Author Archives: Matt Watson

Matt Watson teaches anthropology at Mount Holyoke College. He has published on cosmopolitics and the history of Maya studies in journals that include American Anthropologist, Social Studies of Science, Cultural Critique, and Theory, Culture & Society. He's now writing an archive-based experimental ethnography on Maya hieroglyphic decipherment as a scientific and spiritual practice. Although he has some Luddite tendencies, his future plans include subtweeting his way to the top.

A Second Project from Hedgehog to Fox and Back

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth entry in the Second Project Series. This series explores an often undiscussed moment in professionalization: the shift from the research you began as a graduate student to the new work undertaken as an early- or mid-career scholar. This series is especially interested in personal journeys and institutional features that enabled or constrained this transition. If you are interested in contributing, please contact Lisa. Almost a decade ago, I presented a dissertation outline to my graduate advisor. Scanning the page with rising incredulity, she decreed, “Well, it looks like a great book, but it’s not a dissertation.” Such encounters transformed my protean liberal-arts-trained being into someone who could play the hedgehog-like scholar (Berlin 1953). In his classic essay on The Hedgehog and the Fox, philosopher Isaiah Berlin distinguishes the hedgehog, whose work builds one big idea or program, from the fox, who chases diverse ideas without subordinating them to a core claim. Hedgehogs: Dante, Plato, Proust. Foxes: Shakespeare, Aristotle, Joyce. We trickster-loving anthropologists may fancy ourselves foxes. But writing a dissertation reads as consistent with hedgehog culture and personality. The dissertation or dissertation-based book assembles ideas into an edifice, into one Idea. Foxes may lean more toward article-production. Berlin knew, of course, that the distinction was overdrawn. We’re all a bit of both. And, when I completed the dissertation and began to experience the academic job market, I had to learn, once more, when to play the fox and when to play the hedgehog. (read more...)

An Anthropologist Visits the Classroom: On teaching science (and religion)

Although I’ve never taught the book cover-to-cover, my copy of Latour and Woolgar’s (1986[1979]) Laboratory Life has been unpacked four times since I finished my Ph.D., six years ago during a final sweltry Florida summer. Their re-inscription of the Salk Institute has moved with me through the planned communities of D.C.’s suburbs, the tech-ifying Research Triangle of central North Carolina, and the cotton-cultivating arid flatland of west Texas. Now, Lab Life and I cohabitate—more peacefully than we used to—at one of New England’s dark-brick collegiate beauties. I’ve offered courses on the anthropology of science, in different iterations and incarnations, at George Mason University, North Carolina State University, Texas Tech University, and now Mount Holyoke College. As my nomadism gives way to more permanent settlement, I’m pausing to reflect on the modest successes (and felt frustrations) of sharing my passion for anthropology through attention to its liaison with science and technology studies. (read more...)