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Sunday, April 8, 2018

My Apprenticeship: Return from the field and changes in the Discipline

This blog shows two PowerPoint slides that move to the last Chapter of the book My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey. The last Chapter was published previously in Ethnos (1996).

Importantly, the last Chapter includes later research conducted in southern Africa, the southeastern US, western Canada, parts of Germany and Britain. In South Africa itself, both my husband Irving Hexham and I did field work and life history interviews among charismatic Christians and among selected popular writers who were Afrikaans and English speaking. As well, we conducted archival research in the Berlin Mission for four months in 1995. In South Africa, specifically in 1986, 1987, 1989, we did field work for four months each year.

My approach to research became historical and global because of my reflection on my first long field work in Zambia as described in this book.

The two slides show that while I was deeply involved in my first fieldwork and the initial publishing of my findings, the discipline of anthropology changed. Some leading scholars asserted that “a new ideology was born.” I experienced a rude awakening.

The slide Return from field and Changes in the Discipline” shows how Anthropology changed primarily, but not solely, as a response to two significant, if also flawed, works – for example, that of Edward Said and of Derek Freeman. Just as I started to publish, it seemed as if Anthropology had made a 360 degree turn from an emphasis on participant-observation and experiential knowledge to text-making rhetoric and experimental writing. Like it or not, I had to address this change.

The exercise led to many new insights of which the slide “An Example of Metonym as observed among Charismatic Christians” is but one example. It all has to do with how language is used to convey the reality of the believer’s experience to themselves and the listening anthropologist. Although believers were not themselves aware of it, they used certain figures of speech like metonym, for example, to interpret the happening of “resting in the spirit.” Examine the slide carefully, or go to the book, or go back and forth between the two and you will begin to understand what makes some religious happenings real to those who experience them in specific contexts.

Slide 1  
Slide 2

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

My Apprenticeship, Mental Geography, Researcher as System, and Questions

Below are some diagrams that show the relationship between researcher, childhood memories and environment. The first diagram schematizes the Mental Geography of the Researcher. Only those childhood experiences of WWII and the Early Post-War years are shown that erupted during my first fieldwork in the Lenda valley of Zambia. It should be noted that during the years of assimilation to, and graduate education in, Canada and the United States, personal memories were dormant. I was made aware, however, that Germany was responsible for the Holocaust. The latter was not a personal experience; rather, the experience was one of having been made aware of it as a teenager and young adult in Canada and the United States. The book shows how all this plays into the research.

The row below indicates that Personal Memories Erupted first in Zambia at specific times and on seeing Lenda nature, local makeshift dwellings, experiencing close relationships, during border crossings, and on observing the decadence in the southern part of the region. How all this happened is of course the story of the book. Clearly, these memories generated biases, but in the sense of both positive and negative ones. It is a topic that is picked up again, along with others, in the Concluding Chapter of the book.

The next Diagram sketches the Researcher as System always in relationship with the Environment. The latter consists of the research environment in Zambia, or what I called the Lenda valley and, through correspondence, that of North America. The researcher as system consists of the person doing the research and, while she is doing science, heeding what is happening inside of her. The latter involves, of course, the use of faculties other than, and in addition to, reason, for example, feeling, intuition, the imagination, and so on. The reverse arrow is there to remind ourselves that all these interactions during the research process have consequences, usually unanticipated ones, and involve risk. Doing field work is a highly dynamic set of activities and communications. The book does not analyze these so much as show them.

PowerPoint Slides as guides to the book: My Apprenticeship



Monday, March 12, 2018

Three Kinds of Empathy

Three Kinds of Empathy

Although unintended, in My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey (2018) I highlight the struggle between two antithetical personae: (1) the female refugee scholar, a figure with a WW II past and the consequent vulnerabilities, biases, individualism, changing perceptions, moments of despair but also what locals call her courage and energy, and (2) the thorough researcher, objective, empirical, and disciplined. It is this struggle that sharpened my sensitivities both to the people I researched and to my inner life. It also made me rethink the meaning of empathy.

Here I want to review Lipps’ three kinds of empathy. We have all experienced them. What is interesting is that one can experience each kind of empathy positively or negatively.

(1) Empirical empathy occurs when sounds of natural objects remind us of, for example, “howling” or “groaning.” They can result in such metaphorical descriptions as “howling storm,” “groaning trees,” which call forth similar feelings in the experiencing self and other. Note the involvement of memory in matters of empathy.17 One person, however, may experience “groaning trees” positively, the other negatively. The reminder becomes more powerful, that is metonymic, when it is experienced as, for example, the “groaning of all creation” or “the groaning” of the spirit, as charismatic Christians in Africa and elsewhere might say.

(2) Mood empathy occurs, for example, when color, music, art, conversation, and so on, call forth similar feelings or moods in the researcher and researched. Thus, I experienced Herero tunes as haunting, melancholy, and overall sad, which is what the Herero showed and said they felt (Poewe 1985). It increased my understanding of their culture, centered as it was on defeat and death, although it also distanced me personally from them.

(3) Empathy for the sensible (in the sense of perceptible) appearance of living beings occurs when we take other people’s gestures, tones of voice, and other characteristics as symptomatic of their inner life (Malinowski 1967). We can talk about “appearance empathy” when we recognize, as in a flash, by a gesture, or something external, the other’s inner life; when we know that it could be, but need not be, part of our inner life. For example, this kind of empathy led to a real breakthrough in my understanding of the Herero. It struck me that their dress made a statement simultaneously about their superiority, sense of failure, and self-protection. This was confirmed by subsequent research and discussions with Herero women.

Note, while my apprenticeship book is specifically about my first research in Zambia, in the conclusion especially, I refer to subsequent research of Charismatic Christians and the Herero of Namibia.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

What is Empathy?

What is Empathy?

Image result for symbols for empathy

The story of ethnography is like the story of Adam and Eve. We bit into the textual apple of the tree of the knowledge of experience and rhetoric, and now there is no going back…

Broadly speaking, empathy is the ability to share in another’s emotions and feelings. It is not, however, as it tends to be defined in Webster’s dictionary, a matter of projecting one’s own personality into the personality of another to understand him or her better. More frequently, the reverse is the case. Empathy has to do with the projection, in the sense of impact, of the other’s personality and culture on one’s own. The other’s personality and culture create a happening in the open-minded or receptive researcher that requires thoughtful exploration

The meaning of empathy is in fact more complex than that given above. It is also more than the expectation that the anthropologist be “an unmitigated nice guy” with “extraordinary sensibility, an almost preternatural capacity to think, feel and perceive like a native,” as Geertz would have it (1983:56). And while I would contend that field work is a journey of discovery, it is not quite the quest story as satirized and dismissed by Geertz (1988:44–45). Let us look at empathy more closely.

According to T. Lipps (1851–1914), empathy assumes a common humanity. This assumption is quite the opposite of that of reflexivity which depends on cultural differences and distance (even when none exist or are of minor importance) and is concerned with intersubjective meaning.

Empathetic researchers can experience themselves, in some manner, in the other’s experiences and vice versa. As I converse or interact with the other, the other and/or I will recognize things in accord with our respective inclinations and needs.

It is not the case, as is often assumed, that experiencing oneself in the other’s experiences and vice versa makes for identity. Nor is it the case that the experience is necessarily positive to be empathetic. 

Lipps distinguished between positive empathy or pleasure and negative empathy or pain. Positive empathy refers to agreement between the stimulus derived from interaction with the other and one’s inner activity. Negative empathy occurs when the suggestions implied in the interaction conflict with one’s inner self. “Inner activity” or “inner self” refer to the complex activity which involves thought, feeling, intuition, sensation, imagination, and suspected or unsuspected attitudes. In other words, we use all human faculties to make sense of other (and self) and then translate these into written, oral, or visual media—if that is what we want to do.

[Reference: Poewe 2018: 304-307]

Next post is about three kinds of empathy