I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and of the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past...A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira's past. -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Exploration and discovery (and interpretation?)

As an anthropologist, I like to think I am an expert (or at least experienced) in exploring the world and being open to discovering all it has to offer and seeing the different angles. Isn't that what we are trained to do?

But watching Julian (who is 8 months old today) makes me think we are in fact trained out of exploration. He has been crawling for about 2 weeks, and it is interesting to watch him disover the world that has suddenly opened up to him. Everything is fascinating--some things more than others of course--but it is all an opportunity to look, touch, taste, and do it all again. This morning he kept coming back to the same block, picking it up and turning it around, each time there was something new for him. At what point do we start to assume we "know" the basics of the world around us?

I think what my training and experience really give me is a perspective. Presumably I do notice "more," or at least different things in the field than my non-anthropologist coworkers. But I hope the value I bring is in my interpretation of those observations--be it holistic or comparitive or theory based or whatever catch phrase I wish to apply to it. And of course my experience and knowledge of the world and workpractice figure into those interpretations, and provide additional value.

But wouldn't it be nice to still be able to find a whole universe to explore in a simple block?

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