Publishing academic work can be frustrating. Very frustrating. Nowadays, the editorial boards of academic journals are so busy that it takes them months, sometimes more than a year even, to send you their response. The whole system is overloaded. Those conditions make it hard to circulate your ideas and to communicate about your research; and, in a larger sense, to be creative.
But recently I remembered that as a socio-anthropologist, in my research and my writings, I have been advocating for a stance that takes actors seriously; that grants them agency and reflexivity; that proposes an analysis in terms of empowerment rather than miserabilization. Time has come to grant me the same abilities. As Howard Becker puts it, as he discusses the bourdieusian notion of “field” by taking academia as an example 1:
Can your heterodox ideas be prevented from reaching some public if the ‘important people’ ignore them? That depends. I think that probably it is not really very common, although it is common for people to feel that this is what’s happening to them and their ideas. (…) Someone is monopolizing the field you want to work in? Move somewhere else and start your own field. You don’t even have to compete with the other people. You can criticize them to your followers, or ignore them, but they are not powerful enough and do not have a monopoly to prevent you from doing anything (p. 280).
Ironically, I’m trained to “move somewhere else.” I grew up in—and have extensively researched—hardcore (punk), a “subculture” that promotes DIY (Do It Yourself) as a mode of doing and making things that parallels and shortcuts institutionalized chains of production. “Build, DIY, create, or die,” as DIY was summarized, with its sense of urgency, on a blackboard at the Che Café on the San Diego University Campus, where I attended a hardcore show in 2009.
Hardcore’s pragmatics, in this sense, are very beckerian, although “emploted” in a slightly harsher vocabulary: “F%&# the world we live in today. And f%&# any m%&#er who stands in your way!”, as put for example by the hardcore band Deez Nuts in their song F.T.W.
George E. Marcus, who I had the great honor to have in my Ph.D. committee, already addressed the question of how much the pragmatics of hardcore had influenced and informed my own approach to anthropology, and the way I crafted my anthropological thinking. In his final report of my thesis, he wrote 2:
In a way, Mueller’s forging of this study against the structural currents of disciplinary practice parallels elements of resistance to the dominant culture in Hardcore itself. Being a member of Hardcore himself, Mueller exhibits an interesting parallel in the design of his study and in his own ‘style’ as a critical scholar to the character of resistance in the movement that he is studying.This parallel is something in which I am particularly interested and gives a distinctive personal mark to this work.”
At that time, I did not really realize the implications and ramifications of this idea, as I had been too busy at making the opposite move. Indeed, in order for me to successfully conduct my research, it had been crucial to distance myself from the hardcore logics and pragmatics, to render “exotic” familiar assumptions, logics, and pragmatics in order to reconceptualize hardcore as a radical alterity, thereof construct it as an ethnographic “object.” This ethnographic décentrement allowed me to uncover many dimensions that underlie the existence of the hardcore punk world, to engage in drawing and tracking all the networks at play in its stabilization.
But what about recursivity? In the perspective of what has been recently (re)coined as recursive anthropology (by Martin Holbraad among others), the question addressed by George Marcus could be framed as follows: to what extent can the logics, pragmatics and methods provided by hardcore punk inform the crafting and sharing of anthropological thinking, theory and writings?
It is only now, almost 8 years after the defense of my thesis, that I understand what George Marcus had recognized in my art of doing anthropology; and that I reflexively question the heuristic potential of this recursive move. Sometimes we understand the more profound ideas only a lot later.
In this light, this blog is an attempt to reempower myself.
To use this as a DIY thought-diary. And simultaneously to circulate my ideas and my thinking, submit them to collective and participative enhancement.
No matter at what stage of maturity they are. To let them just be.
- Becker, Howard & Alain Pessin, “Dialogue on the Ideas of ‘World’ and ‘Field’,” Sociological Forum, Vol. 21, No. 2, 2006, p. 275-286.
- Marcus, George E., “Final Report on the Thèse d’Ethnologie: WORLDWIDE UNITED: Construire le monde du hardcore by Alain Mueller, Université de Neuchâtel,” unpublished document, 2010, quoted with permission.