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The Prisoner’s Dilemma

By Christina Holmes, St. Francis Xavier University, and Udo Krautwurst, University of Prince Edward Island

The anthropologist comes home from a conference. Exhausted after a very long day of travel, they collapse onto the sofa and turn on the TV. Eyelids heavy, the familiar face of Patrick McGoohan is recognized before drifting off to sleep. And as they sleep, they begin to dream…

Day 1: Arrival

image 1

Image 1: Outside The Citadel

Anthropologist #6 looks around. The air is warm on their skin and there is a breeze blowing through the palm trees. They are on The Island, in The Village. Everyone, including #6, is wearing numbered pink wrist bands. Anthropologist #2 walks towards them. They are always dealing with #2. Who, #6 thinks, is #1? “Am I leaving The Village today?” #6 asks #2. “No”, says #2, “not today, but perhaps tomorrow. The beach is beautiful today though. Does it matter if you don’t go home today? Rover will look after you.”

#8 walks up just before this and says, anxiously, “yes, it does matter if I don’t get home today. What specifically is being done to get us home?” #8 asks #2 for the 4th time that morning. Like many of the others, #2 is not overly worried.

image 2

Image 2: At the Beach with Rover

Quietly, #6 watches the others gather around #2. Some #6 has seen mingling with many other groups while they have been on The Island. Others seem happiest when they interact only with those like themselves. While waiting, # 6 strikes up a conversation with the person next to them, who #6 does not know and who introduces themselves as The Facilitator.

The Facilitator comments to #6, that while it is not the whole story, it is never the whole story, many of the anthropology talks they have heard on the island were theoretically dense, and seemed to mostly appeal to a self-referential canon.  Except for the papers in Spanish. Had #6 heard the papers in Spanish? No, #6 had not. #6, like many others, did not speak Spanish, so had not spoken to the Spanish speaking anthropologists. #4 said, “don’t worry about being self-referential – you need to make a theoretical contribution and you have to refer to what came before to do that. Why would you publish something that didn’t make much of a theoretical contribution?”

Day 2: Many Happy Returns

The hum of the air conditioner wakes #6. The morning is sunny and looks warm through the window. After getting dressed it is time to head off to The Citadel to get some answers. Finally arriving at the main desk in this Escher-like space #6 asks “Who are you?”

Glancing up and shrugging, “The new #2.”

“Who is number 1?”

That would be telling.”

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Image 3: In The Citadel

Looking for the Facilitator #6 wanders into the Dining Hall. Nervously, #17 sits down beside #6. “Do you…” looking around carefully to see who is near, “… do you suppose They are keeping us anthropologists here on purpose?”

“I have heard”, #17 lowers their voice, “They don’t want us back because too many ask inconvenient questions. Here we can speak however we please.” Uninterested in conspiracies #6 leaves.

Later that evening #2 calls an assembly at The Theatre. “Transport”, the group is told, “is impossible. Those in Control are concerned for your safety.” Undaunted, #6 retires for the day already planning for the morrow.

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Image 4: In The Village

Day 3: Living in Harmony

#6 awakes to a scuttling noise. A crab has somehow gotten into the room. After urging it out the door,

#6 heads to The Citadel. Waiting for their coffee, #6 eavesdrops on two conversations going on behind them – the ability to eavesdrop on more than one conversation simultaneously a talent they developed during fieldwork. #9 says to #12 “the role anthropologists play in listening to the stories of those who cannot speak for themselves is so important. It’s so important that those stories get out there.” “Yes”, says #12, “although we still need a Decolonial Turn. I mean, do we even understand the experiences of people of colour and those in precarious positions in our own discipline?” On #6’s other side, yet another, new #2 – an expert in travel arrangements, no less – is saying “I have found that the percentage of anthropologists who get really upset when travel arrangements go wrong is not much

different from the rest of the population. It’s still about 5%, with 10% who really don’t care, and the rest are in the middle.” #6 gets their coffee.

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Image 5: In The Village

“By the way, you’ll be leaving very early tomorrow morning…” the new #2 piped to #6 on the way out, “or not.”

Day 4: Fall Out

Exhausted after being woken up at midnight to be told that the flight was delayed, #6 drifts toward the Dining Hall for coffee and breakfast, concern etched on to their brow. The newest #2 approaches and sits down.

“Do you want to leave, #6?”

Between mouthfuls #6 sputters “You don’t need to know my thoughts, do you? Unless, of course, you want to tell me who #1 is.”

“It doesn’t matter. Be packed and at The Citadel in an hour.”

A few minutes later, amid the swarm of anxious anthropologists, #6 stumbles out of The Citadel to board the bus and finally leave The Village.

image 6

Image 6: The Last Waiting Room

Soon thereafter, climbing the steps and stepping on to the plane #6 realizes #1 is 6 of 1, and half a dozen of the Other.

Struggling awake, the anthropologist sees the old boarding passes on the table. The TV, on all night, is broadcasting a program on Imaginative Ethnography. The host is interviewing Dara Culhane. Partly still

in a slumber the anthropologist hears a tale of two doctors. The night’s reveries blend with the story on TV, as the anthropologist wonders what kind of doctor they are.

Be seeing you!

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