How to understand religious experiences when you have not 'experienced' the experiences? What is the function of emotions in the anthropological research process? Do emotions operate as 'anthropology's taboo'? Or are they key tools in our understanding and openings to our 'informants'? And what are the effects of the emotional appeal of human rights activism on the resulting work?
The new issue of Anthropology Matters - one of the few online journals in anthropology - focuses an very interesting topic: Emotions - both as a state or research method during fieldwork and object of study. Editor Ingie Hovland writes in her introduction:
Emotions are inextricably tied up in our anthropological research and writing-in our apprehensive anticipation of the field, our feelings of helplessness once there, our anger at 'informants', our moments of panic, exuberance or exhaustion, our joy over the development of meaningful relationships and our excitement when we are 'struck' by something, and the despair, resignation or satisfaction that accompany writing up.
Yet these emotions are often dismissed in a number of curious ways: frequently left out of anthropological research methods courses, frequently edited out of ethnographic texts, admonished when they slip into PhD seminars, in general confined to personal fieldnotes, at times turned into jokes or asides, and at other times treated with uncertainty, embarrassment or silence.
How has this state of affairs come about? Is it only due to anthropology's over-reliance on the Western academy and its Enlightenment split between knowing and feeling, turning emotions into the dangerous 'other' of knowledge? Or does it go beyond the question of hierarchies of knowledge and probe into the regulatory regimes of the anthropological community itself, turning emotions into an object of discipline?
As we remember, blogger Antropyton, currently on fieldwork in Nicaragua has been very open concerning her emotions recently.