March 20, 2018

Homework and Fieldwork

Andie Thompson's (UvA) Experience in St. Louis

Why were you excited to participate in the TAF program?

The collaborative component! Through the Transatlantic Forum I have been able to exchange ideas directly with a wide network of faculty and graduate students from the three institutions involved. This year- the year I participated (2017/2018)- I am a second-year student from the research masters at the University of Amsterdam. As such, I am quite green. The opportunity to broaden my scope of academic exposure and feel out how anthropology departments operate within different institutions was a rare and generous experience. There were also specific faculty members at Washington University I was particularly excited to meet; Talia Dan-Cohen and Glenn Stone specifically. I really enjoyed being able to talk with them and learn from their perspective while in St. Louis.

What was your favorite part about the Institutions course with Professor Bowen?

I learned quite a bit in Professor Bowen’s course. As an Anthropology student, I had little experience with texts relating to the sociology of Institutions, or the early work of pragmatists. The institutions course offered an overview of the sociology of interactions through contemporary markets. I found value and theoretical insights in several of the texts that helped me think about the ethnography I was doing while in St. Louis.

How did the TAF program further your own scholarship?

As a second year research masters student, the TAF program overlapped with the semester I was scheduled to conduct a fieldwork project. So, St. Louis became my fieldsite and oh what a fieldsite! My interests were in human-microbe relations and agricultural biotech. Washington University happens to be one of the best possible places I could have landed given my interests. The medical school is a leading research institution for all things microbiome and Monsanto’s world headquarters are just outside of the city. These two major research presences have been formative of a very unique innovation ecosystem in St. Louis. This innovation network is called the “Ag Coast”. A play on words referring to the data tech bubble of the bay area and the fact the majority of big data tools and biotechnologies developed in St. Louis are agriculture centered. I had an incredible first fieldwork experience while in the TAF program!

I also had an opportunity to present some of my preliminary work at the Graduate Association of Food Studies conference one of my colleagues from the Wash U side of the TAF exchange, Brad Jones, was organizing that fall. Also, another first for me. And a wonderful experience.

How did you engage with the broader St. Louis community?

Well, there are a few ways I can answer this.

Socially- I made some fast friends at the local hipster coffee joint, Blue Print. I went to several music shows. My favorite was at University of Missouri- St. Louis where a full orchestra performed a jazz improvisation using a deck of cards that randomly assigned the player with sounds. Another highlight was a punk show where I watched some dudes hack up antique furniture with a pick axe.

Academically- as part of my fieldwork, I attended dozens of events occurring in the local community related to biotech, science communication, and storytelling. I recommend following the St. Louis Public Radio’s twitter feed to learn about events and interesting happenings in the area.

Personally- I tried to learn the lessons St. Louis was teaching. I spent time reading about the history of the place and its urban development. I listened to the stories told. I paid attention to the historical relics surrounding my daily experiences. In addition, the #stockleyverdict occurred shortly after my arrival- which for those who are not familiar, Stockley is the name of the officer who was acquitted for the police killing/murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. A 100-day long protest in St. Louis began in response. I tried to go to as many protests, outreach events, and community panel discussions as I could reasonable manage. St. Louis is a place with a lot of pain. There are not many places in the United States where racism and deeply imbedded structural violence are so palpable. I think it is important for people who come from places where this isn’t, to experience what they can of it while in St. Louis. There is much that can be learned by studying the muck in St. Louis, lessons that may be helpful in developing a way of seeing the less explicit muck of elsewhere and hopefully with such exposure more voices will speak up, especially among academic communities.

I hope everyone who participates in the TAF program can find ways in engage in the communities that make up St. Louis; make friends, learn the history and contemporary struggle, be present in the muck, and carry these stories with them to share as they move through their own work.

What were your favorite things to do and eat in St. Louis?

A few of my favorite things… The City Museum is an incredible experience. The Art museum in St. Louis is world class and free! There are a couple of nice film theaters near campus, the Tiovli and the Hi Pointe Theatre. And the craft beer scene is strong in St. Louis. I especially enjoyed the hazy IPAs at 2nd Shift, the Flanders style sour ales at Alpha Brewing, and the Oak Barrel aged experimental wild ales at Side Project.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Getting around town can be difficult. Public transportation only goes to specific areas and the distances between neighborhoods can be great. Walking or riding a bike between areas in St. Louis is not always reasonable or possible as highway systems bifurcate regions and the pedestrian and cycle infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. I had to use Uber quite a bit when meeting informants for interviews and attending industry events. I also made use of a car share program at Wash U through Enterprise Rent-A-Car (requires a driver’s license and setting up an account). If someone is planning to do research while in St. Louis, I would recommend inflating the budget for transportation costs because it adds up really quickly navigating this city.