In Which the Author Does Some Fieldwork…

I went to a ‘Mind Body Spirit Fayre’ on Saturday in Kings Lynn, Norfolk. I’m going to use this space to write up some thoughts and issues with this bit of fieldwork.  This is a bit stream of consciousness-y but bear with me!

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1. This wasnt an ‘Indigo event’ but a more general holistic/New Age/Spiritual fayre.  There were about fifty stalls (or ‘over sixty’ according to the marketing) including trinket-y ones with small angel statues and artwork, crystal stalls, therapist and psychic reader stalls, and remedy stalls selling products based on herbs and new technologies etc (such as a Neal’s Yard stall, an Aloe Vera stall, a waist-loss wrap system etc etc).

2. The stall holders and attendees varied in background, some seemed more middle to upper class, others had tattoos, multiple piercings etc.  Age range was wide, from small children to retirees, and I’d say that the majority of people I spoke to were women. I only saw two black people, a father and a female toddler.  No other ethnic minorities as far as I saw.

3.  I had to take the Toddler with me (the other half was sick) which presented a few issues.  First, I intended to spend much more time at the fayre than I managed to, working around the Toddler’s lunch, nappy changes etc. Second, the Toddler  needed to be set free from his buggy at one point to burn off excess energy after a nap.  This meant I spent a good half an hour to an hour walking fast in laps of the hall following a speedy little human.  I didnt get much fieldwork/survey work done in this time apart from smiling at the people I had already spoken to and bonding with those who had children too.  There were a few children at the fayre but most were older than the Toddler.  Two little girls were handing out business cards for their mother’s crystal business.  I tried to get the Toddler to hand out my free-listing forms (more on this below) but he ran off with the plastic envelope they were in.  When he was tied down he was a pretty good ice-breaker, even when pretending to be shy!

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4.  Free-listing.  I tried a research method I had seen Knut Melvaer and Margrethe Loov talk about during their presentation on fayres in Norway at BASR.  I dont think I did it in quite the same way as I left my forms with people to fill out rather than recording their immediate responses.  I chose four terms and left space for four responses.  These terms were, in this order: New Age, Spiritual, Indigo Children and Parenting.  I made it clear I was a PhD researcher but didnt tell them that Indigo Children are the focus of my thesis until after they had filled in the forms.  I emphasized that they could fill as much or as little as they wanted to/could.  Many admitted that they didnt know what Indigos were and were going to google it, but I had impressed on them that I wanted their immediate responses.

5.  This morning I systematised the responses I received and I am very interested in the particulars of the responses, and the patterns I can see that a full on statistical breakdown (with 23 responses the sample is too small for any major statistical work!).  So for instance, under New Age I can see that the most common responses are (in descending order): ‘Hippy’, ‘Music’, and then in joint position: ‘1960s’, ‘Alternative’, ‘Futuristic’, ‘Modern’ and ‘Traveller’.  Negative words are also very interesting, with New Age receiving ‘Rubbish’, ‘Silly’ and ‘False’, while parenting was dominated by words around ‘hard work’ such as ‘Tough’, ‘Stress’ and ‘Regret’.  The term New Age is not particularly liked by what academics refer to AS the New Age Movement!

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6. I received the least responses for ‘Indigo Children’, and many of the responses were more like impressions of the term (‘Blue’, ‘Moon’, ‘Colour’) and suggest that the respondents arent all that familiar with the term.  Certainly many of them said as much when they handed the forms back and I really had to emphasis it wasnt a test with right or wrong answers! This supports (to a small degre given the sample size!) my impression that the Indigo Child phenomena is more widespread online than offline where it is so geographically widespread that it hasnt as yet made a large impression on the New Age Movement.  It was really useful to speak with people from the general holistic milieu to get this perspective: just talking to Indigos could give the impression that its a paradigm shifting idea that is overwhelming held by many.

6.  Some of the responses were hard to read due to spelling errors or handwriting, and I am tempted to speculate on educational background, but I dont have biographical evidence for that.

In all I am pretty pleased with how things went and I am planning to go to another fayre this Saturday/Sunday where I will repeat these research methods… but hopefully leave the toddler at home!

7 comments

  1. Cool stuff Beth! If you’re going a bit down the free-listing/cultural domain route, it would be interesting to sort of map whether the concept/idea behind “indigo children” may be more prevalent. Even though the designation “indigo children” doesn’t seem to be as widespread (at least, to extent that we can infer from your sample), I would think that people have heard about children with special powers or the like. Or maybe you investiage related terms such as “crystal children”, or “star children” (I got those from the eternal source of absolute thruth, wikipedia).

    Some questions though: How did people react to the task? Were they confused? Did they find it weird, strange, fun, interesting? App. how many declined of those you asked? And did in what ways did you find it useful (if you in fact did so)?

    1. Hi Knut! Those are some really good points – I did suspect however that if they didnt recognise ‘Indigo’ that they would suggest other ‘XXXX’ children forms instead as they are similar. I think they might have heard of/or assume that there are ‘psychic children’ but arent aware of it as a networked community. Most likely they ARE more aware of the intuitions of their own children. I thought that might come out under parenting, but its not clear. The responses are more about the demands of parenting.

      People were generally happy to answer. I only had one paper not handed back because of time restrictions, but there was an option to email them to me. A lot were worried they might give the ‘wrong’ answer: one daughter was cribbing off of her mum!

      I think its a really useful source of content to dissect. For generalisations I’m not so sure given how many people I could get doing it.

      Beth

      1. While I find the methodological literature a bit vague when it comes to sampling and sample size with regards to freelisting/elicitation techniques, but they usually agree that app. 30 responses seems to be enough. But it has less to do with statistical principles, and more to do with the point where you don’t get new words/associations added to the list. If you just want to have sort of an generalized map of the possible connotations in a given population, that’s the point where you have enough.

        If you want to generalize about concept’s saliency and/or the propotions/frequences of particular words/associations within these lists, you’ll have to employ the usual battery of statistical methods. The most important being random selection (which is sort of hard to do in a field setting) and sample size (which is easier, especially if your population is Fayre attendees).

        The stats set aside, what intrigues me is that the method is relatively easy to do, and gives you a general impression of how a category “works” within a group, which again gives rice to questions or perspectives I hadn’t thought of myself. It’s also quite useful in a teaching situation. (I once asked a group of 80+ students at the intro-course to each write down the first word they thought of when hearing “religion” and filled a whole black board with the answers. But as you may expect, some words were way more prevalent (“God”, “Belief”, “Church” etc).

      2. Yes, I think the impressions and the arising questions were the most useful part of using this methodology for me. Seeing unexpected words or seeing people’s attempts to understand the Indigo Children with no knowledge apart from those two words were particularly interesting. Thanks for inspiring me! Beth

  2. Margrethe Løøv · · Reply

    How fun to see that you also got something out of free-listing! I hadn’t heard about it until Knut introduced me to the method, but it is a quite efficient way of mapping out the meanings of concepts – which also can tell a lot about how different domains are related socially (in this case Indigo Children and a more general New Age milieu). Just a short question: did you get the impression that people were affected by what they had seen and experienced at the fair? We tried to get people to respond before they entered in order to avoid that, but I doubt whether that had any significant impact on the results. It is not obvious that people make the connection between the concepts and their surroundings (although we admittedly did!)… -Margrethe

    1. Hi Margrethe 🙂

      I did things a little differently to you and targetted stall holders as I wanted to leave the papers with them to fill out and they were easier to find again. And since I was mostly interested in their response to the Indigo Child part and I was fairly confident there wouldnt be anything specific to that there, I didnt think the fayre would affect their answers. Its a sort of made up on the fly method (mine) but I got some interesting answers. Trying it again at another fayre on Sunday hopefully. B

  3. Margrethe Løøv · · Reply

    Ok, good line of reasoning! Will be interesting to see if you detect any significant differences between different fairs/fayres. 🙂

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