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C&C is looking to increase its audience size and is debating moving from SoundCloud to Luminary or Patreon. Since all of our staff (and contributors) work on a voluntary basis, it would be nice to be able to give back to those individuals who have put aside extra working hours to make this podcast and blog possible. If you could share us your thoughts re: Luminary or Patreon (or any other contenders), we would greatly appreciate it.
Thank YOU from all of us at Coffee & Cocktails!
Some years ago, I was gathering interviews for a project on Italian feminism. At one point I contacted a feminist association in Milan, which was running a crowd funding campaign for the launch of a women’s centre. I interviewed one of the project’s promoters, and at the end she gently suggested that I could perhaps use some of my funds to support their cause. I tried to explain, somewhat embarrassed, that grant money is meant to cover research costs and expenses only, and I half promised to apply for some other grant, knowing it would never come through.
In about the same period Giulio Regeni, a doctoral student from Cambridge University, went missing in Cairo. It was the fifth anniversary of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. I instantly got a bad feeling. Students rarely go missing like this, don’t they? A few days later his corpse – showing signs of torture – was found on the outskirts of Egypt’s capital.
Twenty-eight-year-old Regeni was conducting research on Egyptian trade unions and labour rights when he was targeted by Egyptian intelligence services. The local head of the street vendors’ union, who acted as Regeni’s guide during his field research, alerted authorities to his research project. Clearly it covered a sensitive topic. When he vanished, Regeni was being monitored by Egypt’s National Security Agency, and it is likely they are behind his assassination.
The idea that a Cambridge doctoral student found his death in such a horrible way profoundly distressed me. All the more so because he was reported to the authorities for economic reasons; Regeni’s guide, in exchange for advice and assistance in contacting people to interview, had demanded money. More precisely, he had asked Regeni to give him grant money in order to pay for medical treatments. The Italian researcher replied that he couldn’t use his grant money in this way. He offered, instead, to apply for an activist grant from a non-profit organization – apparently enough to be branded as a spy.
The incident reminded me of the fact that, as scholars, we run risks when doing fieldwork research, often without realizing it. I had found myself in a similar, albeit much safer, situation, when I was asked to devolve part of my grant money to the feminist crowd funding campaign. Of course that invitation was miles away from the greedy claims on Regeni’s grant money, and I doubt I may have run the risk of torture by a feminist criminal gang. Still, I realized that interviewees may have very different expectations than we would like to believe.
More importantly, we need to be aware of the risks behind fieldwork, and universities should adopt appropriate and effective measures to ensure security and safety for their researchers. I went out collecting interviews for my PhD thesis without having the slightest idea of what measures I should take; I had never heard of ethics committees, and it wasn’t until I transformed my doctoral thesis into a book that I learnt about consent forms. Other early career researchers I talked to mentioned feeling unsafe. But these stories seem to remain unheard, perhaps because we take it for granted, or for fear of being criticized: I recently came across a Twitter thread that recounted the most obnoxious incident, in which a female academic told a group that she was anxious about fieldwork and entering people’s homes. A male academic interrupted her and told her to “man up”.
Apart from the lack of empathy and professional etiquette that clearly pervades the academic environment, I wonder if ethics committees are doing enough to limit risks and inform researchers of the rules to follow. Assessing potentially dangerous situations prior to the field research period often implies no more than boxes being ticked on a checklist.
Other than developing – or reconsidering – their guidelines, and making sure researchers are fully aware of these, perhaps ethical committees should be encouraged to get involved more actively in field research after approval. For one thing, they could develop more practical and personalized policies and training sessions, aimed less at covering universities’ backs and more at having researchers’ backs.
And we, as scholars, should probably “woman up” and share our doubts and anxieties any time we feel the need to.
About the author:
Andrea Hajek is an independent researcher and an academic proofreader at Your Editing Alternative. She obtained her doctoral degree at the University of Warwick, and has held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Glasgow. She is the Managing Editor of the journal Memory Studies and an Associate Editor for Modern Italy. She is also a founding member of the Warwick Oral History Network and an affiliate member of the Centre for Gender History (University of Glasgow).
This book, written by Dr Matteo Farina, explores how people communicate on Facebook. It addresses questions like: is there a clear organisation that characterises conversations that take place on Facebook or do Facebook conversations consist of messages that randomly follow one after the other? If so, what is this organisation? Facebook and Conversation Analysis: The Structure and Organization of Comment Threads (2018) applies concepts and ideas of Conversation Analysis (CA) to describe the structure of comment threads, the “conversations” that take place on Facebook. CA is a methodological approach which is normally used to explore the structure of spoken conversations, however, Farina has turned it towards Facebook comment threads. He uses CA to provide clear and important insights into the organisation of Facebook interactions. He shows that comment threads are not made of random messages, but they have a clear structure. This structure is based on the actions performed by Facebook users in comments published within comment threads. In other words, Farina claims that people perform actions when they post messages on Facebook such as questions, responses, apologies, tellings and so on.
Facebook and Conversation Analysis: The Structure and Organization of Comment Threads, has received highly favourable reviews from Linguist List and CALICO, and was the 2018 bestselling monograph across Bloomsbury’s Linguistics List. In his book, Farina explains that it is possible to understand the structure of Facebook interactions by examining the actions performed in messages posted in comment threads. This book is recommended to anyone interested in applied linguistics, conversation analysis, sociolinguistics, and especially readers interested in understanding how people communicate in social media.
About the author:
Dr Matteo Farina is a Casual Course Coordinator at The University of Adelaide and Flinders University. His research is in the fields of Applied Linguistics and Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC). Matteo applies concepts and ideas of Conversation Analysis (CA) to investigate how people communicate in everyday social interactions. He is especially interested in studying online interactions, like Facebook comment threads.
During my anthropological fieldwork in Wisconsin in 2017, I encountered what some of my interlocutors called a “forced timeline”. It denotes a specific route in life that many young Americans feel pressured to comply with: “it’s like you go to school, you take on some debt, you know, you find a good job and you pay it off”. I wondered why so many of the people I met expressed criticism towards this idea while at the same adhering to it.
I later realised that one answer could be the aspiration for a good life, which for many entails upwards social mobility or the opportunity to get a secure and well-paying job. Due to credential inflation, jobs that used to only require a high school degree now require a college degree; and attending a high-ranking university may increase one’s chances to do well in a highly competitive job market (Ho 2009). However, college degrees and especially those from high-ranking universities are costly.
Since the 1970s and 1980s, many universities have seen state funding slowly diminish. In the state of Wisconsin, for example, state spending on education is now the same today as it was in 1966 (Goldrick-Rab 2016). For most Americans, higher education is now the second largest expenditure in their life, only surpassed by homeownership (Hacker and Dreifus 2011). A generation or two ago, students had the possibility to finance their education by working throughout the summer. As my oldest interlocutor told me at a private college, when she was reflecting on all the changes that had happened to the educational landscape: “It’s extraordinary. Nobody can do what we did”. So, what does this mean for Americans and their ability to pay for their education?
It has been and continues to be the norm to take out loans in order to finance one’s education; in fact, students are more likely than ever to work part-time and take out loans at the same time (Goldrick-Rab 2016). Essentially, loans allow students to borrow money from a future in which they are financially better off, and as one woman from Illinois told me: “What is a few loans if it guarantees time and resources to study? (…) Instead of (…) losing my whole future?”
The choice to take out student loans seems to be a no-brainer when entering university, but upon graduation, many are hit by a grim realisation. For example, one of my interlocutors broke down in tears when she explained that her loan burden meant that she would not be able to give her unborn child the same kind of financial support as her parents did for her. For this reason, she needed to quit her current job and was searching for higher-paying jobs.
Her story is not exceptional; 45 million Americans currently owe a total of 1.6 trillion USD in student loan debt. For many, that debt structures their life according to the logic of repaying one’s loan, which means that debtors have to constantly think about their financial choices so as to continuously meet every single payment deadline (Lazzarato 2011, 2015). First of all, many debtors simply have to accept any job opportunity that presents itself (and turn down unpaid internships), even if it is completely unrelated to one’s education. Secondly, they may have to move back home to their parents to save money and postpone buying a house, which has a negative effect on the U.S. national economy (Cooper 2017). There is virtually no possibility to declare bankruptcy because of student loan debt, and the debt carries a racial and gendered dimension as it disproportionately affects women and people of colour (Houle and Addo 2018). For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said about her own situation: “(…) it was literally easier for me to become the youngest woman in American history elected to Congress than it is to pay off my student loan debt”.
While some scholars and politicians argue that student loan debt is “manageable” and “not a lot over a lifetime” (Akers and Chingos 2016), the lived experiences of American debtors reveal a more nuanced picture. Whether through anthropology or other disciplines, attending to people’s everyday life and vocalising what is taken for granted remains a contribution of utmost importance to the debate about the double-edged sword that is student loan debt.
- Akers, Beth, and Matthew M. Chingos. Game of Loans: The Rhetoric and Reality of Student Debt. Princeton University Press, 2016.
- Cooper, Melinda. Family Values: between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism. Zone Books, 2017.
- Goldrick-Rab, Sara. Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. UNIV OF CHICAGO PRESS, 2016.
- Hacker, Andrew, and Claudia Dreifus. Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – and What We Can Do about It. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011.
- Hess, Abigail J. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: To Pay off Student Loans ‘I Had to Do Something That Was Nearly Impossible’.” CNBC, CNBC, 25 June 2019, http://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/25/aoc-it-was-easier-to-get-elected-than-to-pay-off-my-student-loans.html.
- Ho, Karen Zouwen. Liquidated: an Ethnography of Wall Street. Duke University Press, 2009.
- Houle, Jason N., and Fenaba R. Addo. “Racial Disparities in Student Debt and the Reproduction of the Fragile Black Middle Class.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 2018.
- Lazzarato, Maurizio. Governing by Debt . (Semiotext(e)), MIT Press, USA, 2015.
- Lazzarato, Maurizio. The Making of the Indebted Man: an Essay on the Neoliberal Condition. (Semiotext(e)), 2011. MIT Press, USA
About the Author:
Mathias Sosnowski Krabbe works as a Research Assistant at the University of Southern Denmark. He has fieldwork experience from Hiroshima, Japan and Wisconsin and Illinois, USA. He completed his MSc in Anthropology from Aarhus University in 2018.
Coffee & Cocktails is expanding its blog to include short write-offs of 500-700 word articles written by academics from all aspects of their career. Topics are open to any and all disciplines with the intent of writing to a general audience. If interested, feel free to contact us via our Facebook page.
Update: We accept submissions in English and Italian.
Dr Ann Wand discusses with Dr Kayla Rush, Ellen Wiles and Dr Alfonso Del Percio the importance of ethnography as an academic form of writing and the benefits ‘creative writing’ can add to the academic discipline.
Working in academia can be a rather isolating experience, especially for those individuals, like myself, who thrive on personal communication. I deliberately chose to pursue a career in Anthropology due to my passion for human interaction, but found that during the course of my doctorate I was anything but ‘interactive’. Many countless hours were spent in front of the computer, a device I learned to love as well as hate, only to emerge from my cocoon as a tired, albeit accomplished doctoral graduate. After receiving my degree, I embarked on the arduous job search only to realize how very few day-to-day people were familiar with my discipline, let alone the topics that I encountered. ‘Do you work with dinosaurs?’ one person asked. ‘Oh, I know! You’re like a pediatrician!’ ‘Well, not exactly,’ I would reply, trying to suppress my frustration.
It was only after many months (now years) of disappointing emails which read, ‘We regret to inform you but…’ that I decided to take unemployment by the horns and redirect my energy towards something more productive. I initially created the educational forum ‘Exploration through Education’ back in 2016 as a way to connect with the public, but also to allow academics and non-academics alike to access research conducted in different fields. Why should people with a general interest in education have to register with JSTOR when they could learn about up-and-coming research through my website and others? But by 2017 I decided to up my game and began a podcast series instead called ‘Coffee and Cocktails’. The theme of the first show? Addressing unemployment issues and job insecurity for early career researchers, the results of which eventually turned into an academic peer-reviewed blog article. While my family was apprehensive that this podcast would eventually become a show for people to jump on their soap boxes, I wanted to re-establish the purpose of dialogue to allow individuals to discuss solutions. As academics continue to advance their careers on a gradually precarious, slippery slope, we need to remember that by interacting with people outside of academia we are only helping to promote our discipline(s) by introducing the research we have done.
Ann Wand is a Research Affiliate of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford University. When she’s not familiarizing herself with social media, or working on her monograph, she is teaching her daughter how to speak ‘American’, and playing with her Dalmatian, Buddy.
This month’s episode promises to be an interesting discussion on the importance of ethnography both within and outside academia and the difficulties faced when trying to apply ethnographic writing to other (non) academic disciplines.
Our guest-speakers include…
Dr Kayla Rush, Adjunct Faculty in Sociology, Clark State Community College, Springfield, Ohio
Dr Alfonso Del Percio, Lecturer at University College London, Institute of Education
Ellen Wiles, University of Stirling, author of The Invisible Crowd (HarperCollins, 2017)
Dr Ann Wand sits down with community storyteller, Dr Joanna Gilar to discuss her newest project, ‘The Giant’s Garden’, designed to encourage literacy and sustainable interaction for children and their parents.