The Perils of Part-Time Research

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 10 Feb 1996 12:36:39 +0900

Jim Martin writes,

"Anthropologists who work outside of the academic setting owe their
employers a fair (or better) effort in return for their salaries. It should
obvious that this means full-time work and part-time research. Two
other thoughts drift to the surface at this point. First, after-hours research
from home (I mean fieldwork opportunities) is necessarily a highly
circumscribed activity without access to resources (places, people and $).
Second, I have great difficulty convincing myself that the quality of such
work will be as high as the quality of work done by the full-timers."

The problems Jim mentions are real, but I can't agree with his second
thought. My role models are Lewis Henry Morgan (a lawyer) and
Benjamin Whorf (an insurance adjuster). I think, too, of a Tokyo
acquaintance, who managed to write a Ph.D. in Analytic Philosophy for
Oxford while managing the research division of a major British stock
broker. And, yes, Max Weber, whose chronic illness kept him, I seem to
remember reading somewhere, from writing more than two hours a day.
Returning to personal experience I will admit that when I was in Jim's
shoes, with a young family to support and a business career still in the
making, I didn't find much time and energy for anthropology. But aging
has its rewards. Children grow up and become increasingly independent,
and seniority, properly managed, brings freedom in controlling one's
own time. Finding the time for serious ethnography, outside the home,
worksite or neighborhood, is a bear. But reading, sifting, thinking and
helping to weave the webs of significance that tie a field together are
not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Jim continues,

"It is not easy to stay attuned to the debates when outside of the prime
arena. I find that it is especially difficult to continually re-train the
ear to understand the nuances, the juicy bits with most of the flavor. So,
being able to contribute, to have a positive influence and possibly to help
others form lucid thoughts is less easy."

Here is where the Net is truly something wonderful. I start, for example,
on ANTHRO-L, talking with Vance Geiger on why it is that people by into
ideologies. My curiosity stirred, I pop over to H-IDEAS and post a note and
asking for thoughts on the history of the concept "ideology." In a few
short days, I've learned a lot that I didn't know and acquired a
bibliography. With a little more poking around, who knows what we'll
find. The days when being outside the ivory tower meant not being able
to hear the debates are over. Ain't it grand?

John McCreery
February 10, 1996