Documenting the Human Conditions: Some Methodological Challenges to Traditional Research Paradigms

Dr. Suzanne E. Goopy,
David Lloyd
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The multidimensional complexities surrounding the human condition cannot be understood or represented through the singularly dimensional research methods that have evolved from, or as a reaction to, scientific frameworks. The new ethnographic methodology that acknowledges the subjectivity inherent in humans studying humans and embraces interdisciplinarity has created exciting possibilities for researchers investigating the human condition. This paper looks at the tensions, conflicts and successes experienced when two researchers from ostensibly different modes of inquiry – ethnography and visual arts - combined to inquire, create and represent knowledge about an aspect of the human condition.

Within qualitative research visual arts has found ready acceptance as a data collection tool but has been viewed with skepticism as to it ability to create and represent (ethnographic) knowledge. In the 1990s postmodern theorists challenged many of the research orthodoxies and a new ethnography emerged endorsing the experience of the researcher and their subjects and contested the dominance held by the scientific-realist school in the study of the human condition. Ethnographic knowledge became the informed response of the researcher to the phenomenon experienced. Ethically, the researcher was bound to be as honest as possible in interpreting their response to their experience and so mirror the complexities of their interaction with their subjects. As acknowledging and conveying the experience of the researcher was pivotal to this new ethnography, theorists looked for communicative media that could interrogate and convey experiential knowledge. Photography, video and electronic media became increasingly incorporated into this discipline.

Using a pilot study investigating quality of life notions for older ltalo-Australians, a 'traditional ethnographer' has combined with a (photo) documentist and developed a research method that they argue is suitable for comprehending, interpreting and representing social relations within a cultural context. The paper presents a detailed description of their study along with a diarist's view of their struggle to shift outside their own orthodoxies and find agreement on an approach to the study of the human condition.

Keywords: Ethnography, Human Condition, Knowledge, Photography, Visual Arts, Ways of Knowing
Stream: Knowledge
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Documenting the Human Condition in Everyday Culture

Dr. Suzanne E. Goopy

Lecturer, RCCPI Health Group, Griffith University

Suzanne Goopy is a lecturer at Griffith University. She has degrees from Griffith University with majors in Italian studies, cultural studies, and anthropology. Her PhD from Griffith University was supervised by David Moss (Chair Anthropology, University of Milan). She has been on the editorial board of Professioni Infermieristiche. Suzanne was born in Brisbane, Australia, which is of great significance to her as the place in which she finds solace - especially during its long, temperate winter months – with her husband and 2 year old son. Her CV lists several hobbies and interests, including browsing in bookshops and record stores, visiting art galleries and museums, going to the cinema, and visiting the local farmer's market where she selects fresh produce to assist with her sporadic transformations into a "domestic goddess". She also enjoys gadding about on her not-so-authentic motorino – which she hopes to replace one day with the "real thing". Suzanne's research interests are: visual cultural anthropology; ritual, health, knowledge and the human condition; cognitive and affective ways of knowing. She is currently working with a (photo) documentist on a funded project that examines quality of life notions for older ltalo-Australians, through the collaborative development of a research method that they argue is suitable for comprehending, interpreting and representing social relations within a cultural context. This project examines topics such as: affective and cognitive knowing; the place of secular ritual in understanding the human condition; the place of culture in understanding health beliefs, perceptions and quality of life. Previous research includes projects and publications in the area of health ethnography, including her PhD project based in a hospital in Rome; and the role of literature in education and self-harm. Her expertise in the area of qualitative research – ethnography – has been recently recognised in her visiting research fellowship in Japan (JSPS Fellowship) in late 2003.

David Lloyd

Lecturer, School of Photography Queensland College Of Art, Griffith University

I am a lecturer with the Department of Photography at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, specialising in the fields of photojournalism and social documentary. My recent projects borrow heavily from the practices inherent in visual ethnography and include hospice and palliative care (Lloyd, Passing Time, 2000), documenting a small regional community outside of Brisbane (Something about Us, Logan Art Gallery, 2001) and, currently, working on a project looking into substance misuse in the Mt Isa district. Prior to this, I worked in conflict zones documenting crisis areas such as Somalia, Bosnia and Malawi. Specifically, I investigated the rituals involved in normalising the lives of those people involved in ongoing conflict. Working collaboratively with my partner Angela Blakely, we were commissioned by the History Section of the Australian Army to investigate and document Australia's involvement in the Rwanda crisis (Fry, Gavin Rwanda: The Australian Contingent (1994-95) and the World Health Organisation (Euro office) to document health care issues in the former USSR (Images that Speak, Denmark, 1996).

Ref: H05P0515