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Anthropology Student Nat Begg Reflects on Their School Life and Research Journey

May 24, 2024

Nat Begg is currently in their fourth year of the honours degree in anthropology. They previously studied history, but ended up realizing all the parts they liked were just anthropology! We interviewed Nat to get to know their SFU journey and research experiences.

I was really attracted by how practical anthropology is — you actually have to go out and engage with the world, not just read about it.

What have been the highlights of your time in SA and SFU?

Nat: Probably my favourite single class has been SA365: Gender and Intimacy in China with Yuan Wei. It’s a fascinating topic, and the way the class was taught showed the unique insights of anthropological approaches to these subjects. In the Spring 2024 semester, I’ve really enjoyed SA301: Contemporary Ethnography as well as starting my honours thesis (SA496), both with Kathleen Millar, who has been an incredible guide.

My university experience wouldn’t have been possible without the folks from TSSU, CUPE 3338, and the other unionized workers who keep SFU running.

Are you in any student union/club? What prompted you to join?

Nat: I’m a co-editor of the Sociology & Anthropology Student Union (SASU) journal, POLIS. Undergraduate social sciences journals are surprisingly rare in Canada, and I wanted to be a part of creating a constructive place for students to explore their ideas further beyond class and put some of their work out there.

Apart from being a co-editor of POLIS, Nat is also interested in conducting research in their own time! They recently published a research article titled 'The Circus of Liberation: Clowning as Social Creativity in Insane Clown Posse's Dark Carnival.' Keep scrolling down to read more about their experience in writing this piece.

What inspired you to conduct your own research on clowning?

Nat: I’m generally interested in novel forms of political action such as artistic interventions, direct actions, and intentional communities that try to imagine and embody new ways of living and being beyond the confines of electoral politics. Clowning is particularly interesting because it engages a playfulness and humour that we don’t usually associate with existential social questions. I think more of that spirit can show us a way out of the quandaries we’re stuck in now, and I wanted to highlight a contemporary example of clowning being used in this way with the hip-hop band Insane Clown Posse (ICP). It also struck me as a major theoretical void that of the handful of published works on ICP, nobody had really looked at them as clowns beyond a surface level.

What has been the most difficult aspect of researching this topic?

Nat: The ‘anthropology of clowning’ is a pretty niche and dated field. If you look over my citations, I’m drawing on a lot of literature from the middle of the 20th century. So a lot of the theory and ethnographic data I’m interested in is baked in with structuralist and functionalist perspectives which anthropologists have moved away from since. They were more interested in trying to define what a clown is, understanding how clowns and tricksters might overlap, developing typologies of different taboos, and so on. Coming from a contemporary perspective, I’m trying to ask more open-ended questions and see what possibilities clowning reveals. While I think there’s a lot of amazing stuff in there, disentangling what’s still relevant today from the debates of say, the 1970s, was a big challenge.

How long did it take for you to publish your research, from when you first started working to when the paper was accepted?

Nat: I first started planning the paper in April 2022, but it wasn’t until September 2023 that I submitted it to DIY, Alternative Cultures, and Society, and it was published in March 2024. So just under two years of on-and-off work, mostly during the breaks between semesters.

Do you have any advice for fellow peers who want their research to lead to a publication?

Nat: I did relatively little planning before beginning writing to figure out how things came together. Looking back, I wish I’d planned a little bit more, since almost nothing is the same from my early drafts and I had to rewrite a lot. That said, writing itself is a research process and it can be helpful to generate a lot of chaff in order to separate out what is really worth talking about. So I’d also say don’t be afraid to just write things you’re not totally certain about— it’ll be useful either way.