"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


collegial behavior

Academic conference are, as a general rule, incredibly dull. Long sessions, papers with titles like, "Intertextual transgendered "realit(y)" in Foucalt's reading of a 16th century Amharic prayer book" and people who take that sort of thing seriously. Then there are the people who are way too into their research (and themselves), such that they actually engage in fights over Marixan interpretations of some long-dead theory.

African Studies Association, by contrast, is a love-fest. Sure, the anthropologists and literary theorists still do their wacky pomo "research," but, in general, ASA is one big party, with everyone glad to see everyone else. I think it's because we all study Africa and are all used to being marginalized in our departments. (In our department, for example, The Advisor was once told that there is no political science in Africa.) At ASA, though, everyone takes Africa seriously, and can actually help with your work, because they know what you're talking about. Unlike at home, or at another conference, you don't have to explain the background ("Africa is not a country"), the theory ("a state isn't necessarily a Westphalian state"), or the context ("there's a war") from the beginning.

So I am glad to be in San Francisco for this year's ASA meeting. I gave my paper this morning and it went remarkably well; I got lots of helpful suggestions and met a guy who co-wrote a book I'm using. I have also run into several friends, and expect to see more before the weekend is up. Mr. Florida is here; he and I had a nice time catching up on life post-Congo. Mwalimu, my Swahili teacher, is also here. I hadn't seen him since graduating, so that was a super-fun conversation, although he concluded that Congo destroyed my Swahili skills (I concur. It's not the same language as the one he taught me.). And I saw the amazing Ann, director of my program at Yale.

Something has happened in the last five years. I'm not sure when, but I sense it at work and here more and more: I am becoming less of a student to all these professors and more of a colleague. The professor for whom I TA treats me like I have something to say, and like I am competent to teach. My committee members are less condescending and more helpful in looking to the future. Ann asks me how my work is going, and I get the scoop on her latest projects. I give a competent presentation, and professors twice my age ask questions rather than simply telling me what to do. This process of extended apprenticeship in the form of higher education will come to an end soon. It's nice to have colleagues. I'm glad they are also my friends.


Blogger Ray said...

Thanks for the note on my blog. I am so glad to hear that your presentation went well. Did you get to meet any interesting people working on similar issues as yourself?

Friday, November 17, 2006 12:06:00 AM


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