December 2, 2007

The other AAA’s

Category: academic,Anthropology — Biella @ 6:19 pm

The (overpriced) Amtrak train is rapidly hurling itself north toward New York City, the vanishing light gently illuminating the first snowfall of the year. I am heading back from the American Anthropological Association annual meetings, which were held in Washington D.C this year. After a year’s hiatus, I attended to present a short version of my paper on hacker conferences, which I have pushed along further to entertain more general questions and ideas about the role of conferences in ensuring forms of solidarity among publics that are dispersed geographically. While there are other events that are far more visceral or more profoundly produce what Emile Durkheim has called collective effervescence, conferences are probably one of the most common social forms for ensuring a steady state of moral solidarity among connected but geographically dispersed groups of people. Their importance and role is often overlooked, I think, because of their sheer ubiquity (and I am sure the fact that many are held in creepy corporate hotels populated by seriously over sized & gaudy furniture where you can sit and sip your overpriced Starbuck’s coffee does not help). But it is because they are so common that I think we need to take them a little more seriously as distinctly 20th century events that combine much older elements of ritual and pilgrimage.

Because I have attended so many developer and hacker conferences, which tend to be longer as well as far more more enveloping, festive, and, frankly, well executed than academic ones, I tend to think of academic conferences as tepid, lightweight versions. But as I make my way back home, I am pretty worn yet inspired from this one as I decided to sort of let go to give it my all, sleeping far less than I really should have. I usually hold back some, perhaps because most academic conferences I attend are smack in the middle of the academic year, so my mind is partially occupied with the pile of work that awaits me, somewhat depressingly, at the end of your journey. Academic conferences can also produce a fair bit of anxiety, especially for younglings like myself, given that you are performing your skills (or lack of) and ideas (or lack of) to people you respect and admire too. Perhaps it is also due to the hotel environment, which I find not only particularly uninspiring but in all honesty, sort of soul sucking, though albeit, *very* conveniently so.

This time, however, I was not going to let the hotel suck any more soul out of me because I was thrilled to see friends from time’s past, had a great time on my panel on digital subjectivities, and was excited to meet new folks and talk about those topics that I spend a lot of time thinking about. I also think the proliferation of (very cute) babies among my friends and the now visible crow’s feet adorning the smiling eyes of my friends made me feel the passing of time a little more forcefully than really I wanted to. So I did my best to turn that pesky faucet of time of off so as to give way to immersion, drawing those from past into the shared nest of the present, so that I would want to see them again in the future. And in the end, that is the point: social reproduction and shouldn’t procreation be fun? I think so…

Now back to that pile of work.

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