Love in a time of fieldwork

Happy Valentine's Day. Let's Skype!

Super romantic.

I think about love a lot. Partly it’s a research matter: I’m looking into reproduction and family life in Russia, and certainly love is part of that. I’m interested in tracing ideas of love and family, what role romance plays in marriage (or non-marriage) and childbearing (or non-childbearing). I’ve read up on theories and histories of love, romance, and marriag. I’ve pondered how beliefs about passion and love relate to modernity in different parts of the world, and considered deep and lingering questions about the nature of love, its universality, how it is shaped by (or even originates in) culture.

But as I near the beginning of my fieldwork, I find myself considering love as an impractical matter. How does love fit into an academic life, and in particular an anthropologist’s life? Awkwardly, it seems.

I feel lucky to be in love. Of course life is unpredictable, the future unsettled, but we hold its possiblities in our imaginations, offer possible futures to one another as we talk. The immediate future, of course, is 1-2 years abroad, committed to focusing on research. E-mail and Skype make things easier; at least I’m no Malinowski. Imagine carrying on an engagement for years via letters shipped between the Trobriand Islands and England.

Dearest one,

This is an absurd and aimless life we are both living. I don’t know why you are there and I am here, and so much fuss and trouble and money goes just to keep us alive and going, when we are doing nothing else except living.

I think we waste an awful lot of our time and powers of concentration by jumping about from place to place in search of hypothetical perfection. […]

Goodbye, my far-off darling. Your Elsie loves you and again asks, what are we doing on Earth?

1921 Letter from Elsie to Bronislaw, written while they were living apart in the Canary Islands. [1]

Looking to colleagues and professors in my field is worrisome. Many are single or divorced. Few have children, and the ones who do seem a bit harried all the time. Many are in long-distance relationships, which feel like a hardship as a 20-something grad student; seeing full professors in their 50s and 60s who’ve never lived in the same city as their spouse is depressing.

And yet—there are those who make it through. The ones who suffer and survive the spatial rift of fieldwork, the ones who win the dual-hire game or who find other ways to make their careers compatible. (Even—gasp!—working outside academia.)

So a question for the holiday: How have you negotiated love in the time of fieldwork?

[1] The Story of a Marriage: The Letters of Bronislaw Malinowski and Elsie Masson. Helena Wayne, ed. New York: Routledge, 1995. P. 19

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