The amateur studies a subject for the love of it, as a way of life. This article tracks the changing relationship between amateur scholarship and professionalism, in light of the author’s experience over five decades. It shows how the capture of professionalism by corporate and managerial interests has brought it into tension with the principles of amateur study, and how this tension has played out specifically in anthropology. Here, the amateur commitment to day-to-day knowing, enshrined in the discipline’s signature approach of participant observation, is compromised by its professional rebranding as ethnography. The approach nevertheless sets an example for other walks of study that share with anthropology the urge to wander along with that which captures their attention. Today’s professionalised regimes of research leave little room for wandering. Abjuring the straitjacket of corporate professionalism, however, opens the way for an amateur scholarship that is both practically activist and potentially transformative.
- participant observation