11.6.06

Day 1: The Full Report (or, A Question of Identities)

Yous have already read bits and pieces of what happened on Day 1. Since I can't sleep (though have to be up at the awful hour of 7am tomorrow so I can avoid the others and walk to the Conference Centre), I'll jot down a few thoughts about the rest of the day.

1. The people: I've already mentioned this but the group is rather diverse. There're people working for the US Government, there're retired Army/Navy/some form of military folks, there's a New York State Police officer who's a big fan of Charles Tilly (and hence my favourite person there so far), there're postgraduate students (only five of us, counting an English bloke who just finished his PhD and got a job right away--see? It can be done) and loads of people who teach courses on terrorism/security/politics in general. In terms of age, too, the group is diverse--loads of older, heads of departments in small colleges-types, the PhD-ers, a couple of younger teachers and, of course, the seven assistants (six girls and a boy--the boy handles the photography). Gender-wise, loads of blokes (already said) both young and old; Of the women, around 90% being older than 40-ish.

2. The clothes: I think I've mentioned already that we were told we could wear "casual" clothes in the conference itself. People took this in different ways and we had folks with flip-flops and T-shirts to those with shirts/ties/jackets (and it's bloody warm here, let me tell yous). Later, during the "formal" dinner, the dress code was specified as "business casual". Again, blokes ranged from tie-wearing to suits as did women. I (unsurprisingly to yous who know me, especially to E who was horrified that I owned fewer shoes than her brother) wore the same thing all day/to dinner.

3. The actual talks: Too much to write of here (and probably hugely boring to those of you who are not into this thing) but they all included repeating phrases such as "making sure facts approach the Truth" (yes, you could see the capital letter T); the need to understand "them" (terrorists, that is); lots of talk of "us" as rational creatures; democracies as "rational"; metaphor of how we study the plague virus (under a microscope to learn all its details, apparently) is similar to how we should study terrorists; using "motivation as a control variable to get at appropriate methods of counterrorism"; talk of "socialisation patterns". All in all, I feel that I'll learn loads from this thing, if I survive the next few days without pissing everyone off/running away to hitch a lift back to Washington.

Amazingly enough (for me anyway), there was also loads of talk of eco-terrorists. Apparently they are the cool terrorists these days but no one had told me. Lots of discussions (from all three speakers) about the terrorist operations of eco-terrorits. I must admit I learnt a lot about ELF, ALF, etc and find it utterly fascinating that this lot and Al-Qaeda are talked of together. Brilliant stuff, this terrorism thing. Not sure how exactly I'm supposed to be teaching students about Typologies of Terror or Causes of Terror when no one seems sure WHAT those are. I did manage to piss off one of the people later on, during dinner, when asking him how he measured motivations of people and what the empirical evidence for motivations were (and why were they valid). Following on from that,

I realise that I have two settings:

1. Quiet and anti-social (playing on my computer/standing against the wall at formal dinners) OR
2. Asking questions about ontology/epistemology disguised as general questions about acquisition/validity of knowledge. When the stakes aren't high (i.e. when I'm not defending my own work), I fear I'm rather argumentative and annoying. Need to hide that better, eh? I guess it's not too bad since I usually operate on Setting No. 1.

4. So, what about the question of identities, then? Apart from reflecting upon my settings, and after a day of talking of what terrorists did and who they were and how they were caused and their typologies, I can honestly say I'm even less convinced by this way of doing things (finding causes for terrorist actions and making policies based on those). I still have no clue about terrorist identities, despite all this time spent talking about various types of terrorists.

Personally, though, I found that I confused people since I didn't mention my own (Nepali) identity when introducing myself. This lack of clear identification of identity coupled with the obsession about football (I sneaked off during the lunch break to watch Iran-Mexico, as I told yous earlier) made the English (two of them) decide I was "one of them".* This led to a rather amusing conversation where one of them asked what I thought "our chances" were. I (not knowing he was under the impression I was a bloody English-type) answered that when Ballack returned, my team'd do rather well (Yes, I'm sort of supporting Germany based on 3 days' evidence so far. I rather like their manager and, right now, that's as good a reason as any). After a bit of confusion, we cleared up the issue (me by pointing out my Nepali-ness and lack of any ties to any and all English types).

Also, during the dinner, all the younger people sat at a table (not me though). I ended up at a table with some older folks, including an Army bloke who'd worked in Afghanistan and a woman who is apparently a leading expert on terrorism (and whose works I'd not read, which shows how little I know about the topic I'm supposed to be dissertating on. Or, maybe, it just shows I read different stuff as no one I talked to about my work had heard of the Copenhagen School). We had an excellent talk about Austin, Texas (see? I like these folks as long as we don't discuss research methodologies). The longest conversation I had during dinner was not about research but about cricket. One of the people present was from Jamaica. We discussed cricketing techniques, the lack of good West Indian fast bowlers these days (compared to past greats like Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh) and the current West Indian team (pretty shite compared to what they used to be). I have decided my best conversations at these gigs (Conferences) occur when talking (of) sports, not IR. I wonder why that is so?

I shall keep my future daily posts to a shorter length. I think I'm doing a good job of representing TUWSNBN so far as I've given their PhD programme a "two thumbs-up" when asked about it (Well, I like the programme and, especially, the people I hang around and do my stuff with) and have kept snarky comments to an absolute minimum (having the World Cup on helps since I just watch that). I've also picked up some good teaching tips for next semester (and the future). I'm still not sure I'll last the next 7 days...yous will have to wait and see.


* I would have thought my outrageous accent would have identified me as foreign (if not French).

5 Comments:

At 6/13/2006 12:53 PM, Anonymous serena said...

OOOO, eco-terrorists...you have found my push-button college dabbling in poli-sci button priya.

We'll have to chat about what you learned later. Love those eco-terrorists....on second thought, maybe i shouldn't have said that...LOL

 
At 6/13/2006 12:56 PM, Anonymous serena said...

so essentially what priya is saying is that she is a poser! an English poser

 
At 6/13/2006 12:58 PM, Anonymous serena said...

NAH, I would have assumed british transplant myself....the accent does not remind me of any frenchmen i know

priya you poser!

 
At 6/13/2006 2:32 PM, Blogger Priya said...

The accent thing was a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail (sorry, it was a long long day as I woke up at 6pm to get my sister to our relatives'). I think I sound Nepali, neither French nor bloody English-types :)

 
At 6/14/2006 10:08 AM, Anonymous serena said...

LOL I would hope you sound nepali, but whereas you are the only one i know...then the closest accent i know is english unfortunately...lol too many english relatives that my family married into and all those snooty types from college and so forth...LOL


besides if you had to choose what accent would you prefer, priya?

 

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