(You Might Want to Consider the Fact that) Women Use More Hedges Than Men

A wonderful piece on the gendered use of hedging in writing by one of my students!

The Women's Network

By McKenna Eggers

When you think of the word “hedging” you might picture something similar to what I did: A gardener with some sort of shears trimming down a hedge. Up until recently, this was the image that came to mind on the off chance that I would hear the word “hedge” sometime in my day. It wasn’t until a meeting with my English Composition class that I learned that “hedging” has a whole other meaning.

According to Enago Academy, hedging is “the use of linguistic devices to express hesitation or uncertainty as well as to demonstrate politeness and indirectness.” In other words, hedging is the use of language to add ambiguity into writing. This includes using words like “possibly” or “suggests.”

For example, if someone were to include hedging in the phrase “the data shows that climate change is to blame for coral bleaching” they could say “the data…

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My Grad Student Life in COVID Times: Disciplinary Change is Coming?

My grad student life has changed significantly since my last post in March: I no longer have a physical home on campus, unscheduled interactions with colleagues in the hallways or at conferences are impossible, it is unsafe to travel for fieldwork, I am teaching my course online (often in my favorite dinosaur sweatpants). The virtual turn brought on by COVID-19 has made me feel less connected to my campus community and my research community in Kodiak. At the same time, I feel much more connected to the wider anthropology community through the huge proliferation of webinars and panels over the past several months.

As I imagine most people have experienced, I have also been anxious about the uncertainty looming over EVERYTHING. This anxiety extends from uncertainty about the health and wellbeing of myself and others to uncertainty about my ability to make progress towards my degree. What if I can’t safely return to Old Harbor for several years? Do I have to rework my research to complete a library dissertation instead? Will the pandemic change the way that anthropologists and archaeologists conduct their research for years to come? In times of disturbance and instability, there is great potential for lasting change, but I am not sure where I, or my research, will fit into those changes.

The crucial work of the movement for Black lives has spurred discussions about what it means to do anthropology and archaeology ethically, with care, and in an accountable and respectful way. These large-scale discussions are long overdue and I believe that they will change the discipline for the better by making community-centered work the norm.

On the other hand, I worry that the economic crisis coupled with the turn to virtual learning will speed up the ‘adjunctification’ of universities in the United States – meaning that more classes will be taught by underpaid and overworked contingent lecturers rather than universities investing in teaching and research faculty. In other words, I wonder what kind of jobs will be available if/when I do finish my PhD, especially as someone who wants teaching to be a continued part of their work.

As I have been waiting for some certainty to return, I have spent a lot of time educating myself in Indigenous Studies, Black Studies and Indigenous Archaeology. Scholars and practitioners in these and related disciplines have done tremendous work to critique and challenge the ways and conditions under which knowledge is produced. If anthropology and archaeology are going to come out of this pandemic changed, I want to do what I can to make sure that they are changed for the better. I want post-pandemic anthropology to be more equitable, inclusive, accountable and centered on the needs of the communities with whom we study and serve. While the pandemic is a disaster on all levels, from the personal to the global, I am grateful that quarantine and the slowing of my dissertation research has given me the time to dig into this essential work.

Chilling out in Fairbanks for the AkAAs

I spent the past week in Fairbanks for the Alaska Anthropological Association’s (AkAA) 2020 annual meeting. The weather there was sunny and clear but the temperature remained below 0ºF…brrrr.

The frozen Chena River in Fairbanks, February 26, 2020.

It was great to connect with researchers who work in Alaska and start to build a network with both current students and professionals, many of whom attend or work at the University of Alaska campuses or the National Park Service. I also got the chance to hang out with some of my friends and colleagues from the Alutiiq Museum!

Of course, conferences are also a chance to learn about ongoing research projects in the discipline. Two sessions that I found especially interesting were one on traditional place names (i.e. the names that Indigenous communities have for locations, land features and places in their languages) and one on community-based participatory research in Alaska. There was also an amazing talk by Princess Daazhraii Johnson, the producer of PBS’s Molly of Denali, about the need for Indigenous narrative sovereignty. Johnson’s words about the power of storytelling and positive representation really hit home for me as I begin to research the lives and stories of Sugpiaq ancestors.

Title slide from my presentation at the 2020 AkAA meeting. “Uncovering Native-lived Colonialism at Ing’yug, a Sugpiaq Village in the Kodiak Archipelago.”

I presented in a session entitled “Recent Archaeological Research of the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Archipelago.” Overall, I was really happy with my talk, which discussed the framework for the Old Harbor Archaeological History Project, emphasizing the community-oriented nature of the project, and my plans for the next season of excavation. After my presentation, I was pleasantly surprised that so many fellow students came up to me to talk about how to make archaeological research more relevant and engaging. Many of the archaeology talks at the conference were devoid of storytelling or even any real mention of people – something that both I and the students I spoke with noticed. I think this points to a need for more engaged (and engaging!) archaeological research and reporting. Archaeology should also strive to be socially and culturally relevant, especially for descendant communities, who have the most to gain or lose from the process of research and dissemination of results.

All in all, the conference was a much needed intellectual and motivational boost as I turn back to working on my NSF dissertation funding proposal this week. I have been struggling to put all the pieces of my project together in a convincing way (and all the bureaucratic paperwork and budgeting that goes along with a proposal scares me), but I think that I can finally see a way through. It certainly helped that I was able to meet with the NSF program officer for Arctic Social Sciences to discuss my dissertation project at the AkAA conference!

Here’s to a productive and illness-free end to winter quarter at the UW!

So the spirits won’t escape: An archaeo-fiction narrative

This post is a combined work of diary entries about my personal experience doing archaeology at Ing’yug, a Sugpiaq/Alutiiq village on Sitkalidak Island, and an imagined fictional narrative (italicized paragraphs) about a girl that lived in the village in the early 1800s. This story came out of an assignment for Writing in Archaeology, a class taught by Sara Gonzalez at the University of Washington. Writing this short fictional piece allowed me to think about the archaeological materials in a different way, while also foregrounding my own sensorial and emotional experience at Ing’yug.

We were dropped off on the beach as the sun was starting to go down. All the excitement leading to this moment of arrival fell away as I watched the boat depart. We were alone at Tanginak. It took us the rest of the daylight hours to organize our gear and begin setting up our camp – our home for the next three weeks – a quarter-mile uphill from the beach. I was unsettled that evening in my tent. Everything was new and the sounds were unfamiliar. Had I made a giant mistake in coming here? In following this career path? Wait, is that rustling sound a bear?

She was afraid that night. She could hear her mother, aunties and grandmother whispering amongst themselves by the central stone lamp, discussing the Russian man who had visited their village that day, remembering Awa’uq. She had not yet been born the last time that Russian men came to her island twenty years ago, but she knew the stories well. Her grandmother had gathered her clan and kayaked down the lagoon to their place of refuge after being warned of an impending threat. A threat unlike their usual war partners from the chain or the peninsula. Little did Grandmother know that their place of refuge would be the final resting place for so many of her people. Since the massacre, the men had been taken away and an unknown sickness swept through the islands. What did Mother and Grandmother know about this man who visited today? Were they bracing for another tragedy?

Eventually, I fell asleep and awoke the next morning with a new energy. Seeing our surroundings in the morning light put things in a better perspective. Here we were surrounded by Sugpiaq history and the lives of ancestors. We had slept atop the oldest archaeological site on the archipelago and, from that vantage, could see traces of Sugpiaq life stretching from 7,500 years ago to the present resting among the fireweed, salmonberries, pushki and nettles. I had not expected all this interconnection, although I should have. I had been so focused on a particular time and a single village, Ing’yug, that I had overlooked how Ing’yug was wrapped in a thick cloak of multigenerational, multimillennial lives and activities. Our presence here was merely a drop in the bucket.

The Russian man’s visit ended up being just another oddity and no immediate consequences or changes came to her life. She continued with her early spring routines and duties – gathering shellfish from the beach at low tide, cleaning and preparing the latest batch of fox furs that the boys brought in, and assisting her mother and aunties with preparing, storing and distributing food. On special nights all the families in the village would gather in the qasgi, a large house set behind the beach ridge and invisible from the shore. Of the few adult men who still lived at Ing’yug year-round, the eldest ones resided primarily in the qasgi, and every so often would host a feast and encourage dancing, singing and storytelling. This is where she learned the history of her people. The tales of weavers, warriors, whalers, shamans, healers, and midwives filled her being with a sense of pride. “There are not so many of us now,” the elders would say, “some of the dance masks and songs had to be retired and there are some stories that not even we know anymore. Their owners were lost.” From this, she understood that her knowledge was a valuable gift and a marker of perseverance, of survival.

We slowly became familiar with Ing’yug, our small team uncovering the sedimentary layers of its history in little squares, but the village was not yet ready to share what it had witnessed. We found very few artifacts, or ancestral belongings, but there was an abundance of charcoal-stained soil, fire-cracked rock and animal remains – evidence of a significant residence by Sugpiaq ancestors. It was not until the final day of excavation that we uncovered belongings – a slate ulu and a stone lamp, lying upside down on the floor of a house. Touching and holding artifacts, objects, belongings is powerful as you share a moment with those who made, used and discarded them – uniting those pasts and this present.

Years passed and she became a mother, then a grandmother. Leader of her family. A revered source of knowledge. A skilled seamstress, fish processer, dancer and beader. Life in Ing’yug had become more tenuous. More Russian visitors came and went, more of her people were removed or succumbed to the sickness, the Church came to stop the dances. Yet, here she still was, making do, surviving. One day, word came that everyone in the village would be relocated to Nuniaq on the Sitkalidak Narrows. There was no choice. The Russian company men had already decided. As she left her ciqlluaq in Ing’yug for the final time, she made sure to turn the stone lamp upside down so the spirits wouldn’t escape.

Why Can’t I Write?

This post is slightly modified from my response to a prompt in Writing and Archaeology, a class taught by Sara Gonzalez at the University of Washington. We were asked to examine our various forms of resistance to academic writing. As part of my new project to be less risk-averse with my writing, I decided to make this response public. I invite other folks to engage with this post and share their own experiences with resistance to writing and strategies for overcoming resistance.

I experience a lot of resistance to writing, especially writing connected to my dissertation proposal and research. In watching a webinar from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity called “Moving from Resistance to Writing”, I could see myself and my behavior in discussions of perfectionism, avoidance and vulnerability. That helped me understand that I tend to view writing as a “risky” endeavor, which is the root of my resistance.

Until now, I have not given a lot of thought as to what my resistance is. Instead, I have just felt shame about not working hard enough and not getting enough done in a given period of time. I find it hard not to compare myself to others and become jealous of my colleagues’ progress when I should be celebrating them. While I know that I have come a long way since entering graduate school, often times I feel like I’m still a tiny fry, fresh out of college, and thrashing around in a big pond of academia – just trying to absorb everything while giving a deferent berth to the bigger fishes. Why do I feel unable to engage with other researchers through academic writing?

I worry that I am not qualified to have an opinion or do research, especially not research with Indigenous peoples. This fear slows down my writing as I second-guess everything I put down on the paper – not wanting to say something potentially hurtful or wrong but also wanting to signal my engagement with the appropriate theoretical literature. I worry that I am not aware enough of my privilege as a white woman and other times that I am being hyper-aware of it and sinking into apologies or guilt rather than action. These feelings have paralyzed me time and again over the past couple years. Only recently have I started to understand the significance of my journey, which has eased the paralysis somewhat. I don’t need to be fully formed and the most woke in every piece of writing or expression. There is value in the process of learning and slipping up and making mistakes. My writing should (and will) ultimately reflect that.

Blogging has been one area of writing that has allowed me to experiment a bit more, even if I don’t end up posting everything that I draft. Free writing and blogging allow me to feel less constrained by the real and imagined rigors of academia, although I know that I do not make enough time for them. As much as writing for thinking is touted, I still can’t seem to give it the same weight in my mind. It can still feel like I’m wasting my time when I’m not working on “serious” writing projects.

So why can’t I write? Because I suffer from imposter syndrome, anxiety and perfectionism, all of which invoke personal shame over a sense that I am not writing or doing enough. I don’t want others to figure out that I’m not as good a writer or researcher or person as they thought, so I don’t give them opportunities to scrutinize my work. I don’t often face criticisms and have little experience with academic failure, so I fear those things most of all. In reading that last sentence over, I again consider my privilege, and perhaps the insulation that others have given me throughout my career. Maybe this writing resistance is caught up in something much larger – my struggle, through my research with the Sugpiaq community of Old Harbor, to reckon with my history and my identity and come out on the “good” side of things. Writing about research is as much a personal exercise as it is a professional one.

No wonder writing feels risky.

Briefly Noted: Teaching Writing in Anthropology

As part of my grad school experience, I teach 5-credit writing seminars to undergraduate students. My students are all concurrently enrolled in anthropology courses, thus the purpose of my seminars is to help students write in the discipline. Although I have been “writing in the discipline” for the better part of a decade, prior to teaching, I never had to think about what it means to write in anthropology.

Now that I look back on three terms of instructing students, I still don’t think I have a distinct answer – anthropology writing is personal, scientific, ethnographic, (auto)biographic, global, local, theoretical, storytelling, public, scholarly, poetic, verbose, prosaic, mundane, significant, situated, etc. In short, anthropology writing is a lot of things, and I think that benefits our discipline by allowing for many kinds of expression and exploration.*

When it comes to introducing such a vast library to my students in anthropology writing seminars, I choose to build from the personal. I ask students to begin by considering their own identities and positionalities within the university and other spaces they inhabit, then build their awareness out from there to the experiences of their classmates and then out to other communities. By situating themselves first, students start to better understand themselves as knowers and as creators of knowledge, which gives them the tools and the confidence to make arguments, evaluate the arguments of others and get a sense of how arguments are built from both evidence and experience. Thus the sequence of assignments moves from a positionality statement to a student-designed ethnographic project to a more ‘traditional’ argumentative research paper and, finally, a reflective piece looking back at the journey.

Along the way, we cover other ‘writing’ topics like citations, paper organization, intros and conclusions, transitions, editing and revising, etc., but I hope that the biggest takeaway for my students is the confidence to join the conversation (of the academy, their professional careers, their communities) thoughtfully, respectfully and from a place of self-awareness.

 

*That being said, I recognize that not all forms of expression nor all forms of scholarship are equally valued in the academy, and it saddens me to see amazing public scholarship, community-building and creativity often go unremarked in academic circles.