Fieldwork and Privilege Part 2

I wanted to reminisce about a fieldwork experience that happened to me while going to interview a scientist in DC, and how I felt about it.

Sometime in mid-September of 2013, I went to downtown DC to interview a scientist for my dissertation research. At the time, working as graduate student body president while also doing fieldwork did not provide me with the ideal/traditional situation of anthropological fieldwork, but I did what I could (see this post for more background on that). One positive thing from that was that my elected position allowed me to have a very flexible schedule while actually doing something that I enjoyed.

Yet I felt like my time was always a commodity, and I lived by my calendar. The drill was to read an email, put an appointment there, and then forget it until it was time for the meeting. My job was dependent on me attending all of those meetings, and I rarely got stood up.

And so this time in November, I got stood up. I was disappointed and upset. The main reason I was upset because I had gone to DC in peak hour to attend this interview (and thus the metro fare is more expensive). But I think that it was mostly that I felt that I wasted my time going there; two hours that I wouldn’t get back… also, it didn’t help that the interviewee holds a higher rank than me (PhD).

The main issue I think was that I funded my research with my assistantship. So, in my case time the cliché of time is money is literally true in the sense that I lost money and had no data to show for it.

In hindsight, I now realize that I never got that upset when people at the clinics left me waiting, or even stood me up. Maybe it was because I could do other things at the clinic in the meantime, like ‘participate’ and ‘observe’, which I obviously couldn’t do in downtown DC. Maybe it was because I already met some of the people at the clinic, and actually understood how hectic their schedules were. I also have biases against academia, so without giving too much away, being stood up felt incredibly uncomfortable.

And that’s why I thought of privilege; I gave way too much thought to this, but I thought it was because of the privilege this person held over me. As a professor, he can stand me up (even if he didn’t mean to) and not much changes for him (if anything). When this person forgot about me, I had to reflect on whether my being upset was a reaction to the transgression of my academic standing and perceived importance, or if it was truly the time/money that I lost?

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