In my previous post, I was thinking aloud on the best practice (s) for ethnographic research. I do not have a clear answer yet, but the methodology I have adopted for my field work is proving to be a balanced approach between the emic and etic perspectives.
1. The common voice: I attempt incorporating a wider cross-section of the society for the inputs on sacred geography along the west coast of India. I found small talk at tea-shops to be a great starting point. Since I am a female, approaching another female to inquire about the local temples and festivals fares well. That said, I experience a lack of access to other females in the village. Men, on the other hand, offer to meet with other males in the village for further discussion. Rather than going by the book, this casual approach of breaking ice to talk to potential volunteer participants has been working well.
2. Decolonizing perspective in ethnographic interviews has been the most challenging. The remnants of age-old hierarchial societal structure strongly influence the narratives today. A few people I first contacted in the villages of Konkan along the west coast of India happened to be (and I was unaware of) the “khot” or landlords under the Btritish Raj. British have long gone, but the aura of “khoti” system illuminates the social relationship in these villages even to this day. I was greeted as the guest of the “khot” and almost all the narartives I gathered from the village were a crude regergation of the khot’s account. Some respondents would give up their claim on their narartives by saying “khot mhantil tase” (as the khot says/believes in). The skewed equation of power came to fore as I walked village to village in the hope to gather what os unsaid or undocumented. Maybe, my approach is erroneous. I can modulate my approach to look at the common narartives and uncover the narartives that are unspoken. This, however, poses a grave risk: putting my words in respondents’ mouth.
3. Educational activities as a means to communicate with school children, on the other hand, provided a much refreshing change from the cyclonic movements of regional narartives. What is my reserach goal, why are the narratives important and why am I doing all this in teh first place – has been a great segue into taking in responses from school children. The school children know their area, society and local culture the best. Loacl etiqette, manner of being with a sliver of history or local lore was my approach to inform myself of the social skein in Konkan villages.
As a part of educational activity, I took the initiative to discuss local political history of Konkan in teh manner of storytelling to students aged 10-15 years in teh local schools. I specifically chose to approach the local government-run schools to get a better sense of the demographic in each village. Let us see where this exercise in communication takes me!
The memoirs of the British officers from various parts of India had a striking similarity: a schoolmaster as their primary respondent. In many cases, the schools have functioned as the powerhouses of local knowledge that is approachable to teh public, or an outsider. I have altered my way, but have opted for something that has been tried and trusted through ages. As a cautionary warning, I must say that I have been very careful not to overstep or to altrer any narrative that is narratied to me. It is not my place to evaluate!
With this, I continue recording several unchartered voices that someday will help stitch a rich tapestery of lore and history.