Ep #54: Social Duties: This month on TFS

This month on TFS, we are joined by special guests Sophie Pezzutto and Saidalavi P.C., two PhD candidates from the Australian National University. Sophie’s research interests are on social media and the gig economy in relation to the transgender community, while Said is working on caste among Muslim communities in Southern India.

You can check out the blog I Did It For The Data that Sophie wrote for us here: https://thefamiliarstrange.com/2019/07/15/i-did-it-for-the-data/
And Said’s previous appearance on the TFS podcast here: https://thefamiliarstrange.com/2018/05/13/ep-14-writing-cults-islam-boredom/

Sophie [1:24] starts us off by reflecting on a fight she had during her fieldwork which centred around her being there as both an ethnographer AND as a friend, saying “I think those two roles often conflicted with one another”. In this instance, as an ethnographer, we can find conflict when trying to balance those boundaries. As a researcher, you need to take notes to give your research claims evidence, but as a friend you want to establish a kind of sacred trust of confidentiality. Sophie asks us how do we, as anthropologists, balance our duties as researchers and our duties to give back to the community? Where does trust and loyalty come into the equation?

Is our biggest duty to our informants or to the discipline? It can feel like a balancing act.
[Image from Pixabay]

Next, we turn to Said [7:00] who has just returned from fieldwork in Kerala, Southern India. Here, he researched barbery and the gradual shift from home-services to established barbershops, considering how that reflects the status of barbers in Islamic society. In this instance, Said was asked by some barbers: what can you do with this research to change the community? Sophie shares her experience when this situation is reversed, where a researcher feels like they want to advocate for a community, but that isn’t reciprocated. Alex tells us that in his field, he had to “keep promising less and less” since he didn’t have the level of power that his informants perceived he did. Simon suggests that anthropology has the power to increase understanding and awareness of niche communities or subgroups of a community, and perhaps it is the responsibility of an anthropologist to share knowledge, as Ruth Benedict (*not Margaret Mead) says: “The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.”

Alex [13:09] steers away from the fieldwork reflections and to the thing everyone is talking about right now: corona virus. “[T]he other day, when I was just checking out at Woolworths, and I noticed everyone around me had two twelve-packs of toilet paper… and I gathered that was the … maximum amount that was socially acceptable to buy at that moment.” He asks whether toilet paper and ‘panic buying’ habits – ‘to hoard or not to hoard?’ – reflect an individual’s perceived social responsibility to the wider community?

‘Rare’ rolls of toilet paper. [Image from Pixabay]

Finally, Simon [18.20] ends our panel with the thorny issue of criticism in the academic world. This was brought forth upon learning his thesis was passed with minor corrections – CONGRATULATIONS SIMON! But despite the good news and accepting that the criticisms of his work are valid and constructive, he feels a sense of burnout, like he just doesn’t “have the power to keep going”. He asks: what do you do when faced with this situation? Sophie suggests taking a holiday, Alex has found getting some distance from the criticisms can help – so do something else for a while and come back to it – but that is tricky when you are limited by a time constraint. There are different ways to respond to criticism, so how do you respond to criticism?


You can find Sophie’s Academia profile with a list of all her articles and pieces from The Conversation here: https://anu-au.academia.edu/SophiePezzutto

And Said’s Academic profile here: https://anu-au.academia.edu/SAIDALAVIPC

If you’d like to know a bit more about Ruth Benedict’s take on anthropology, give this a read: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/heritage_floor/ruth_benedict

Our Patreon can be found at https://www.patreon.com/thefamiliarstrange

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Matthew Phung and Deanna Catto
Podcast edited by Simon Theobald and Matthew Phung

[Feature image from Pixabay]

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