In the field – The research of dr. Longina Jakubowska

By Piotr Dudek

In this new recurring column, The Boomerang will dig deep into our professors’ academic history, revealing the sometimes hidden side of the passionate researcher. Central the question: What makes them tick?

Imagine a student, having just completed her master degree in anthropology. Imagine that we live during the turning point of 1970s and 1980s. Imagine that the aforementioned girl decides to move to the Negaw desert, all alone, in order to conduct a research study focusing on changes in the culture and the society of nomadic groups of Bedouins, who were partially forced to settle down by Israeli government. Imagine that she lives there for two years, becomes ‘adopted’ by a Bedouin family and fully integrates in the life of the community. Some of you might know the story already – told and retold many times in the anthropology classes of dr. Longina Jakubowska.

Talking about her research in Negaw desert Jakubowska always uses very rich vocabulary, referring to her “Arab family” as one would to brothers and sisters. Asked about the role of this second family in her own life, Jakubowska says: “Bedouins solved my identity crisis, because having been born and raised in Poland and then living in the US, I felt misplaced. I felt that I am missing that sense of belonging. I was really surprised how easily, but also how much they took me in the community, so that even the next child born there was called Lonia. They accepted me for who I was, not for where I came from.”

Jakubowska stresses that her role in the community was not only of a fly on the wall. “My presence had a tremendous influence on people’s life. My eldest brother Josef was the first one in the Bedouin family to finish university and then accomplish MBA studies at Harvard University.” Next semester, Jakubowska will return to the Bedouin community to continue her research. “I owe them a book”, she says.

Another substantial research conducted by Jakubowska focuses on Polish gentry. “In the late 1990’s I had some difficulties with continuing my research with Bedouins. But at the time I was also struck with the rapid political changes in Poland. I was fascinated with Polish nobility: How can a group, discriminated for such a long period of time, disempowered in so many ways, survive? What keeps it together?”.

Jakubowska stresses that this was a completely different type of research. This time she did not become a part of the community, but remained rather an outsider. Despite that, she feels it was equally interesting to gain insight on social structures of elites and to position herself, as an anthropologist, in the hierarchy.

The last final advice on research given by Jakubowska was: “Find the spark of interest! Say to yourself ‘I don’t understand why!’” And follow your personal interests, as Jakubowska once did in researching a case of Gin possession… but that is completely different story.

In 2012, dr. Jakubowska published “Patrons of History”, her research on the transformation of Polish nobility.






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