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Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication Aston University 23-24 September 2010 Journeying across sites: Knowledge building and identity.

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Presentation on theme: "Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication Aston University 23-24 September 2010 Journeying across sites: Knowledge building and identity."— Presentation transcript:

1 Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication Aston University 23-24 September 2010 Journeying across sites: Knowledge building and identity positioning in team ethnography Vally Lytra Goldsmiths University of London vally.lytra@pobox.com

2 BeLiFS Becoming Literate in Faith Settings Centre for Language, Culture and Learning Educational Studies Department Goldsmiths University of London Professor Eve Gregory, Dr John Jessel, Dr Charmian Kenner, Dr Vally Lytra, Mahera Ruby Halimun Choudhury (Bangladeshi Muslim), Arani Ilankuberan, (Tamil Hindu), Amoafi Kwapong (Ghanaian Pentecostal), Malgorzata Woodham (Polish Catholic), Ana Souza & Olga Barradas

3 BeLiFS research questions 1. What is the scope and nature of literacy practices in each faith setting? 2. How do teaching and learning take place during faith literacy activities across different settings? 3. In what ways have faith literacy activities changed over time and in the London setting and how are these changes perceived across generations? 4. How does participation in faith literacies contribute to individual and collective identities? [ESRC: RES-062-23-1613]

4 Aims of presentation 1.What aspects of social action and forms of knowledge and expertise arose through our field narratives as each researcher visited the place of worship of the other faith communities involved? 2.What do the field narratives reveal about the ways we represented ourselves, our co-researchers and the research participants in our very first encounter with the different places of worship?

5 Our team (with our visitor Dinah Volk)

6 Theoretical framework for BeLiFS Literacies as sets of sociocultural practices (eg Barton & Hamilton; Street 2008; Gregory & Williams 2000) Language and literacy learning informed by neo- Vygotskian and socio-cultural theory (eg Vygotsky 1962; Rogoff 2003,; Gregory 2001) Individual and collective identity construction and performance (eg Pavlenko & Blackledge 2004; Blackledge & Creese 2010)

7 Research methodology Collaborative team ethnography (Conteh et al 2005, Creese et al 2008); participatory/intergenerational aspect Phase 1: ethnographic observations in faith settings, religious instruction classes and other faith-related and cultural activities; interviews with faith leader; visits to each others sites. Phase 2: case-studies of four families with child (5-12 yrs) participating in faith literacy activities at home and in faith setting; audio/video-recording of faith literacy events; interviews with family/faith teachers/child Phase 3: children interview older member of community and prepare book together on then and now Phase 4: interviews with children using the books made; preparation of inter-faith event and discussion of project findings with faith leaders Collection of still photography and faith-related artefacts throughout.

8 Team ethnography Importance of collaborative teams in processes of representing plurality of realities (plural gazes, Erickson & Stull, 1998; broadening insights and perspectives, Eisenhart 2001) Awareness of researchers multiple positionings, issues of power between researchers and researched and among researchers (Creese & Blackeldge 2010) Awareness of tensions, struggles, inconsistencies and how and to what extent they shape the research process (Eisenhart 2001)

9 Field narratives New ways of experimenting in writing to allow for more perspectives/voices in accounts (Eisenhart 2001) field narratives (detailed as field notes but also have a strong narrative quality) discussed with group during fortnightly meetings Use of new technologies to share and discuss data on- line (NING) http://belifs.ning.com/group/hindutamil/forum http://belifs.ning.com/group/pentecostalghanaian/forum/topics/vis it-to-ghanian-pentecostal

10 The faith settings Bangladeshi Muslim Mosque Tamil Hindu/Saiva Temple Ghanaian Pentecostal Church Polish Catholic Church multi-functional community-based sites: religious instruction classes, community and liturgical language classes and other cultural activities (music, drama, sports)

11 The four faith settings in London

12 The Polish Catholic chapel and parish hall

13 Polish community school and Polish parish house

14 The East London Mosque

15 London Muslim Centre

16 The Sri Murugan Temple

17 The Church of Pentecost UK

18 Researcher identities Multi-disciplinary, multilingual, multicultural research team complex positioning performances rather than static insider/outsider dichotomy. Acknowledgement that researcher identities are constantly developing and shifting but also that we bring different kinds of privileged knowledge and access to the research process. Necessity to engage in strong reflexivity and turn our gaze towards ourselves (Blackledge & Creese 2010)

19 Researcher visits to the other faith settings Purpose of visits: to familiarize ourselves with each others site. Reflecting and writing up our experiences in the form of field narratives. Starting to make connections across faith sites. Observing and recording ways in which our faith site is unique but also shares common features with other faith settings. Connections infused by our past experiences and knowledge (or lack of) as well as our developing knowledge and new experiences of having visited each others sites for the first time. Theme 1: Our first impressions [excerpts 1-3] Theme 2: The linguistic landscape [excerpts 4-6]

20 Extract 1: From Malgosias visit to the Temple When Arani arrives we decide to walk to the Temple and I have the opportunity to see the residential area around the temple. It is very tightly built up with Victorian terraced houses and Arani points to signs of a Tamil presence: pictures of gods with Tamil writing or Tamil flags in the windows. This reminds me of the plight of Tamil people in Sri Lanka and how hard it must be to live here with the knowledge of all the hardship of people in their country. I guess many Polish people in London during World War II or when the martial law was imposed in 1981 must have had similar emotions. When we get to the temple, I am absolutely amazed. The structure is so imposing and so incongruous with the surroundings that it transports me immediately into a different and exotic world. The cream-colour tower-like structure soars into the sky and looks like a separate temple with beautifully carved out columns, ornaments and mysterious bodies of gods. It rests on a vast, resplendent and similarly imposing bluish grey coloured building also with intricate carvings and ornaments which remind me of patterned delicate lace. (cont.)

21 We apply holy ash and paste on our foreheads and enter the temple. I am surprised. I expect to be overwhelmed by the height of the temple inside, a little like when you enter a Gothic cathedral. In contrast, the ceiling of the temple is flat and modern with fitted lights and although it is high the inner space of the temple is very warm and cosy and centres on its lower parts. The main shrine, Lord Murugans, is located at the heart of the temple and is raised but other, smaller shrines in the walls around are easily accessible. There people place their offerings of fruit such as bananas, coconuts and apples bought from the chief priest. I am struck by the vibrancy of colours in the shrines. The deities in shrines are adorned with shiny, mostly gold and red sumptuous decorations and garments, with glittering jewellery and garlands of fresh flowers, some of them, like white jasmine, flown in especially from India. The vibrant colours and the fact that priests look so different to any priests I have seen, with their bare torsos and colourful tunics transport me straight into India or Sri Lanka. This vibrancy of colours also reminds me of a book I have recently read, where the main character, who emigrates from Sri Lanka to England, comments on how she misses the heat, the strong light and the colours of the country she was born in.

22 Extract 2: From Aranis visit to the Mosque The room allocated for women is located above the mens prayer room and there is a row of arched windows overlooking the main service down below. From where we were sitting I could make out a bit of the inside of the dome which was decorated by a border of green, gold, blue and red Arabic inscriptions – the little bit I did see was very beautiful and I really wanted to see the whole thing as from outside the large dome is the most iconic feature of the Mosque – it reminds me of the gopuram of the Temple which announces its purpose and beauty and the steeple of the Church too: each of the sites of worship have a distinctive feature that enable it to physically and spiritually rise above all the other architecture around. I wonder what the significance of the dome structure is, does it resonate the prayers being recited by the Imam to the congregation, thereby providing a religious echo to the service which adds to the spiritual atmosphere?

23 Extract 3: From Dinahs visit to the Pentecostal Church When we realized that I would get to the church first, Amoafi suggested that I could go into the hall and wait there. When I arrived I realized that that was easier said than done. Here I was, a foreigner, White, not a Christian, and I didnt know anyone – there were a lot of borders to cross in order to enter that hall. I stood for a few minutes outside. People came and went. Some teenagers gathered and talked together. Several women came up to me and asked if I needed anything. I said I was waiting for a friend. One asked, Are you ok? which I wasnt sure how to interpret – though someone asked me that when I visited the mosque too. One man introduced himself and, when I said my name was Dinah, he noted that Dinah (in the Old Testament) was Jacobs daughter. I said I thought she was his sister and we shared a laugh. (Ive always understood that Pentecostals know the Old Testament better than Catholics and other Christians.) Finally I gathered myself and went inside. It was just after 2. Though I knew people would be friendly from my experience with the Pentecostal churches in Cleveland, I was very impressed with everyones hospitality. People checked to see if I needed anything and shook my hand. Someone got me tea (they were just cleaning up a table that had tea on it) and another woman got me a chair. The hall was very noisy with adults and children coming and going, talking.

24 Extract 4: From Halimuns visit to the Temple Many people do their individual prayers around the selected Gods, it is very busy and a lot is going on at the temple, however it is about 12pm when the majority of the people in the temple come together for the communal prayer, we all sit collectively near the Planet Gods (Navagraha). Some sit, while others stand, Arani and I decide to sit, while others stand behind us watching over our heads. I watch the Priest uttering some prayers, the worshippers are unaware of what is being said, it is all based on trust, but they watch the priest carry out the duty with great interest and concentration. At the East London Mosque the Imam leads the prayers in Arabic where many people are unaware of what is being said, nonetheless due to the diversity within the mosque, many understand the language, while others educate themselves to gain a full understanding of the complicated Arabic language.

25 Extract 5: From Aranis visit to the Mosque The payer service (sermon) is also welcoming and inclusive as it is multilingual and so accommodative of all the different languages spoken by its members across its faith. The Imam spoke in Arabic, Bengali and English – the Arabic is understood by the Somali community this is translated into Bengali for the understanding of the Bangladeshi community and is further translated into English for other community members, converts from the English community and young children who are not proficient enough in Bengali to understand. The Imam was giving a sermon about the sacrificial ceremony that takes place during the Eid celebrations. I listen carefully but Im not sure when the Imam speaks in Bengali or Arabic as to my untrained ear they sound very similar – perhaps it is in the religious intonations given to the speech that makes both languages sounds the same? (cont.)

26 It is interesting in that Arabic which is the main language of prayer is actually used and understood by certain communities whereas Sanskrit used in the Temple has become a language reserved for prayer and though this may not have been the case in the past, is not spoken amongst the Hindu people. There are certain Temples in Tamil Nadu that use Tamil exclusively for prayers as they believe Sanskrit to be of an Aryan influence – but no matter which language the Quran is translated into, Arabic never seems to lose its importance as the language of prayer and nor have I heard of any disputes as to the importance of Arabic versus the local language of the community when it comes to religion, though there are certain cultural tensions in certain practices like for example getting a blessing from the Imam by going down to touch his feet; this is actually not allowed in Islamic practice but Halimun informs me that in the Bangladeshi culture it is a practice that honours a knowledgeable and well respected public figure.

27 Extract 6: Amoafis visit to the Polish Catholic Church We entered the church hall just before the service started. I must confess that apart from a Polish rhythm-game that one of my ex-students had taught me several years ago plus what I have gathered from the media about Poland, I am seriously ignorant about both the Polish culture and the Catholic denomination of the Christian religion. Unlike the Pentecostal church to which I am attached, where the Twi language is interspersed with English, everything was conducted in Polish, and I felt like being in a different country.

28 Concluding thoughts The connections we make through our field narratives reveal the different ways we tried to make sense of our first encounter with each others faith setting and its participants: situating the faith setting and the community(ies) in geographical and historical time and space; comparing the architecture and beauty of the site with other faith settings we are more familiar; positioning ourselves in relation to the faith setting by drawing on our past experiences and our co-researchers expertise to start building our relationship with the participants and developing our on-going relationship with our co-researchers.

29 Our developing understanding of the rich repertoire of languages and registers (e.g. the use of primarily one language vs. the use of more than one languages; different position of liturgical languages and how they may have changed over time) Our developing understanding of different literacy traditions (e.g. centrality of a definitive holy scripture or the use of several written sources) and different cultural practices associated with the faith We continuously reflect on our position as researchers gaining access many of us for the first time to a new language(s), a new culture and a new religion.

30 Thank you Vally Lytravally.lytra@pobox.comvally.lytra@pobox.com Eve Gregory e.gregory@gold.ac.uke.gregory@gold.ac.uk Department of Educational Studies Goldsmiths College University of London New Cross London SE14 6NW


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