Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Embodying Other Bodies -

"...the body is simultaneously a physical and symbolic artifact,...both naturally and culturally produced, and...securely anchored in a particular historical moment...[Yet] we take scientific discourse about human biology to be not simply a narrative but a universal truth...we assume that it applies anywhere and anytime and transcends time   and place"
Fabien Gautier de Agoty
Margaret Lock 1995 Encounters with Ageing: mythologies of menopause in Japan and N. America

I have always relied on the above quote to challenge the notion of taking scientific knowledge from one specific, politically dominant culture and applying it as "fact" in a global context to every human being on the planet. It becomes particularly useful when trying to think of ways to structure arguments against the idea of health and social policy universalism, such as that touted by the World Health Organisation. Over the last few years I have devoted so much thinking  and writing time to this argument that I am comfortably in a place where I can believe scientific (or in fact any) knowledge is firmly rooted in the place, space and time where it was first thought up, and in that way generally also only applies to that very place, space and time.

Whilst I have found it so easy to throw this argument at anything that annoys me, makes me feel uncomfortable, or that has a relevance I wish to negate, I have committed the grave mistake of not applying it to my own arguments.

At the end of the day if I say it applies to everything, then it must include the knowledge I produce and the lens through which I choose to view the world. In other, more simple words - I can only ever understand the world around me through the way that I have been conditioned to do so by the place and time that I have existed and exist in. It is only now that I can comprehend how wrong I have been in the past to declare what I think is wrong. The world cannot be reduced into what is wrong and what is right, no matter how uncomfortable that can feel. 

I am finally beginning to come to terms with the objective in what is a deeply subjective research topic. Being objective has nothing to do with the denial of emotional intellect - it just means that it should never be taken for granted as the truth  of the situation. When carrying out research with human subjects, about an embodied and personal experience, as a researcher I cannot become detached from the process of which I am part of. I must examine my subjective involvement and the affect this will have on how the data is interpreted. In regards to my current method of collecting narratives in order to analyse unconscious thought and action, I am constantly reminded of a comment I heard this year in a seminar I attended. A thoughtful and and dare I say wise, anti-psychologist (Dr Ian Parker) brought forward the argument that the unconscious should not be thought of as something pre-existing inside someone's head, that can be extracted at any time by a psychoanalyst or budding researcher. Rather, the unconscious is something that is constructed between two people via the dialogue they have - a contribution is made by more than one person to create an unconsciousness specific to a certain time and place. The subjectivity of the researcher, who sets the storytelling in motion, has a major to part to play in the creation of the unconscious thread behind the story that gets told. In this way, the researcher becomes part of the narrative and becomes further invested in the interpretation of it. This helps greatly when dealing with the tricky question of what or whose truth the narrative contains, and even more importantly in terms of research data - what relation it has to (if any) to the world at large.

In trying to form an academic and moral argument that medical knowledge, situated in a specific culture and period, is inappropriately placed upon a another culture, time, place, environment etc. I have to come to terms with the fact that my own argument can only ever be a narrative, a possible version of a truth as well - and so equally as untrustworthy as the knowledge I am arguing against in the first place. What I observe is only ever true in the moment that it happens, after that it only becomes my narrative - a version of a possible truth, and therefore something that can be later questioned by someone else.

Edvard munch: Weeping Nude
As long as I remember that.... then everything should be just fine! 

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