A love of language made in Taiwan

August 12, 2005

Name : Stephan Feuchtwang

Age : 67

Job : Senior research associate of the department of anthropology, London School of Economics.

Salary : Low on the professorial scale.

What is your background? My first degree was in ancient Chinese and I worked in publishing to put myself through a masters in anthropology and won a fellowship to learn spoken Taiwanese and do fieldwork in Taiwan for a doctorate. Academe and anthropology became a preferred life of curiosity and engagement. More fieldwork with Chinese colleagues has followed. Now I am writing up research on the way catastrophic loss caused by a state taking its people to war and into genocide (Germany), engaging in violent suppression (Taiwan) or causing famine (China) is transmitted between victims and their descendents.

What are your working hours? Half-time salaried, the rest on pension. Both halves spent on research and writing.

How many staff and students do you work with? Three research colleagues in my current project, and co-supervising seven research students.

What has been your biggest challenge this year? Trying to persuade a research foundation to accept a team project on revitalising rejected pasts. We were shortlisted, but a less ambitious project was chosen.

How did you respond? The team is so enthusiastic - we will apply elsewhere.

What has been your worst moment in university life? Being head of the department of sociology at my previous university while it went through quality assessment for the first time. It is good to establish standards, but dreadful to find that accountability is not to students and the wider public but rather to management accountancy that levels rather than improves. I aged, visibly, and recovered by taking early retirement.

What is your office like? Pleasant but shared. The view is of an office building - but that's central London for you, and I'd rather be here than anywhere else.

What university facilities do you use? The coffee and surroundings make the staff dining room a great place to meet people. Administrative support staff help me through bureaucratic hurdles.

Do you socialise with people at the university? Most of our close friends are in other fields of work. But there is a very relaxed, amusing and, at the same time, serious collegial social life here.

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