Friday, November 13, 2009

Meeting with Doug Hollan

I had the good fortune of meeting recently with my old mentor, Dr. Douglas Hollan, a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UCLA. He is also an Instructor at the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute and President-Elect of the Society for Psychological Anthropology. His theoretical interests include psychological and cultural anthropology, ethnopsychology, cross-cultural psychiatry, and person-centered ethnography. He conducted his fieldwork among the Tana Toraja in Indonesia.

His impressive academic credentials notwithstanding, he is most importantly a tremendous teacher. Thus far in my life no one single person has influenced me more in terms of my general world view and specific academic theoretical and methodological perspectives.

In the course of our conversation one of my primary impressions was the extent to which, having once been a promising student, I am now - much to my chagrin - a full-fledged layman. The discipline has progressed into new territory with which I am utterly unfamiliar, to say nothing of the vague, cloudy haze representing all prior knowledge I once possessed on the subject matter.

No matter; I took in this reality with a certain sangfroid, reassuring myself that one's predisposed inclinations, talents, gifts, etc. will eventually - given a serious, diligent, and persistent work ethic - prevail over a self-imposed period of academic dormancy.

I will admit, however, incredulity regarding how the discipline could have possibly carried on without me! Surely the massive, nearly insurmountable intellectual and creative void left in the wake of my departure left Anthropology reeling - perhaps academia in general. In any case, apparently they have somehow recovered.

In giving consideration to resuming an academic career, it strikes me that before tackling the painful and loathsome process of applications, standardized tests, letters of recommendation, etc. it makes sense I should immerse myself in - heaven forbid - the actual material I might be studying.

Dr. Hollan (everyone calls him Doug; due to some sort of built-in decorum I am incapable of calling him anything but Dr. Hollan) has graciously allowed me this opportunity through a course he teaches, Mind, Medicine and Culture, and I have been very excited to dive in and read, read, read.

From time to time I will post my impressions here, beginning with a few excellent articles written on Stigma. Now,
In communicating my own thoughts, it should quickly become clear that while I am a true proponent and champion of Anthropology, I am not a sycophant. I have a strong and often very critical point of view, derived from a true passion for the discline and its potential influence on other perspectives. Indifference will not enter the equation.