loud) than I do for classes or publication (where they’ll be printed on a page), I tended to think of those as two faint variants on Academic Voice.

That stories have different voices has always been obvious to me. I can’t tell you what “my” voice is, because “Calling into Silence” has a deliberately earthy, grounded tone to it, while “Nine Sketches, in Charcoal and Blood” is more high-flown Victorian and “The Snow-White Heart” is a pale lavender imitation of Lovecraft’s purple prose. And I’d need an outside eye to tell me what, if anything, is “my” voice in all of that, the common thread in the prose that links them together.

But here I am, plugging away at an article for kleenestar, and the silly thing has found a voice. I wasn’t making much progress on it yesterday or earlier today, but then tonight I hit upon the thought of structuring it loosely around the experience of “our hypothetical newcomer,” a stranger to RPGs who is getting into one for the first time. From the moment I put that phrase down, something changed. This article is just the slightest bit tongue-in cheek. I’m addressing my subject soberly enough, but hardly a paragraph goes by without some little thing to liven it up: a faintly snarky comment about the “What is a role-playing game?” section in rulebooks, a passing jab at GURPs and its rules for digging holes. Yesterday and earlier today, this paper had no voice, and I was getting nowhere with it. Now I’ve found the voice, and I have over three thousand words down, from about 800 two hours ago. I keep telling myself I’m going to bed, and then coming back to put the next bit down.

It’s just like a story. I can’t really progress on it until I’ve found the plot/organization and the voice. Once I do? Zoom.

We’ll see what kleenestar thinks of the result. If I have to, I can go back and make it more straight-laced. But right now, I’m going to run with what I have.

soliciting readings

Here’s the deal: course proposals to teach at Collins have to be turned in stupidly early. As in, by October 19th, I need a complete syllabus, including readings broken down by week, assignments, grading system, and everything else. And since I have a variety of other things between me an October 19th, I’m going to bootstrap myself through this process a bit by soliciting help; otherwise this hunt would take way too long.

I need suggestions for small (i.e. article- or chapter-sized), reasonably scholarly nonfiction readings on certain topics, as follows:

  • hard/soft primitivism
  • the place of women in republic-era Rome
  • western views of Far Eastern/Japanese history and culture
    (would Said’s Orientalism work for that? I know he’s more writing about the Middle East)

  • the American frontier, esp. the interaction of diversity there
  • current theories on how we perceive and use history
  • the performance of gender/sexuality in Elizabethan England
  • the intersection of religious, political, and secular life in the Renaissance
  • eighteenth-century piracy in the Caribbean
  • events leading up to the O.K. Corral gunfight (not the events of the day itself)

Bonus points if you can figure out what my course topic is, based on this eclectic set of needs. <g>

where did it go?

I believe I loaned someone my photocopy of the “Fantasy as Mode, Genre, Formula” chapter of Brian Attebery’s book at some point. prosewitch, was that you? Or someone else? I kind of need it back.


Ladies and gentlemen, I have a job for next spring!

I will be teaching “Writing Speculative Fiction” as a Collins course. And I’m giddy about the prospect.

A million thanks to everyone who contributed suggestions for the reading list a few months back. I’ll post a finalized version of that list when I teach the course; between now and then it might get tweaked a bit.

And now, knowing that I have a year of employment secured, I can relax and start breathing again.

back from ICFA

It pleases me that I already have twenty-three comments on this weekend’s rant, without me having had a chance to answer any of them yet. For those who have contributed to the discussion so far, I will respond, but probably not until tomorrow. For those who haven’t read it: go see me compare SF elitists to nineteenth-century anthropologists. As I said to ninja_turbo, the post lacks swearing only if you think “warmed-over nineteenth century unilinear cultural evolutionary theory” isn’t me swearing.

ICFA? ICFA was good. It’s moving to Orlando next year, and from the sound of it that’s going to be all-round a positive change, but I confess I will miss the familiarity of that hotel. (And I’ve only been going for five years; what of the people who have known it for twenty?) I would still love to see someone kidnap the Con Cat and bring him to Orlando, even if he does have fleas. Because I will miss having a kitty to pet.

My paper seems to have gone over well, despite being ten pounds of idea shoved in a five-pound sack. I will probably expand it a bitsy and then try to sell it to Strange Horizons, for those who wanted to read it. The expansion will be a Good Thing, though it will necessitate another round of prioritizing information, since I still won’t be able to get remotely everything in there. (What, you mean trying to cover twenty-eight novels, three and a half editions of D&D, and thirty years of textual history in five thousand words isn’t a manageable idea?)

Every paper and discussion I attended was good. This is unique in my conferencing experience so far. Either ICFA’s getting better, or I had good karma this year.

I have a head full of thoughts, not all of them fully baked. Look out in the near future, though, for a manifesto on Anthropological Fantasy, coming to an LJ near you.

I have reached the point where I have a Manifesto.

This is an interesting place to be.