March 24, 2020
I hope you and all yours are doing as well as I am, personally, and as far as my family is concerned.
I will not repeat all the advice you have been receiving from so many sources. Mica Pollock, well known anthropologist of education, has directed us to a site she recommends (links can be found in my 3/21/2020 blog post. Follow such advice and obey all official regulations.
But also, do trust that life will go on. Some time in the future you will tell your children and grandchildren about “what I did during the Corona crisis” (they may not always be happy to hear it, again)!
I do want to reiterate what we, in the program and department, have said: We will work with you so that you can proceed with your academic career with us. Do not worry about deadlines, requirements, etc. We will work with each of you, individually, with any of the many contingency that will arise—particularly since so many of you, indeed us all, have international lives that are massively disrupted.
My aim today and in the near future is different. In brief we are, also, anthropologists. We are also, in our programs, concerned both with education and with using (applying) anthropology to understand current events and, should we be asked, advise “officials” on possible next steps. To do that responsibly, we must also consider the current situation as a research opportunity. We must start asking the kind of questions that might develop into proposals. For example, where are you/we/they (sort this out!) learning about the situation? Who are you teaching, with whom, in what contexts, etc.? Who are you instructing with some hope that “they” will follow your instructions? Whose instructions do you follow and why? What are the implications of not following (possibly contradictory) instructions?
I have already written two blog posts on aspects of these questions (March 20, 2020, and March 2, 2020). I will post more, as well as develop a web site that I hope will be a teaching tool about applying anthropology to education about difficult topics in general, using “Corona” as a case study. (One of the forthcoming pages on that site in the justification for writing about Corona rather than about COVID-19. One is a social production, the other a virus.) The site address: http://varenne.tc.columbia.edu/hv/Corona/corona-index.html
I encourage you also to practice your anthropology. As I wrote in my first post on the matter: I will be “teaching/learning Corona” for the rest of my career. I strongly encourage students who might be reading this as the event still unfolds to keep an “educational journal” focusing not only on themselves but on the others with whom they engage (very significant others, parents, friends, etc.). Do take notes and write a journal. I suspect that you, too, will be teaching Corona for much of your career.
As my posts and the parallel web site get developed, I hope they will become richer as a source for your self-education into anthropology. I will link to various resources (ethnographic, comparative, theoretical) that should become part of this education. What you will do with all is up to you!
And it may distract you in the lulls between our brief outings.
With best wishes in these difficult times,
== HERVE VARENNE ==
(This was written from Jackson, Wyoming, relatively early in the Corona epoch)