In Which the Author Does Some MORE Fieldwork

I attended another Mind Body ‘Soul’ Fair this weekend in Peterborough and did the same freelisting exercise as in my last fieldwork post.  Here are some of my thoughts and initial findings from this work:

1. This event was held in a conference hall on a showground and was a good ten to fifteen minutes taxi ride from the station, unlike the Kings Lynn event where the Corn Exchange was in the centre of town. This was bound to mean that less casual footfall could be expected, but that the people who made their way to this event were much more intentional and interested in the topic than casual shoppers or gawkers.  Talking to the stall holders the previous day, the Saturday, had been quieter, but the day I went, Sunday, did not seem as busy as the one day Fayre in Kings Lynn.

Interestingly the marketing called it a Mind Body Soul Event, and I am more used to seeing Mind Body and Spirit. As Spiritual is one of my terms on my freelisting leaflet I was particularly interested to see what words came out of that section.  One person I spoke to said that they were considering taking Spiritual off of their branding for their therapies.  That’s just one anecdote and hardly indicative of a general change in attitude but something of interest.

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2.  Again at this fair there was a mix of stalls, both those selling items and those selling treatments or readings.  There was very little privacy for the latter, and I had to make sure I wasnt interupting a client when I approached the stall holder with my freelisting leaflet.  Only one reader, a tarot reader, had an enclosed curtained off space.  I chose stallholders again as they were relatively stationary and I prefered leaving the leaflet with them to fill out rather than standing over them.  There were about 40 stalls and some of those I recognised from Kings Lynn.  In  total I got 19 returned leaflets, slightly less than at Kings Lynn.  But my method of approach was quite chatty and time consuming so I didnt expect to hand out many.  Doing this also meant that I had a chance to make new contacts and I have two possible interviewees lined up.

3.  Like Kings Lynn the stallholders and visitors were primarily white.  There was one black stallholder selling Egyptian items such as Ankhs, bookmarks, statues and oils, two Indian stallholders jointly representing the Brahma Kumaris and another Asian looking gentleman offering massage and reiki treatments.

4. As for my word results… I got more words in response to the words “Indigo Children” this time round, though again some were not specific to the category and might have been guesses, e.g. Blue, Purple, Heart, Soul.  Several people asked me what they were.  Some answers made it clear that the writer HAD heard of them before: autism, disabled, pioneers, or the very specific “More evolved children coming into incarnation to deal with the new age”.  When it came to the words “New Age”, there were some very negative responses again:  losers, slackers, misfits, hippies, needy, sloppy and fluffy.  The worst being “smells”.  The most popular response was again Hippy/Hippies. The 1960s and travellers popped up again.  It is definitely worth bearing in mind this reaction to the term New Age as I will still probably have to use it in my descriptions of the milieu I am looking at.

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Under Parenting, the word Love stormed home with by far the most responses.  But interestingly, again, words around hard work and duty appeared frequently as well as teaching and guiding.

Under Spiritual the word ‘Higher’ appeared in conjunction with other words, as in Higher Good, Higher Consciousness, Higher Power, Higher Self, suggesting a location for the spiritual at least in a metaphorical sense.  My favourite response to Spiritual was “Me ;)”

5. Someone suggested I look at the order in which the words were written down, but I cant guarantee that people followed the numbering I put on my leaflets.  But, assuming that people write left to right, I might collate all the words in the first position as they should be people most immediate responses to the terms. 

This was another very useful exercise even if my sampling is quite small.  I hope to run it another couple of times depending on what fairs I can get to. 

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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!

To-Do-List no. 25367…

A slightly short day and week again this week as I have a graduation to go to (well done little Sis!).  But here’s the highlights of what I want to get done this week…

  1. MORE interviews… organising and doing.  I am really worried I am not getting enough interviewing done.  It seems to be at least a couple of weeks of too-ing and fro-ing via e-mail before I actually get someone in place and I really need to have more done by the end of this year.  40 plus if my supervisor is right….
  2. Finish reading and notes for the papers for the BASR/EASR conference, start planning them! Major task as most of August I have no childcare and the conference is at the beginning of Sept!
  3. I’m planning on attending some of the Cambridge timed writing groups and working more on my journal article that stalled prior to the writing school. 
  4. Read Brasher.  I’m being put off by the ‘cyberspace-y’ pictures in the book, but I’m sure she’s got something good to say….

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I love Excel… no seriously

This morning I am updating my makeshift database of contacts.  At the moment I am in (ir)regular contact with almost 60 possible interviewees with various pseudonyms, skype aliases, and e-mail names – who live all around the world.  I’m organising face to face interviews, skype interviews with time differences, e-mail conversations, and sending out surveys.  And then on top of that I have 33 online sources I want to refer to (oops, still need to add a list of online blogs… add that to the to do list!).

Without an excel spreadsheet I simply wouldnt be able to keep up to date! I did wonder how ethnographers did this before programmes and even digital notebooks existed.  But then I realised that mosts ethnographers lived in their villages.  I am trying to live ‘in’ a global village that is really a network of often anonymous individuals ideologically bound beyond time and space.  I’ve really given myself a difficult job but I wouldnt have it any other way 🙂

Although, studying a village somewhere sunny does have its appeal when the Cambridge rains keep on pouring!

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Looking back… Fieldwork Interviews and Noisy Neighbours

While the tiny Tazmanian Devil I live with sleeps I’ve just been quickly uploading the last interview I did to a safer location than my dictaphone.

One theme I notice with my interviews so far (a massive 5 done already! ummm… only another 35 to do according to my supervisor) is location.  Noisy coffee shops with inquisitive neighbours might not be all that ideal.

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However, its interesting to me that in considering the location for the Skype interviews I am scheduling I am very concerned about who will be able to overhear us… my husband at home, other grads at my college, should I book a private room at college, at my faculty? And yet I have a much more laissez-faire attitude to members of the public sharing our air-space.

I think its in part that I am feeding off of my interviewees’ attitudes.  They really dont mind if Joe Bloggs hears them discussing the 5th Dimensional protection that they recently received from Archangel Michael.  Because for many of them, they want others to know about the world changes, or the Ascension as some of them call it, that is taking place as we ALL start to operate at a higher vibrational frequency.  So while I might plan my Skype interviews ahead of time and dictate the space I am in, when its face to face, the space that they are in is mostly influenced by their message.  Something I need to bear in mind in my paper responding to the idea that being spiritual is to be overly individual and non-social in some way.  Everything they do is about spreading out their message, even if their original journey is inwards, inwards to find the authentic self.

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Inspired by Social Media Knowledge Exchange

After attending a two day conference held at CRASSH by the Social Media Knowledge Exchange  on issues and themes around the use of social media by institutions and individual academics, I’ve been inspired to use a blog to write up my PhD diary and to plan out some of things I am working on.  Partly backward looking, partly forward looking, this blog will be of interest (hopefully!) to:

  • Anyone doing a humanities PhD and using digital humanities methods
  • Anyone using social-anthropology/religious studies methods in their research project
  • And anyone who is interested in New Religious Movements, especially those online and using social media to form communities.

For the forward looking parts of the blog, I intend to write at least a post a day with my goals for that day, and another once a week covering what I hope to get done that week.  For the backward looking, I want to write up some of my fieldwork and research notes as I go in order to pull together a PhD diary that might help me when it comes to writing up my thesis.  Fingers Crossed!

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