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

 

Ireland Week 1

Week 1 Ireland – Dublin

Highlights from my first week in Ireland.

First, I think I left out one tiny detail in explaining my plans for Ireland.  I guess I should mention that assisting me in doing all that stuff I mentioned in previous posts, is my travel companion Greg Wright: part-time research assistant, part-time body guard (my mom thinks I need one?), part-time 2 am sounding board, and full-time boyfriend.

We arrived in Dublin around 8 am on Thursday June 7.   While I was still smiling then, I definitely would not advise arriving in a new country in the morning hours if it can be helped.  Unfortunately for me, the cheapest airfare didn’t really give me any options on timing.  If you do arrive in the morning, make sure you’ve worked it out in advance so that you have bed upon arrival.  Everyone may not need a place to crash after a 13 plus hour flight, but honestly it is a good safety precaution either way because even if you don’t pass out you need a safe place for your luggage.  No one wants to be dragging a suitcase any further than necessary.

That said, we got a great deal on a hostel in Dublin and were able to rest up and try to coop with the jet lag.  It was situated in the older part of the city which had lots of interesting things to see while getting adjusted to the country.

We stayed in Dublin near the River Liffey, while I met with a professor at the University College Dublin and explored the UCD’s Folklore Collection as a potential resource for my research.

I spoke with Dr. Ronnie Moore and got clear direction about the possibilities of my research.  These meetings were immensely informative for my research.  Perhaps, the biggest take away for me from our talks was a realization that focusing on “healers” per-say is not really the way to go.  In regard to Irish folk cures, the people who “have a cure” for the most part possess it because of unusual characteristic or circumstance or as a birth right of sorts.  Instead, I think I will give my attention to the knowledge of folk medicine and the use of folk healing by the average person.  More on the contemplation of this talk later.

Ireland 2012

Preliminary Fieldwork/Pilot Study in Western Ireland 

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, this summer I am going to be in Ireland conducting an 8 week preliminary investigation of Irish Folk Medicine (a subject which is far more complex than that description might led you to think).  Irish folk healing insects my two academic areas of specialization medical anthropology and the anthropology of religion.   I am particularly interested in the impact of belief (as an action/neurophysiological process) and beliefs (body of knowledge) on wellness- health maintenance and illness recovery.  I hope to investigate this in the context of Irish folk medicine.  So in short, this 8 week long trip to Ireland will hopefully let me meet and discuss my topic with Irish anthropologists and folklorists; interview Irish people about their experiences and knowledge of Irish folk medicine; determine an appropriate location/locations for me to conduct my research; and establish the significance of my research within the local context.  Here’s hoping!

Before I Go….

Things to Consider Before I Go…

As I finish packing, send last minute emails and meetings with professors, and antagonize over the finer details of the unplannable aspects of my two month long visit to Ireland, I am simultaneously faced with all the complications of anthropological fieldwork and international travel.

Even if I’ve managed to find all the cheapest but still safe places to stay means to travel (which I probably haven’t despite my best efforts), I am still left pondering all the hard anthropological questions of preliminary fieldwork …

Is my project going to be community focused, multi-sited, regional based, or somehow encompass the whole of Ireland?

I have my research topic and population, but what is my research issue?  In other words, how do I really sell my project as worthy of completing.  Sure it interests me, but as my dad puts it “why does it matter”?

How can I utilize my time as efficiently and effectively as possible?  I’ve written a project proposal and an IRB, so I have been contemplating this question for at least the past six months.  But it is definitely something I should ask myself everyday while I am in the field.

Finally, there are all those nagging questions of self-doubt, once I get there will I be able to find the people I am looking for?  Will people be willing to talk to me? Here’s hoping my natural charm and sweet disposition, not to mention the years of training, is enough to pull this off.

UpDate on Graduate School Progess

I just completed my 2nd year of graduate school.  I passed my comprehensive masters exam and graduated with my Masters of Arts in Cultural Anthropology.  This fall I am continuing in the Southern Methodist University’s PhD program for Cultural Anthropology.

(I am at the point where I am still having to remind myself I actually have my masters and then proceeding to do a little happy dance)

Massive hurdle overcome, I am currently preparing to go into the field and conduct my preliminary fieldwork.  This means two months in Ireland beginning my hands on research.  The healers I plan to work with don’t advertise to the public or have their numbers listed in the yellow pages so this summer’s research is going to begin by covering a lot of ground and investigating the project’s potential.

I am both incredibly excited and nervous at the same time.

I was very lucky to receive funding from an endowment to the Anthropology Department at SMU for my summer research.  I have my expedited IRB all but approved.  (I only needed to add three small details).  But somehow, I still feel like there is some key piece of advice or preparation I am missing.  However, I am guessing this is just nerves and anticipation.  After all, I was lucky enough to have an entire course of anthropology methods this spring.

One more week of preparation….  I leave June 6 and I plan to keep my blog up to date with photos and posts about my research while it is happening.

Wish Me Luck!

Home is Where the Heart is…

Listening to “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros I was inspired to make the following realization:

The culturally prevalent concept “Home is Where the Heart is” which is found throughout American music and literature actually makes neolocality possible.  By valuing the notion that our sense of home is tied to those we love rather than a sense of place or a connection to the land, the nuclear family and neolocal residence patterns are made possible and even encouraged.  Perhaps this is an extension of the long history of American immigrant and migration within the nation.  It has definitely been perpetuated by urbanization, globalization, and the need to relocate for employment.  I think this is an interesting case of the a cultural idom which both is perpetuated by a cultural behavior and actually serves to perpetuate that behavior as well.

Though, I have to wonder if the increasing ability to “work from home” or on the computer/internet will change this cultural need to accept mobility as necessary for success.

The Future of Education

Highly political and frequently more opinionated than well grounded, the subject of education in America is seen as vital to the future of our nation and ironically at times it seems to be influenced more by public opinion than by academia…  Again your response to this  statement, maybe more based on opinion (or emotional response) than on empirical data.

But moving beyond those matters, it is my opinion that the future of education is an educational format which speaks to new way which we experience the world living in an era marked by the digital revolution.  Like the industrial revolution and the agricultural revolution before it, despite the resistance or rejection by a few isolated groups of digital revolution is not only changing what we do and how we experience the world, but it is also for better or worse changing the way in which we think and view the world.   The long-term implications are highly debated particularly in regards to education.  The future of education demands a complete rethinking of how we envision the educational process.  In an article to the Kansas Star, Joe Robertson calls for a revolution in education.  This echos many of the concerns I have contemplated while experiencing the educational process from the unique perspective of the graduate student who is simultaneously student and educator.  While I am currently fairly limited in the degree of variation I am allowed to introduce into the classroom as a teaching assistant, running my own discussion section lab this semester as left me in constant reflection of how I could improve the engagement potential of my teaching style and classroom.

Blogs

So far I have come to the concrete conclusion that essays outside of research centered upper-level courses are fairly impractical.  Instead, I propose assigning students blog posts.  You can still give writing prompts and parameters, but I know that my own writing flows much easier on a blog than in a word document (maybe its just purely psychological).  The downside of course is that blogs intend to be much more informal which fuels the debate calling my generation the “Dumbest Generation”  But I would argue that does not have to be the case (acedamic bloggers still write academically) and blogs tend to do a better job of concisely expressing  ideas.  Also from the perspective of  checking student’s work and sources, in a blog students could back up arguments with hyperlinks rather than distracting footnotes, endnotes, or in parenthetical citations.  For those of you questioning the utility of this in writing the requires “academic” sources, remember that your students get their articles online.  The dedication and knowledge required to locate and copy academic articles in dusty binders in the library is not on most undergraduate agendas.  Blogs also allow students to receive feedback from their peers as well as the professor, something primarily reserved for the publication process or graduate level training.  I anticipate that the knowledge that your peers can read your work will actually push competitive students and shame others into striving for a high standard than is normally found in college level essays.  Finally, I see blog writing as being more relevant as a form communication in their future lives.

Lectures

Written assignments addressed, my other major concern is how to adapt the lecture to the 21st century.  Don’t get me wrong, I love powerpoint and smartboards but I can’t help but think there as to be something more.  I recently learned of a newish software that allows for more creative design/interactivity in presentation making.  It is called Prezi and is keeps your presentations on a “cloud” type server database.  I think if done correctly this type of interactive presentation not only provides a visual road map of the lecture but also combines visual learn, auditory learning, and textual learning.  Watching my classmate use this type of presentation definitely left with the impression that this is better suited for keeping student’s attention because it interactive, multi-focal stimulation most “digital natives” are accustom to.  However, I do not by any means think Prezi is a final solution.

Many professors already include videos or documentaries to supplement their lectures.  However, depending on how it is done it could be disruptive to the flow of the board lecture.  I have two examples which I think best present the type of interactive, multi-focal  learning that will be required to revolutionize education.  The youtube channels Crash Course and SciShow pack more information into their 3 to 10 minute video than most professors do in 50 minute lectures.  **After writing that sentence, I realized that this  most likely isn’t true.**  It is most likely that  students/digital natives (me included) are somehow able to take more away from these multi-layered, information packed films than we do from uni-layered lectures.  A secondary perk of these films is that students can also replay the lecture as many times as necessary to get in missed sinppets of information.   These films require teams not one professor to produce and the process is definitely time intensive, which is definitely a downside, but you must consider that these films can be accessed all across the globe and rewatched infinitely.  Based on quality alone and the benefit to public education of these two youtube channels, I would definitely encourage other disciplines to explore the possibility of creating similar videos to explain all the topics covered in introductory courses.

While this is still definitely more of me thinking out loud than seriously planning, I’d love fed back on the following suggestion.  Introduction courses could begin with one such video made specifically for the topic of the day, either by the professor or an expert on the topic.  Following the video the professor could take questions from the students supplementing responses with suggestions of sources for further reading and anecdotes from his or her own research.   The class could be concluded with guided or open discussion of the video, the day’s readings, and points the students wanted to discuss from their blogs.  Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions of things you’ve seen work?

 

OpenSource-Capitalism

While it is frequently difficult to identify paradigm shifts as they are happening, I believe I stumbled upon one tonight.  My boyfriend, Greg Wright, was telling me about this fascinating new project he discovered that will allow people to interact and play RPGs online in the dynamic new way in a world that is ultimately the players creation.  He found this project through a fascinating site called kickstarter, which allows people to share their creative new projects and to follow and fund creative projects posted by others.  Through a system which in many ways mirrors the concept behind microloans, creative entrepreneurs of the 21st-century are funded not by banks, corporations, investment firms, or entrepreneurial capitalist, but instead individual cyber citizens from around the globe. Each project sets a minimum required budget and posts what might be called a “business plan” which includes project related incentives promised each backer according to the financial pledge made.  Individuals can make small donations, most have a minimum of $1, or people can make substantial donations and become more directly involved in the project.  This site allows new business ideas a to flourish or parish based on their ability to convince other people on the Internet of the value of their idea and the utility of the project.

Hearing about the site reminded me of how growing up during the birth of the digital age my generation received innumerable speeches about how we would all be working in “jobs that the yet to be created.”  In my previous blog post, I wrote about the frustration felt by many in my generation about the failure of this promise to manifest immediately upon graduating from college and how in my opinion the occupied movement is a manifestation of my generation’s frustration at this failure and what is even many of the failure of the capital system.  My immediate response to hearing about Kickstarter was that this was the perfect springboard for all of those promised “jobs that have yet to be created” that I generation grew up expecting to make into their careers.

If the occupy movement is a global declaration of the “problem,” then the idea behind kickstarter is the solution.  Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the specific website is the only solution.  However, the same way that eBay and its partner PayPal revolutionized online sales, kickstarter’s application of Kiva’s microloans system to creative projects offers creative individuals a means of turning cyber capital into the financial backing necessary for taking projects from imagination to innovation.  In this, I see the paradigm shift which might be categorized as being post-capitalist.  the paradigm shift being generated by the cyber market is not Marxist or Socialist because individuals and companies are definitely capable of making substantial profits. However, the global reality of cyberspace has left governments struggling to keep legislation up to date as evidenced by the recent attempts in the United States (SOPA, PIPA) and the international treaty (ACTA) to legislate against piracy.  Cyberspace has its own morality and self-governing mechanisms which it seems only “digital natives” understand.  cyber capital is intrinsically linked to the ability of a the website, idea, video, picture, or phrase to “go viral.”  going viral can have either a positive or negative impact through the equivalent of the social sanctions of honor and shame. While many people tend to dismiss things happening online as “not real,” viral honor and viral shame can have extremely real world implications.  In the United States, News/Media outlets and general public were focused to acknowledge the “real world” implications of cyber events during the chain reaction of cyber-bullying leading to suicides which led to the It Gets Better movement and the passing of cyber-bullying laws.  But there are other concrete examples such as the temporary stock crash of AT&T, KONY2012, Clint McCance, even the importance of the youth vote and Obama Girl to Obama’s election.

While that guy from the KONY 2012 video miscalculated when saying, “there are more people on facebook today, than were on the planet 200 years ago” that doesn’t mean powerful idea he was trying to monoplize on was incorrect.   The human race is infinitely more connected today despite our ever growing population recently hitting 7 Billion.  Digital communication is so much faster, and frequently more reliable, than the News.  This has actually led to the News reporting about what is being said and done online.  However, the importance of cyberspace, digital communication, and social networking can no longer be ignored or dismissed as a passing childhood phase.  Cyber capital generated by viral honor and viral shame shapes our lives in very real ways.  As more and more people are finding ways to “make a living” in cyberspace this is one subsistence pattern which can no longer be ignored.   This paradigm shifting subsistence pattern is post-capitalism or at the very least post-neoliberalism.  In honor of its importance to the digital age and the because its value system is one of the core cultural value of cyberspace, I suggest we call this new way of getting things done OpenSource-Capitalism.  After all people are still making money… eventually, but this isn’t your father’s capitalism.

Belief

(As explained in my previous post this is a section of a my paper I’m writing for class–but I’m intending it to be a very rough unedited write-up)

Folklorist Marilyn Motz defines “belief as a process of knowing that is not subject to verification or measurement by experimental means within the framework of a modern Western scientific paradigm” (Motz 1998: 340).  The anthropology of religion at the most basic level is the anthropological study of what humans believe and how those beliefs shape their perceptions, behaviors and social realities.  Belief is central to the study of religion, but belief and belief systems goes beyond Western, and even anthropological, definitions of religion.

Jean Pouillon, a French ethnologist, writes the verb “croire ‘to believe’ is a paradoxical in that it expresses doubt as well as assurance” (Pouillon 2008: 91).  Pouillon defines belief as faith or confidence in one’s conviction that an expected outcome will result from a behavior, social action, or relationship.  While this can be extended to religion, Pouillon demonstrates that belief can just as easily be discussed in regard to something such as “economic obligation” (Pouillon 2008: 92).  When it comes to understanding belief’s ability to influence a person’s well-being, the full scope of the individual’s beliefs must be taken into consideration.  When it comes to a person’s recovery, it is not only the patient’s beliefs but also the beliefs of the patient’s family, healer, and the larger community.

In chapter, “The Sorcerer and His Magic”, Claude Leví-Strauss argues that belief is vital to both the beneficial and harmful psycho-physiological effects of spells, sacred rites, and cruses (Levi-Strauss 2010: 125).  Leví-Strauss presents three levels of belief that are paramount to understanding the power belief has to affect people.  He writes, “…the efficacy of magic implies a belief to magic.  The latter has three complementary aspects: first, the sorcerer’s belief in the effectiveness of his techniques; second, the patient’s or victim’s belief in the sorcerer’s power; and, finally, the faith and expectations of the group, within which the relationship between sorcerer and bewitched is located and defined” (Leví-Strauss 2010: 125).  Writing in 1915, Emile Durkheim described the study of belief as searching  “…  underneath the symbol to the reality which it represents and which gives it its meaning” (Durkheim 1964: Location 48).  These three layers of belief transform symbolic knowledge rooted in core cultural values, a belief system’s cosmology, and communitas into a powerful psycho-physiological effects.

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