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of archaeology students and saudi arabia

I spent most of last week without internet access at our apartment, and a fair part of my evenings were passed at the university's anthropology lounge with my laptop as a result. After repeated meetings with a few of the graduate students in the department it seemed like nobody would have minded had I added a sign to the door reading "Anthropology Lounge & Paul's Office". One grad student commented on how he feared for my social skills given how often he saw me in the lounge; fortunately we crossed paths later that night at a local bar, so at least he knows I don't sleep there.

Friday night was spent with a few of the anthropology graduate students and I was introduced by two of my former instructors as "the brightest undergrad in the department" - which was both flattering and embarrassing at the same time. The highlight of the evening came when a [drunk] girl tried to criticize my decision to pursue research in Uzbekistan because I can't claim to be an Islamic scholar. I pointed out how Central Asia is generally more liberal than Saudi Arabia when it comes to religion and she then tried to argue how that was a completely different matter altogether, "because Saudi Arabia isn't even in Asia!" Funny, it shows up on all the maps I've consulted. Questioning her on what continent one would find Saudi Arabia brought forth a lengthy speech on how continents are a western construction that should never be applied to other cultures.

Now, while there's every chance that I could be wrong, my guess is that most cultures have a classification system that involves taking geographic locations and putting them into categories based on increasing magnitudes. If you look at the Gulf States and North Africa through history you can find competing emirates, caliphates, and dynasties - which sure looks like an ascending pattern based on geography and family ties. By that point she had consumed enough alcohol to assume she was right no matter what, so rather than argue with her I tried to change the subject as tactfully as possible. I hope she isn't like that when sober.

Overall it feels like archaeology students are quite eager to talk about their work and how wonderful it is that they can go out and actually make a difference. Yeah guys, digging up an old fort is much more valuable than recording the cultural history of a pastoral society or researching the patterns of infection associated with diseases like diabetes. It's a shame they can't be equally as important.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
ajodasso
Aug. 21st, 2006 08:41 am (UTC)
The highlight of the evening came when a [drunk] girl tried to criticize my decision to pursue research in Uzbekistan because I can't claim to be an Islamic scholar. I pointed out how Central Asia is generally more liberal than Saudi Arabia when it comes to religion and she then tried to argue how that was a completely different matter altogether, "because Saudi Arabia isn't even in Asia!" Funny, it shows up on all the maps I've consulted. Questioning her on what continent one would find Saudi Arabia brought forth a lengthy speech on how continents are a western construction that should never be applied to other cultures.

If she ever pushes the issue again, you should say, well, technically it's a construct coming from both sides, isn't it? It's just that they're two different constructs, and, all things being (theoretically)equal, one cultural construct is worth as much as another. Therefore, we're both talking about the same thing, only using different constructs, and, now that we've acknowledged this fact and know what we're about, let's move on :-p

(I swear, academia is as painfully *facepalm*-enducing as it is rewarding.)
samedi
Aug. 22nd, 2006 03:02 am (UTC)
I'll have to remember that - it will probably come in handy some time in the future! As two students from the United States raised on 'western constructs' it's not like we had any other shared background with which to discuss the matter. My Incan constructs are a little rusty, you know. ;)

Anthropology is great in being such a broad field of study, but at the same time it seems to breed territoriality and the desire to one-up the subfields outside one's own area of study. I'm sure it's like that within any field, but having such clear distinctions in anthropology probably doesn't help things.
ajodasso
Aug. 22nd, 2006 08:57 am (UTC)
I know what you mean; Medieval Studies is incredibly broad, too. So much so that I'm perfectly happy to admit I don't know something because it's not my specific area, or to defer to someone whose area it is. People who pretend to knowledge that they don't have are invariably irritating, or pompous, or both. The purpose of having a field of study is to learn from each other.
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