Guest post: Review of the Moving Anthropology Student Network conference
What is it like being at a conference with anthropology students from many different countries? Daren Williams from Macquarie University in Sydney has written a review for antropologi.info about the 6th conference of the Moving Anthropology Student Network (Masn) in Sela pri Osilnici, a village at the Croatian - Slovenian border.
The students had much fun and the conference was very well organized by the MASN-team in Slovenia, he writes. And “anthropologists were much better looking than I expected". But he had expected more and better discussions after the presentations and more participants from the UK and France.
An anthropology conference that gets results: Masn Slovenia 2008
By Daren Williams, Macquarie University, Sydney
Back in July I stumbled across a brief reference to an anthropology conference in Slovenia. A quick google search later and I found the website of the 6th conference of the Moving Anthropology Student Network (Masn). I was sufficiently impressed by the idea: a network of motivated students; and a grass-roots forum to discuss anthropological ideas. The conference was to be held over 5 days in a small town on the border of Slovenia and Croatia. I booked my ticket.
A month later, I made my way from Italy to Slovenia by train and bus. The last bus was provided by the Masn Slovenia Team, since our final destination was obscure, to say the least (population 327). Upon arrival at the hotel, each participant was checked-in to their room and provided with a conference pack. The pack included the conference schedule, clipboard, notepad and the usual things, but what impressed me most was the inclusion of a tourist guide pack – with maps and event guides for Slovenia and the capital Ljubljana!
Conference facilities, accommodation, and food were all included in the participation fee of €80 (I understand that the fee was so affordable due to the Masn Slovenia Team’s excellent job of securing sponsorships from local government and non-government organisations). Needless to say, I was highly impressed with the preparation and foresight of the organising committee!
The days were filled with formal presentations and workshops, whilst the nights gave us an opportunity to socialise.
The first three days were straight to business: presentations and workshops. We attended three presentations each morning. Due to the location of the conference and the conference topic of “Boundaries, Borders and Frontiers”, most of the field work data focused on eastern Europe. However, there were also well-conceived ethnographic material from field work in Nicaragua, Malaysia, and South Africa.
I noticed two things about these morning sessions: firstly, this conference was a great opportunity for students and young scholars to present their work to colleagues, and secondly, the discussion afterwards was mostly uncritical or altogether absent. I see the two points as interrelated, both in a good and a bad way.
In the afternoon, participants were offered a choice of 3-4 workshops per session, so most people found something of interest. Some highlights were: the discussion on post-socialism and its definitions; field work conducted in a life insurance company in Ireland; and, a consideration of anthropologists whom choose to work for the military.
Again, these sessions were great opportunities for presenters to work through their own ideas or issues, this time in collaboration with a group of people whom I felt were constructive, considerate, and intelligent. And the activities did not stop at dinner-time… Each evening after dinner we were treated to ethnographic films, art exhibitions, a night tour of the border, and one night there was an interactive refugee game.
Many people were impressed with the eye-opening film ‘Wetback’, which followed the journey of illegal immigrants from Central America to the USA. Of course, music and alcohol kept participants entertained after the formal activities ended.
On the weekend, a group of us went white-water rafting, and there was also an opportunity to conduct field work. The Masn Slovenia Team organised visas for everyone to cross the border into Croatia, and offered translators to those people willing to meet local residents. I think most people were too exhausted to perform serious field work by that stage, but there was a group who explored the area with cameras, and reported back later to share their ‘perspectives’.
I attended the Masn Conference with one goal in mind: to be mentally stimulated.
I can say, without doubt, that I achieved my goal. From the first night, I spoke to students about anything that came to mind – conversation was not limited to small-talk. Every conversation became a point of reflection for me. Throughout the week I noticed that everyone I spoke with was open-minded (we’re anthropologists after all) and most were able to, respectfully, give a viewpoint that in some way differed from my own (come to think of it, almost every one of my opinions was challenged in some way).
Furthermore, this informal discussion was complimented by the actual programme of morning, afternoon, and evening sessions!
On a personal level, I was able to clarify some of my ideas as well as generate new ones. For instance, simply stating that I was interested in ‘creativity’ was never sufficient – I was always pushed further, to explore my perspective (how is creativity socialised; can it be taught explicitly?) of which eventually became a two-way discussion of examples and experiences.
On a professional level, I now have access to an extensive network of like-minded individuals with information on ideas, universities, publications, or for just having fun.
Lastly, a note about demographics: anthropologists were much better looking than I expected, funky glasses are popular, and what is with guys and beards? Participants came from all parts of continental Europe, Scandinavia, Ghana, and there was also me, from Australia. I was, however, surprised about the low number of participants from the UK and France - two countries with rich traditions in anthropology. Hopefully more of them will get involved for the next one… and the rumour is Romania, October 2009…