Younger anthropologists have the notion that anthropology is too diverse. The number of things done under the name of anthropology is just infinite; you can do anything and call it anthropology. – Clifford Geertz
The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences. – Ruth Benedict
There is a very precise designation in academia, refering to one of its humanist formations: anthropology. At one time, like my father before me, I too was a member of the tribe of anthropologists/aliusphagi. I worshipped its high-priests, I observed its rituals and I was even quite conversant in its lingo. I was at the time very much a junior-member who still would‘ve had to accomplish numerous rituals of passage to rise to the highest ranks of the tribe. At some point, I decided to forsake the Anthropologists and instead rejoin my original tribe, the Helvetians, a hardy mountainfolk of cheese-consumers.
In the last decade however, time and again, great paroxysms of nostalgia have ceased hold of me and our magical locutions would come to mind, resound mystically in my head, as I considered the everyday quandaries of yet another tribe [teachers] I‘ve been in the progress of joining: alterity, agency, emic, ethnomethodology, liminality, kinship, Non-Places, Thick Description and many more.
Lost in the lambent air of a spring afternoon, for minutes at a time, I would chant in low voice the sonorous syllabic susurrus „ethnomethodology“, flipping the sounds out of my mouth like mana from divinities, trying for old time‘s sake to recall its meaning and contexts. Say it a score times for better living plus a relaxed lingua, a chiliad for straight-up apotheosis.
And, so as not to fall entirely from grace [there can always be a return to the homeland], I kept reading some of the holy scriptures: Interaction Ritual, The Protestant Ethic, Natural Symbols, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, The Interpretation of Cultures et al. I tried to salvage my soul but these exercises are never a success. My other obligations were running me away from the old gods; meaning hemorrhaged from the lacerations of a new existence that did not quite suite my psycholiterary gestalt. But then neither did the old ones. The true self is always deformed in the service of the collective. The semantics of self are made to bleed.
Thus, as a bandaid and a panacea, I started scribbling, hoping to recapture the logos of anthropos and ego at my own leisure. It is difficult, I think, this matter of tribe affiliation; I‘ve seldom felt I really belonged. And if so, then only a posteriori. But shuttling between ethnic obligations, typing my own underbrush paths between various tribal settlements, I maybe eventually eked out a modus vivendi all of my own: the idiographer, documenting on interest and impulse the width of human idiosyncracies, in turn itself put down in unorthodox format.
There we have it: a word for a process for a life. Is that what I truly want, what anybody hopes for? Another designation, one more magic word, a new-fangled affiliation, however fancy, to stuff onself into? Do we have to set out into the depths of the human jungle to found our own tribes?