The secret lives of our profs

Rachel Young

Schmidt Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Lavanya Proctor grew up in New Delhi, India. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and master of philosophy degrees in sociology from the University of Delhi, and then moved to the University of Iowa in 2004.

While at the University of Iowa, she received a master’s degree in anthropology and graduated with a PhD in the summer of 2010. Proctor was interviewed for a Lawrence University visiting assistant professor position while she was in India over summer 2010, and this is her second year teaching at Lawrence.

RY: How did you originally become interested in pursuing anthropology?

LP: When I was 15 or 16, I studied sociology in high school. Sociology in India is very similar to social anthropology, and as I took more classes, I just fell in love. I did deviate a little bit to wanting to pursue a law degree after high school, but then abandoned it and went back to anthropology.

I’ve been doing it ever since, and I just love it. I love learning about people. I’ve known since I was a kid that I wanted to teach. I’m so happy that I’m able to teach, and be at a school where teaching is emphasized. It’s been a good experience.

RY: Since you lived in Iowa before, this isn’t the first time you’ve lived in the Midwest.

LP: Yes, as a matter of fact, when I came to Lawrence, I was happy that I got to stay in the Midwest. I really like living in the Midwest, and so it was a big plus for me that I didn’t have to leave.

RY: However, the small town Midwest is a lot different from where you grew up, correct?

LP: Yes, and I think that’s what I like about it! I don’t miss the crowds in Delhi, or the noise. The Midwest doesn’t have anything that I didn’t like about Delhi. It isn’t polluted, and as long as we don’t go swimming in the Fox River, we’re fine!

I really like the quiet of the small town Midwest. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to living in India, since I live and work here. Plus, as I said, I really like living here, I’m not sure I’d like living in a big city as much as I enjoy the small town life.

I also think it’s anthropologically interesting how much people in the Midwest talk about the weather. I like listening to people talk about the weather. You’ll be in the checkout line and hear people saying ‘So, lovely day!’ or ‘It’s so cold out!’ to people they don’t know. It’s great!

RY: What are you currently working on?

LP: Well, I’m a linguistic anthropologist, and currently I’m studying the relationship between how English is perceived as necessary for jobs in the context of globalization in Delhi. Very roughly put, my studies focus on power dynamics in relation to English.

I’m also very interested in gender; so much of my work also has to do with gender disparities and gender relations. I’m really hoping to be able to do a project on gender in Bollywood. That’s my next project, if it all comes together. I just got back from doing research this summer about English training institutes in India, which train people for working at call centers.

Much of my work from that research focuses on how America is represented in these training institutes. For example, they will have American flags in their advertisements, or will provide English training with an American accent.

RY: Besides your travels in India for your research, have you done a lot of traveling?

LP: I’ve done a lot of traveling within India and the U.S., and I have been to South Africa, but other than that, not too much. I do like to travel, though, and I’d like to go to the countryside in the U.K. I grew up reading James Herriot, and I feel like I should visit the Yorkshire Dales, he makes them sound so nice! It probably won’t be like the book, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid, so I’d really like to go.

RY: What do you do when you aren’t teaching?

LP: I read a lot. I’m the type of person who will read the backs of cereal boxes if there’s nothing else to read. I just finished Terry Pratchett’s new book “Snuff.” I probably own every Terry Pratchett book ever written; I love his work.

Having read “Snuff,” I will now most likely go back and read some of the older Terry Pratchett books. Lots of people don’t like his books, as they require a certain sense of humor. However, if you like Monty Python or “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” you would probably like his books.

I like all kinds of music, except for metal. I really enjoy classic rock, things like Joplin and The Doors. I also like Hindi songs, film songs, Bollywood music. I’m currently educating myself on Bach and Preservatation Hall jazz, which are completely new areas of music for me.

RY: You’re also in charge of the Bollywood film series.

LP: Yes, I’m also organizing the Bollywood film series this year with [Assistant Professor of Government Ameya] Balsekar. Though I don’t have the patience to sit through the serious Bollywood movies, I love the masala movies, with all of the singing and the dancing.

I confess I will sometimes fast forward through the songs, unless I’m watching it with other people. Watching Bollywood films is a collective experience; it’s so much more fun to do with a group.

In many ways, I’ve started liking Bollywood movies a lot more since I left India. Because those movies swallow up and symbolize India, it’s a way to reconnect. I’m not sure if it’s a very smart thing making it a scholarly interest, but I do enjoy watching them very much.