A word of warning: when you read a post like this one, you know you’re dealing with a writer who has been plagued with a dread of the blank page. Instead of going to my PhD supervisor who knows everything about anthropology, I choose to chat to a friend of mine who has no clue of what anthropology is. Yet, he is very curious. Everytime we have coffee, he keeps switching the conversation to the topic I fear most. He looks at me with his childish eyes and, tilting his head to one side, he asks: what is anthropology, can you explain it to me in simple words?
No academic talk ever satisfies him. Theories and trends in anthropological research just wash over him. He wants to know the purpose of anthropology. If anthropology is the science about man, shouldn’t I know everything about human kind? Shouldn’t I know why people behave the way they do and shouldn’t that make me wiser about my own life? It feels like explaining to a child where the rain comes from. The truth is whatever we do, we somehow always reach those difficult questions about the purpose of our endeavours. Those questions, no matter how annoying, have the power to yank us out of the blocks we find ourselves in.
So I’ve realized, to finish my PhD thesis, I need two mentors: one who knows everything about anthropology and the other who knows nothing about it. This gives me the right balance between the security of wisdom and insecurity of knowledge.