I attended the American Association for Physical Anthropologists annual meeting last week. I had been looking forward to it. I was pumped, excited, completely stoked.
Was it everything I hoped it would be? Nope.
It has been a long time since I attended an academic conference (….maybe 2005 or so). And usually I go to regional or local conferences, rather than the expensive international ones.
As I trolled the aisles upon aisles of posters from around the world, I felt out of the loop. I couldn’t remember my periostitis from my arthritis, my brachiation from my bipedalism, or my trochanter from my calcaneous. It was embarrassing! There was a time I would have sworn up and down that physical anthropology was in my blood: I knew the difference between animal bone and human bone just by the feel; I could recite every early hominid species and its source location; I knew what isotope ratios indicated what paleoenvironment the individual likely lived in.
I wore jeans. I was unaffiliated with any academic institution. I wandered unknown and aimless through the hotel halls looking for something. In retrospect, I now know I was looking for something with which to validate myself.
Nothing resonated. Nothing looked familiar. It was micro-this, chemical-that, digitized-something. Everyone was enamoured with the trees — the bark, the cellular composition, the photosynthesis — but no one was concerned with the forest.
Eventually I did strike up conversation with a couple students from the US, both of whom were presenting their research on some form of forensic anthropology. But the more I spoke to them, the more I began to see that the forest was being overlooked.
What is the context? What is the story? It isn’t enough that you got these data, HOW did you get them?
It was then I realized that I wasn’t so out of the loop. I may have actually been more in the loop than others. I wanted to know THE LOOP — the story, the narrative, the cause and effect that loops around to create a story. We don’t live in isolation, our bones don’t break or modify apart from our bodies or our behaviour. Our bodies and behaviour are often instrumental in why our bones break or modify. Every bone is part of a body, every body is (or was) a life, every life has a family, and every family lives in an environment.
Everything is connected. Everything is inter-related. Everything is in the loop. I knew this during my graduate studies, and I know it more now. As I write stories, run a business, and live in a social community.
I left the conference feeling more at peace with both myself and my (now antiquated, but hopefully still valuable) research (ForSciIntnal_Kjorlien et al_2009). I also left knowing that should I ever return to academia, I would continue my research investigating the story. Because, while the details are interesting, it’s the story that keeps us coming back.