The Edge Effect

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

SAA Travel Advisory

I've already complained about the organization at the SAA meetings, but what about the social bits? Below is a travel warning I recently received from the SAA administration in preparation for this week's meeting. Note that this advisory is not specific to Puerto Rico, but is a forecast based on past conferences. In fact, I have been affected by all of these problems myself. The standard irritations to be prepared for include:
  • Wandering eyes syndrome. This happens when you are talking with someone who would really rather be networking with more 'important' people, but you are all they could find. The primary symptom is that the afflicted person's eyes look anywhere but at you. They are constantly scanning crowds and nametags of passers-by in the hopes of identifying a 'bigger' name.
  • Nomophobic occular distractive disorder - The opposite of Wandering eyes syndrome, NODD occurs when the person with whom one is talking either forgets a name or wants to get some information off of a nametag. The primary symptom, known colloquially as nodding, involves staring intently at the chest of an interlocutor without ever making eye contact. In another context this could be mistaken for lewdness, but at SAA it is a clear indicator that a conversation partner doesn't know a name or affiliation and desperately needs that information. A kind observer will politely slip the required information into conversation or even re-introduce her/himself to the nodder in order to aid recovery so that the conversation can return to a vague sense of normality.
  • Inflamed field-credomania. Though this is our field's largest and most significant professional meeting, it contains divergent tensions that are hard to reconcile. The primary tension is between academic professionalism and rugged, field-credible informality. Sufferers of inflamed field-credomania can be spotted easily by their ripped jeans, grungy hiking boots, and internal-frame backpacks with many dangling caribeaners and Nalgene bottles. Yes, even though the meetings are held in a Hilton conference center on a Caribbean island thousands of miles from most of our field sites, many archaeologists will sport a look that says "Hey, I just stumbled in from the field and happened upon this conference. Too bad I don't have any other clothes." One of the things I love about archaeology is that we are a relaxed bunch, not overly hung up on formality, but I think a lot of what one sees at SAAs is a projection of field-chic because of the great value associated with "dirt archaeology" by many folks in opposition to "uppity theory." It has been suggested that this is not a disorder at all but simply a symptom of my own deep-seeded inadequacy in the field-cred and ruggedness department, but no respectable researchers actually support this theory.

There are other afflictions to watch out for at the SAA meetings, so be vigilant. Let this small guide help you in the discursive production of inter-subjective space time in the negotiated fields of alterity and solidarity within the situated arena of San Juan's Hilton conference center.