Sometimes I wish to remain only in the role of a spectator in this world - it is something my training as a scientist does not emphasize enough, but standing outside the boundaries is an interesting experience and not practiced enough by many if not all. Boundaries we face are oh so many and oh how varied - private property for instance is one, culture is another.
Malinowski was one of these rare observers that managed to step out of his frame and take on the role of an observer, or then again, did he really? Because of World War 1, he was strangled for many years at the Trobriand islands, from where he gained insights that helped him subsequently change anthropology - but also the way research has been conducted since. The method diffused first within anthropology, where active participant observation has become the norm, - and later in organizational science, where qualitative research and in-depth case studies as basis for grounded theory have been gaining wider legitimacy during the last 50 years. However, brought to light in his diaries discovered after his death, the prejudices of his Victorian society shine through the fabric of a well-meaning scientist, and tarnish the immaculate reputation so painstakingly built. (An interesting video that inspired the above paragraph about Malinowski's life can be found here.)
Following this example, it is probably impossible to become an unbiased observer of our societies given all the conditioning we are given throughout our lives. But the goal might be laudable and beneficial for research. It is also intellectually challenging to uncover institutions underlying the sense-making of everyday activities, the hidden goals and assumptions of how we engage with this game of life, how we write our own stories, and choose our own path. Observation implies stepping out of the picture, acting less oneself but analyzing the actions of others - an attractive position, bringing one somehow outside the human condition of accepting the events and reacting upon them. Observation gives one the illusion of getting rid of the emotions, of only applying reason, of attempting to see the light, the pattern, the position. An ideal-type, that maybe should be somehow taught in PhD schools, or other invisible schools of life? While looking for my thesis topic, I try hard to keep my eyes and ears wide open to the unidentified objects that one day might be converted from a garbage can to a full paper through the black box of my brain. I polish my observing skills, getting inside the matrix of artificial reality.
Today is Saint George's day, or day of St Jordi here in Catalunya, celebrated as a national holiday with some analogies to St Valentine's day. The streets are full of people buying roses for the women and books for the men, creating the spirit of a festival, a marketplace, during this already warm spring day. The roses date from medieval times, chosen for the most beautiful lady, whereas the custom of giving books was initiated by a brainy bookseller in the beginning of the 20th century as a way of increasing his own, as well as his neighbor flower shop sales on this day. The legitimizing reason was the near-by anniversary of death for both, Cervantes and Shakespeare, - and the hidden one that Barcelona is the publishing capital of Spain. Today, in a funny twist of fate, roses are being sold in red and blue - for the colors of the so far loosing FC Barcelona, but books also are in fashion, at least during one day in the year. Relentless Wikipedia reports that "by the end of the day, some four million roses and 800,000 books" are purchased. Half of the books sold in the whole year are basically purchased in this one day - a little bit sad for the reading, but interesting for industry dynamics. The last fun observation - today it is even possible to send a virtual rose through the website of Generalitat, although I have my doubts about evaluating the added value of this incredible innovation.
I observe traditions, and also climb. Hopefully more about the climbing next!