When I started My n of 3, I thought I was going to chronicle in detail my Fulbright experience, live and in color. Turns out that didn't really happen. It's hard to tell a story while it's happening to you, and in any case I wondered if it was really all that interesting of a story to tell.
You see, most of my time in the field has been spent either running through the same questionnaire hundreds of times at a rate of about five times per day, redesigning my survey, or looking for ways to occupy my time while waiting in frustration for government approvals. Fieldwork of this kind is highly repetitive. Although I'm confident that my research will produce interesting, broadly relevant insights into the sharing patterns of transnational families, the story of how I've collected that data isn't exactly newsworthy, and I'm totally okay with that.
The story I had to tell about my time here had less to do with my research and more to do with the personal cost of getting that research done. I am probably among few anthropologists today who decided to leave a wife and very young child for almost an entire year to conduct research. Few make that decision because on the face of it, it is a very strange and perhaps highly selfish one to make. But we decided to do this together as a family because we felt that a Fulbright scholarship was too good an opportunity to miss. As I'll soon detail, I've collected a good amount of data, learned a good amount of Patwa, made many friends, and developed some interesting ideas for future research here. Yet at times, it has been difficult for me and for my wife to maintain the belief that it's all worth it.
Imagine that you are my wife. Although you have the help of your mother and your brother, the other primary care provider of your child is 4,000 miles away having a grand experience playing the gentleman scholar. And sometimes, it appears that he's not truly appreciating the fantastic opportunity he's been given, which is costing your sanity dearly. Now imagine that you are my mother-in-law and brother-in-law, who have to cope with my stressed out wife and make up for the absence of a father who was highly involved in his daughter's life.
Imagine you're me, going through the usual reality check against romantic notions about what anthropological fieldwork is, doubting constantly the merits of your research, and at times wondering if a Fulbright line on your curriculum vitae will make one lick of difference in the labor economy of the 21st century. Imagine thinking about all of your colleagues who weren't awarded this opportunity, but who may have done it without all the familial hangups to cloud their scientific judgment, and whose research is at least as interesting as your own.
Getting a Fulbright scholarship as a family is, like winning the lottery, a mixed blessing. I say blessing because it is a blessing, and I'm grateful for it, and I've taken full advantage of it. Still, I don't know how much it will pay off in terms of my career, especially now that I have decided that the "traditional" academic job (or rather, the increasingly disappointing family-destroyer that the traditional academic job becomes for most scholars) is not for me. I'm just as uncertain as any young scholar about where my work will eventually get published, and what people will think about it. And, of course, I'm about as uncertain as the next twenty-eight-year-old male about whether or not I can get gainful employment. Which means that I'm uncertain about the future of my family.
What I'm quite certain about is that I haven't slept one night in the house where my family currently lives, since we (well they) moved houses while I was gone. I have forgotten what my wife smells like. If I did not have the Internet to remind myself, neuroscience suggests that by now I would have forgotten many of the details of what she and my daughter look like. I know that if my family is going to remain intact, I have a lot of catching up to do, and I would be dishonest if I didn't question myself every day about whether I've got too much catching up to do. I've missed so much, not just of my daughter's growth and development, but of my wife's, as well. When I left, my wife was just starting what is basically a fully adult career. When we met, we were basically just kids. Now she is the primary breadwinner of our family, and she works her ass off every day.
What gives me hope is that I feel like I'll have to court her all over again. That's an uphill climb, because my wife already knows me, so I can't pull any fast ones on her. But it's a challenge I gladly accept. Cross your fingers for me that it works out.
But what have I accomplished? At the time, it never felt like much. And like most humans, I committed the planning fallacy, believing it would take far less time to do things than it does in reality. Still, I've done a lot, and laid a foundation to do a lot more. To cheer myself up (if you haven't already guessed, I am fairly, perhaps more than just fairly, depressed right now, and I have been for quite some time), I'm going to take stock of my accomplishments.
I've conducted 190 highly detailed questionnaires, and I'm set to conduct about 30 more (perhaps up to 45 more). These interviews represent about 95 households, which is a little less than half of the households in the village where I work. That's about half the interviews I wanted to complete, which is due to hangups with approvals, survey redesign (that is, it's due to the planning fallacy).
Still, for many of these households, I've interviewed every resident over the age of 14. For each interview, there is on average more than one reported transaction of migrants' remittances. Within each household, I have information on the resolution of conflicts between every pair of household members plus up to five people outside the household with whom that household regularly shares meals and chores. For each of these pairs of household members and extra-household members, I have the perspective of everyone in the household that I have interviewed. This results in, as of today, over 2,500 assessments of intra-household conflict resolution.
What's more, for a number of these pairs, I asked about the same pair from the same individual twice, and they didn't realize it (this usually happens in larger households for which there are a lot of pairs). So not only will I be able to examine inter-rater variation in the assessment of conflict resolution, I'll be able to examine intra-rater reliability, as well.
These data can be used to examine intrahousehold bargaining from multiple perspectives using sophisticated social network analysis methods in a way that I am almost certain that no other survey data set can. Furthermore, I will be able to use the data to examine the effect of intrahousehold political economy on the probability and amount of remittance received by individual household members from internal and international migrants. More importantly, I have lived here for over ten months, and through informal interviews and observation have developed a keen understanding about how people perceive the resolution of intrahousehold conflicts, the various ways in which conflicts are resolved locally, and how people think their household situation influences their relationships (and resulting transactions of goods) with family members who live abroad and in other villages.
With the help of a now highly trusted research assistant, I've also collected 40 experimental surveys as part of cross-cultural research on age-patterns of child rearing. The experiment was designed by my colleague, Dr. Geoff Kushnick. This research uses clever factorial design to glean a lot of information about social norms of child rearing from a small sample of survey respondents who answer a relatively small number of questions. My experience training and developing a close professional relationship with my research assistant has given me the confidence to design a similar survey that will give me a factorial perspective on the social norms relevant to my research on the effects of intrahousehold relationships on the receipt of migrants' remittances. I trust my research assistant to the point where, following my design of the research, she could carry out the data collection without my supervision after I leave this country. So it's only a matter of convincing both my funding institution and the Institutional Review Board to let me add a new and valuable piece to my dissertation project.
During my time living in a rural village of Dominica, I've made many friends and gained a respect and appreciation for a way of life that I didn't have before because I didn't know enough about it. I've also developed a new appreciation for how privileged I am as a white male citizen of the United States. This understanding has inspired me to become a passionate advocate for things I was half-hearted about before, such as more open immigration policies in the United States, and fairer trade policies.
Furthermore, I've learned quite a bit of the local Creole language. I would have learned more if English wasn't as widely spoken as it is, but I am capable of carrying on conversations in Patwa, and of conducting about 3/4 of a given interview with a more senior citizen of this region in his or her first language. I still have a lot to learn, but I've a good foundation. What makes me doubly proud of this accomplishment is that I didn't necessarily have to achieve it in order to conduct research here. But to develop close relationships and earn the trust of people from whom I ask personal questions about their relationships with other household members and their receipt of goods from abroad...well, I think it paid off in terms of sample size and the validity of the data I've collected. So do my research assistants.
My accomplishments here aren't limited to ethnographic research or survey data collection. On the request of one my research assistants, I taught a well-received workshop on how to responsibly budget a very small and irregular income, a topic which has become dear to me as I've witnessed some of the challenges that youth face in a rapidly changing society that is increasingly dependent on cash, faces high inflation in the cost of living, and rapidly increasing incongruity between lived experience and desired lifestyle. We'll have another workshop before I leave. What's more, my research assistant and I want to develop over the next two years a program geared toward culturally relevant personal finance education. Developing that program is one of the long-term plans I've made in association with my decision not to pursue the traditional academic career path, which does not amount to a decision never to return to an island I've come to love.
I consider changing my mind about what I want to do with my life a big accomplishment in the last ten months, because my experiences in Dominica have guided my decision. Plus, there's a lot of downtime during fieldwork. I quickly grew bored of the usual anthropologist's remedy for downtime, which is to read an endless stream of trash novels. Faced with nothing else to do, I quickly realized that I could not spend my downtime being incredibly depressed that I'm away from my family, and concentrating on all of the uncertainties that my absence has introduced into our lives.
So during my downtime, I've done a lot of scholarly side projects. One of these side projects, which proposes an evolutionary explanation for the association between the frequency of intra-group conflict and intra-group aggression, I will turn into a Guggenheim Research Grant proposal. In another side project, I've developed a theoretical framework that links the evolutionary ecology of territoriality to the evolutionary ecology of social network formation. I intend to turn that research into an co-authored article that I will submit to Current Anthropology in recognition of the decades since my dissertation committee chair and his dissertation committee chair published a seminal article applying the evolutionary ecology of territoriality to human behavior.
Most recently, I've developed a website called Malark-O-Meter.org, where I statistically analyze fact checker rulings to develop indices of politicians' truthfulness, and to statistically assess the alleged partisan and centrist biases of top fact checking reporters. The popularity of this website hasn't exploded like I hoped it would, but I'm steadily developing a following. Concurrently, I've pioneered small-scale statistical comparisons and combination of some presidential election forecast models, and called for a large-scale movement to do the same. The movement hasn't gained traction yet, but I'm confident that I will eventually convince someone in the election forecast game that what I propose is worthwhile. Moreover, my long-term plans are to create a nonprofit fact checking research and election forecast meta-analysis organization out of Malark-O-Meter.org, which I hope will revolutionize the way we use and think about fact check reporting, and pioneer methods for the meta-analysis of election forecasts.
Listing my accomplishments usually makes me feel like less of a fraud. It's done that today, but I am so weary of being away from my family, so afraid that my absence has done irreparable damage to it, and so uncertain about my future that I still feel pretty glum.
Glum as I am, it's time I openly acknowledge everyone who has supported me over the last year, including my family, my academic advisers, my Fulbright affiliate in Dominica's Central Statistics Office, my research assistants, my generous Dominican hosts, the Fulbright Association, and the National Science Foundation.
I especially recognize the sacrifices of my wife for my sake. Malyse, your resolve and maturity has surpassed my greatest expectations. I'm coming home. I'm going to sleep for the first time in our new house. I'm going to remind myself what you smell like, what your face looks like at every possible angle. I'm going to introduce myself to you again, slowly, but resolutely. I'm going to be your husband again.