Introducing Correspondences

Back in 2013, Cultural Anthropology managing editor Ali Kenner and contributing editor Grant Otsuki launched the Field Notes series as part of a new lineup of web content. When its creators moved on to new challenges, Field Notes went on hiatus.

Today, however, we are relaunching Field Notes under a new name, Correspondences. As the section editor for Correspondences, I’d like to introduce myself, reintroduce the structure of the series, and outline my vision of its goals.

Correspondences is a structured, playful, four-way conversation between a diverse group of scholars.

Each session of Correspondences takes up a theme that is of broad interest to anthropologists—past themes have included fat, disaster, and affect—and invites four scholars to write brief (<1,000 word) reflections on the theme, drawing on their own research experiences and adopting the perspective of one motivating keyword, which they are assigned according to their order in the session. The first contributor will write a provocation. One week later, the second participant will take up ideas and questions from the first post and, mixing them with his or her own ideas, will offer a translation. The third week’s contributor will continue the chain by taking up the work of the two previous writers and staging a deviation. The final contributor concludes the session in week four with an effort at integration.

Correspondences facilitates conversation between scholars across generational and geographic borders.

There are relatively few spaces for graduate students, junior scholars, and senior faculty from different states and countries to exchange ideas and enter into conversation with one another. Conferences often draw scholars from only one region of the world, and panels may skew toward one end of the age spectrum or another. Exciting debates from the graduate student lounge may not reach the ears of senior scholars on the same campus, to say nothing of crossing national borders. Correspondences aims to deliberately bridge generational, geographic, and institutional boundaries by drawing together a diverse group of scholars in written conversations about specific themes.

Correspondences creates a space for thinking out loud together—through writing.

Usually anthropologists only share our writing publicly—in journal articles and books—once it has undergone much private editing and polishing. Correspondences is a public forum for thinking through themes and questions that participants are grappling with together. Since each participant has only one week to craft a post, we are not looking for irrefutable arguments or seamless final products. Instead, we hope to find kernels of exciting thoughts and preliminary observations, with lingering questions presented alongside more developed ideas. Correspondences thus aims to make public some of the often-private processes of thinking and dialoguing that get hidden in our publications.

In the months ahead, Correspondences will feature conversations about the Internet, design, failures, and more. Stay tuned for our first session in April. If you are interested in pitching an idea for a session of Correspondences, or have questions about the series, please contact me at tbh222@nyu.edu.