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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Junior Prawfs - developing new research arcs Part II

Hi all. This will be my last post—thank you all, and especially to Paul, Howard, and the perma Prawfs for this chance to think through some aspects of the junior interdisciplinary prawf experience.

In my previous post, I raised some questions that I consider (or have been asked) when trying to develop a second research arc. This post focuses a bit more on the process of actually developing that research arc—it’s naturally much more specific to my type of interdisciplinarity, but as always I hope it will resonate with others.

I’m in the early stages of developing a new set of projects in my line of work that focuses on Indian and comparative constitutional law. The first set grew out of my PhD research on Hindu temple management as a window into secular governance and citizen sovereignty in contemporary India. My new India arc will likely focus on the judiciary and especially on transparency and accountability with regards to the Indian Supreme Court.

So far, this project-development process appears to be following my usual pattern: I start out with an idea that X is interesting based on random academic and news reading, I do some focused research, apply for preliminary grants and IRB approval, conduct a scouting trip, and usually end up spending most of that trip learning about X1and Xwhich are adjacent but not identical to X. (As my earlier Chief Justice of India post suggests, serendipity is a real force in field research, for better and potentially for worse.) After the scouting trip I come home, write some more grant apps and IRB protocols for longer fieldwork, read up on and around X1and X2, and hopefully head back to the field. Major writing happens after the second trip but in between the two field stints, I usually end up writing a couple of articles, as I’m doing right now.

I explained an abbreviated version of this rhythm to schools where I did CBs but I always wondered about a few things. First, how much does it really sink in that fieldwork-based research requires several years’ planning and can (but need not!) lead to feast-and-famine patterns as far as publications are concerned? Second, assuming these patterns and peculiarities do sink in, are law schools willing to work with the interdisciplinary scholars who are constrained by them because those scholars want to continue doing interdisciplinary work post-hiring?

On the one hand, I can see this being especially uncomfortable for law schools since, until very recently, interdisciplinary legal scholarship largely involved data sets or written sources—in other words, things which do not, in general, require you to be away for several months at a time, not always during the summer. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like disciplinary departments are themselves so great at accommodating these cycles: many anthropologists in anthro departments do non-fieldwork based “second projects” (sometimes “third projects” too) and few ever repeat the massive, multi-month/year fieldwork stint they did in grad school.

I don’t think this is exclusive to fieldwork-based research, either. As one of my junior prawf friends pointed out to me, archival work that takes place in far-flung locations or that requires transcription or translation is in many respects not so different from field research. The planning, the funding, the inability to make more frequent short trips to collect information—all of those exist there too.

For my part, much of this has been addressed via the trio of institutional support, happenstance, and personal interest that I discussed in my first post. As I mentioned there, I’ve arranged to use my pre-tenure leave to conduct fieldwork. 6+ months of fieldwork (essentially, a summer plus a semester) is pretty substantial even compared to what many of my departmentally-housed peers are able to do at this stage in their careers. Before I take that leave, I’ve received a couple small grants to conduct scouting fieldwork, which I did this summer. And it just so happens that things that I’m interested in are currently interesting to other people—I’ll have to figure out whether that’s ultimately good or bad given the time lag imposed by fieldwork, but it’s a start. So although it has taken some work and some luck, interdisciplinary work even of the tricky fieldwork type seems eminently doable within the law school context.

 

Posted by Deepa Das Acevedo on August 14, 2019 at 11:57 PM | Permalink

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