Saturday, November 25, 2006

interview 1

I've just done my first interview, and it went really well, except I think I asked a leading question at one point, though it's difficult when it's someone you know and they said something fabulous in the past that you want them to reiterate for the interview.

Anyway I think I identified about 7 different discourses in one interview, so it was very richly-nuanced.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

further reading

contamination of data?

For anyone who is wondering whether me posting my reflective research diary on a blog will skew my data, I am pretty sure that it won't, because none of the five interviewees I have chosen actually reads my blogs, and this blog is not publicised anywhere (though it can be found via my Blogger profile). If I was going to interview a lot more people on this topic, I'd probably put this on Livejournal and restrict it to a smaller audience.

Once people have been interviewed, I may well direct them to this blog if they express an interest in finding out more about the subject of the research.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pagan perspectives

Pagan perspectives on the ancient dead vary according to a number of things:
  • interest in archaeology: many Pagans are interested in archaeology and value the insights into our ancestors that it offers. Indeed, many Pagans were interested in archaeology before they started out on their spiritual path, and it may have been what inspired them in the first place.
  • emphasis on timelessness: those who advocate reburial across the board don't seem very interested in history, stories and remembering the dead. They seem to regard the ancestors as a part of the landscape, not as individuals. Their discourse is also characterised by an essentialist view of tradition - the "it's always been this way" school of thought largely derived from early 20th-century folklore studies.
  • emphasis on memory and stories: those who are interested in remembering the ancient dead and connecting with their culture (including Emma Restall Orr, whose position seems to have become more complex and nuanced) want to see respect at the centre of the agenda for handling the ancient dead, and acknowledge that this means different things to different people and in different cases and contexts.
  • beliefs about the soul: those who are more inclined towards animism will tend to see the bones of the ancient dead as still containing spirit in some form. Those who are more inclined towards dualism will tend to see bones as inert matter.
  • degree of holism: the more holistically inclined will tend to see landscape, community and ancestors as aspects of an organic whole; those who are more inclusionally inclined will see these as intertwined but distinct domains.

respect conference

On Friday I attended the Respect for Ancient British Human Remains: Philosophy and Practice conference at Manchester Museum.

It was very interesting, and I got some new angles on the whole issue, including more insight into what makes archaeologists want to excavate (many of them want to reveal the stories of the downtrodden and marginalised, as I thought) and the range of alternatives being proposed by HAD (Honouring the Ancient Dead), which are very sensible and practical. There was also a fascinating presentation showing ways in which scientific data from bones can be used, and a wonderful paper from Leicester Museums Service on how they involve all the different communities in Leicester, including Pagans, in their projects. Jenny Blain and Robert Wallis presented an excellent paper pointing out the range of views within Paganisms. Emma Restall Orr's paper was very poetic as well as practical. I really enjoyed the paper by Melanie Giles about bog bodies, which included several quotations from Seamus Heaney's poems about them. All in all a most enjoyable and thought-provoking event. I was hoping to get some interviews for my mini-project, but as the only Pagans there were Emma, Robert, and Jenny, all of whom are massively well-informed on the subject, they don't quite fit the profile of interviewee that I am looking for. Also I am thinking about the possibility of only interviewing witches and Wiccans, since the majority of my sample will be in that category.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


It's so easy to get distracted from writing. This morning I put some clothes in the washing machine, emptied and refilled the dishwasher, read some email and some friends' blogs, and wrote two blog posts (about the Antichrist and pavement poetry) before I started. Probably the secret is to download all the articles you want to cite before you start writing, otherwise the temptation to digress is too great. But that's not really the way my thought processes work; I make a point and only then am I reminded of the article from which I got the idea for it.

I also wrote the previous post just before going to make some lunch. I've just invented a yummy combination: wholemeal tortillas fried in butter, with a topping of mackerel in green peppercorn sauce, and little gem lettuce. Now that was a worthwhile distraction.

qualitative research methods

I'm currently writing an essay on "the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative method in researching contemporary religions and spiritualities". It's really difficult to come up with more strengths than weaknesses. Is this because humans are an inherently moany species, constantly finding fault with everything, including good old qualitative methods? Or is it because the strengths are a general thing and the weaknesses are very specific?

It's also difficult to find citations (especially ones dealing with qualitative methods in the study of religions), because journal articles are normally reporting on what the researchers studied, rather than evaluating the methods used (though they usually say what methods they used, they obviously want to tell you how wonderful they are, not to criticise them).

It's also difficult to review the whole field of qualitative methodology in 1500 words! I need at least 2500 to really get my teeth into an essay topic.