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Graduation speech Class 2016/2017

By Dominique van de Kamp         During the pre-master of Social and Cultural Anthropology, we followed a course called “Core themes of Anthropology,” by Ton Salman. In our first class, he mentioned that every anthropologist would like to be a fly on the wall, almost invisible – however impossible *. From that moment on, we started calling ourselves the “Flies on the wall.”

Two years later, we handed in our theses and a great part of us went to celebrate together in Rome. There I wrote something about the flies on the wall, which turned out to be my notes of an engaged anthropologist:

Dear flies on the wall

First of all, I want to say how happy and grateful I am, to be part of you all
Last summer has given me some time off to contemplate life..
and now we have survived our Master’s, I think we all deserve an enormous high five

In a sense, I feel like I learnt more from you, than I could have learnt from any of our teachers – no offense

Sometimes I cannot believe it is done, this past one or two years have flown by
and I cannot decide if I should laugh or should cry

We have discussed complicated subjects, like transnationalism and migration
we have learnt the difference between globalisation and glocalisation
we will remember that we can be locals to more than one place
since to limit ourselves to one group or space would be such a waste

All of us have come to realise the importance of diversity
some of us already knew it is all around us, even at our own university

Thereby we have learnt to look at things from different perspectives
everyone has a personal view, assigning meaning to different things and having distinctive objectives

We quickly found, that the interesting thing about our group is how everyone has such a different background
coming from an international business study, I had one main struggle with anthropology;
there is no black and white, no way
In fact, anthropology equals more than fifty shades of grey
everything is complex, diverse and the lines are always blurred
It is a study about ‘ culture’ but no one is allowed to use that damn word
It is too broad, like authenticity, identity … and who dares to define ethnicity?

We definitely deserved a vacation
after going native and an overdose of participant observation
because when we sent in our research plans, we still had no clue
about what to do – and besides our excitement we started to grow fear
when we first arrived to the field many of us thought wtf am I doing here?

We struggled deciding on our location, rethinking research questions
asking fellow flies and stalking supervisors for suggestions
on how to find the right contacts and whether we should change our subjects

We were so in doubt.
Sometimes we could not even figure out, if we were doing ethnography
or were just hanging out

But, we are all naturals in adapting and we easily adjust
to a new environment and new people from whom we quickly gain trust
though some of our participants could also be very suspicious
no matter how motivated we were, or even ambitious
aside from interviewing and observing our participants and gatekeepers
some anthropologists could always dig a little deeper

It took a lot of investment. Climbing a volcano in 37 degrees is not so fresh
unlike getting a pedicure with your translator in Bangladesh
maybe sometimes liking your key informant a little bit too much
can you still be objective if you add that personal touch?
Sometimes what happens in the field, has to stay in the field
only to be revealed
when forced to by powerful bureaucrats

Some of us created high expectations – from filming documentaries, to writing novels and even inviting everyone they know to the final presentations

To most of us, our research has left a deep impression
sadly, the paradox of thesis writing seems to be turning your passion
into disliking your subject while it also becomes your greatest obsession

I mean, Jolien prefers someone else’s couch over the privacy of her own bed
Ola still visualises urban gardens in her head
Charelle finds the alternative way of living hard to forget
and though in the end he did not write his thesis about robots – they still make Jochem a little wet

Actually, now I think about it
Some of us even got some ink out of it

Needless to repeat, we have had an experience which, to our book of life, has become a significant chapter
Full of poetry, field notes and stories too hard to capture
In words, we cannot always explain what we have found
It was no surprise that many of us surpassed the word count

Spread all over the world we were like an imagined community
Now that is what I would call mobility
Maybe we should include Eriksen, Levi-Strauss, Margret Mead Et Al.
But also Salman , Brouwer, de Regt, Colombijn, Sunier, Saramifar, Dalakoglou, Sinatti and Bal.

Dear flies, as time flies, I am relieved to share this message
because today is like a rite of passage
Together we can keep our habitus, whether we are in Amsterdam or in Rome,
because with you I will always feel at home


*  “Ton Salman insisted it was a popular but inadequate metaphor: it cannot be, because the ethnographer is a bit bigger than a fly, and it should not be, because the ethnographer would conceal that he/she inevitably influences the research environment”.

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