Insights from UCD

(I am still a bit behind on posting updates–this is from June 12-14)

Insights from University College Dublin

We took a bus to UCD and made a friend of a Canadian en route to the Folklore Library as the three of us wondered the campus lost.

Meeting with Dr. Moore

Even though he had a pretty busy day, Dr. Moore met with me for an hour before I went to the Folklore Library and about an hour afterwards.  He was extremely helpful and very interested in my project.  He recommends I focus my research on patients and their experiences with  using folk cures.  He sees the performance of the healing act itself and the role of the healer as periphery.  More over, the secretive nature of my subject suggest that the bulk of my data will be coming from patient’s stories of healing (their illness narratives) and that I may have very little opportunity to observe a cure take place.  Following his direction, I have altered my research site location avoiding the overly tourist locations in Western Ireland (possible).  Dr. Moore assures me that knowledge and use of folk cures is incredibly common throughout Ireland, the only complication is getting people to talk about it.  When people’s health is well, it seems people do not normally discuss charms and cures, which could prove problematic.  I hope this doesn’t mean that I will only be able to interview people once.  Our conversation provided me with great insight into folk cures which could never come for the words on a page alone.

Touring the Folklore Collection Library

UCD has an amazing folklore collection including transcriptions of folklore interviews dating back to the 1930s!  http://www.ucd.ie/irishfolklore/en/  This amazing collection of Irish oral traditions, family life, and folk arts includes a quite a sizable amount of entries on folk cures and charms as well as herbal remedies.  The staff was incredibly helpful and friendly.  I plan to spend some time doing a bit of research there again when I return to Dublin before I leave to come back to the States.

Plan Going Forward from Here                                                                             (Subject to Change as New Information come to Light)

  • Find a New Research Site
Find a small quite community with few or no tourist attractions.  Check out homestays, B&Bs, and self-catering and compare prices and locations.  Look for a smaller community in the County Galway and County Mayo area.
  • Who I am Interviewing
Primarily Patients –try to equally cover all demographics.  Collect stories of illness experiences, stories about cures used, and the person’s own explanatory model for the illness, cure and recovery.  Pay special attention to who refers the patient; what the cure itself requires: actions, ingredients, actors, time; patient’s specific experience and outcome.  Who is directing people to cures?  How are health decisions being made.
Also try to interview Bio-medical professional.  Determine the attitude of bio-medical professionals toward folk cure.
If the opportunity presents itself, interview any/all people I can find that have a cure or charm.
  • Determine what my research questions and what interview questions to ask to address them.
  • Conduct Ethnographic Analysis of the Community

 

What is the Place of Emotion in Humanistic Empiricism?

Recently, someone close to me drew the connection between the demand for the removal of emotion from scholarship and the continued presence of underlying masculine bias in academia. I was taken aback by the implications of this connection and my blindness to it.  In reading Ruth Behar’s The Vulnerable Observer and “Believing in Anthropology as Literature,” the relevance of this masculine bias and its demand for anthropology to be devoid of emotion becomes all the more apparent as do the distinct limitations it creates.  Behar warns, “Most efforts to bring emotions and feelings, including love and gratitude, into our work are likely to be dismissed as ‘feminine sentimentality’” (Behar 2011: 110).  Personal narratives, and even life histories of our informants, can be seen as risky within anthropological forms of writing. These forms of writing often have clear emotional components which are paradoxically seen as compelling and unreliably subjective.  In a discipline struggling for a humanistic empiricism, objective detachment is clung to as a means of laying claim to a scientific ideal. Yet experts from any of the hard sciences openly display emotions over their research. Scientists get excited when they make monumental discoveries; their work can also disappoint them, worry them, and even disturb them. The influence of a scientist’s passions for their work over the particular research questions posed receives little critique within the “hard” sciences.  While a geologist’s zealous passion for his or her research rarely impacts the chemical test results run on soil samples, an anthropologist’s empathetic sorrow can influence analysis of interviews. As anthropologists do we claim our fears, our sorrows, our joys as evidence of observable responses to human realities of the worlds in which we work or do we ignore those unquantifiable internal experiences so that we can focus on our observations of the people and phenomena we study?

Maynes, Pierce, and Laslett argued that the motivation behind including life histories and personal narratives in research involving both the social sciences and humanities is connected to the particularly apparent humanness of this data and its ability to generate a direct dialogue between people and the theories written about them (Maynes et al 2008). They write, “One primary motivation is the desire to examine varieties of individual selfhood and agency ‘from below’ band and practice, as constructed in people’s articulation of self understandings” (Maynes et al 2008: 1).The impact of macro-level forces on an individual lives at the micro-level are brought to life, through life histories which can be employed to try the very human realities of macro policies and forces.  Well utilized life histories can be a powerful tool for anthropological literature which allow the author to provoke emotion without being seen as overly emotional him or herself. Life history becomes a “testimonio” in feminist and activist work, which utilizes such stories to empower a person’s story to become a symbol of the movement (Behar 1996: 27). Life histories and personal narratives have the potential to invigorate ethnographic writing with the type of evocative testimony which directs emotional response and supports social change.

The reality of Behar’s struggle over how much of her to include in “Death and Memory” epitomizes the academic compulsion to remove all hints of emotions.  She warns, “to write vulnerable is to open Pandora’s box” (Behar 1996: 19). Often, the human reality of emotional truth is the story we, as anthropologists are unwilling to tell.  As Behar’s Aunt Rebeca reminds us, anthropology is “the study of people” (Behar 1996: 4). If that is true, then how do we tell the story of people devoid of a basic component of what it means to be human? If the anthropologist is the instrument through which human realities are observed and cultural data is collected, then emotional responses which they shape the anthropologist cannot be ignored.