So I realize that I went almost a year without posting here, and I’m now playing catch up. A lot happened during that time, and I’ll be slowly filling in the gap now that I have a little breathing room.
Last spring I was awarded a grant from the Blum Center for Developing Economies, which allowed me to return to Kullu Valley and continue work with the women’s group there. I didn’t post about it at the time because I was writing for their blog. I just saw that they have put up the first of my posts–please go take a look at it.
I filed my thesis two weeks ago, and walked yesterday. The day after I filed, my housemate asked if I felt different. I was, at the time, applying for a registration waiver to a conference about the roles of textiles in colonialism and globalization while waiting for a call from the wool classer with directions to the agricultural warehouse where I was supposed to meet him for some participant observation (or as I suppose it is called outside of the methods chapter, job shadowing). So no, not so much.
A couple days before filing my thesis, I had one last meeting with my advisor to sign paperwork and double-check details. At that meeting, I confessed to her that I still wasn’t sure what I do. That wasn’t quite true–I had just written approximately 80 pages about what I do, with words like “praxiography” and “oligopticon” that should provoke plenty of challenges if I’m ever able to deploy them in a game of Scrabble. But when it came to picking a category into which to pigeonhole my work in the thesis database, well. On one list, I was pleasantly surprised to find a code for “Interdisciplinary Textile Research”–YES! That is what I do. But on another list, “Interdisciplinary” was nowhere to be found, and the closest options seemed somehow inadequate (I have some weird imposter syndrome around calling myself an anthropologist, even though that’s what my B.A. is in and all my friends in that program think my project is solidly anthro). I handed my laptop over to my advisor, and she scanned the possibilities–“Engineering, Textile Technology” she noted was the only mention of textiles anywhere. I hadn’t even looked under engineering, for obvious reasons…but in a funny way my thesis IS about textile technology…she read out the code, and it matched “Interdisciplinary Textile Research.” So we went with it.
A digital humanist friend of mine thinks this is great–“you’re hacking engineering!”–but I’m not so sure. I’ve spent the past 2 years informing people who ask what I’m studying that my department did not, in fact, merge with engineering and does, indeed, include social sciences under its purview (even if I’m the only social science student at the moment). So to me it feels more like an erasure than a hacking.
Even “interdisciplinary” doesn’t feel quite right, really. “Interdisciplinary” requires the maintenance of disciplinary borders in order to cross them. I’m not interested in that. I want to play in the muddy mess that results when the borders vanish, where craft is chemistry and physics is philosophy and string theory involves literal strings. I’m outside the walls of the academy now, so why should I stay inside the cubicle wall maze? From now on, you can just call me undisciplined.
It’s shaping up to be an exciting spring and summer. I’m about to head up to Hopland for a week of sheep shearing school and wool classer certification. That’s right, I’ll be able to fondle wool professionally.
I’ll also be using what I learn there as the basis for a paper on “The Life of Wool,” which I’ll be presenting at the November conference of the International Textile and Apparel Association. It’s my first academic presentation!
But the biggest news is, I just received grant funding to go back to Himachal, play around some more with my human and plant friends, and interview folks about traditional craft knowledge and forest ecology. Time to really buckle down on learning Hindi!