Factual Conflicts and the Hegemony of Interpretation: Four Narratives and the Anthropologist’s Version
Schlagworte:Facts, conflicts, anthropology of lying, authoritative knowledge, medical anthropology, sociology of knowledge
During ethnographic research on HIV-positive pregnant women in Lesotho, I found myself confronted with conflicting narratives, but what we do know is that MaMeli’s baby passed away the day after she gave birth in the hospital. Trying to reconstruct what had happened, I interviewed the young mother, her mother-in-law, a midwife, and a paediatrician. Their stories differed significantly from each other. Yet, despite the inconsistencies between them, they proved valuable for my study. Ethnographic storytelling can reveal an informant’s present view on past occurrences and give insights into the social roles of narrator and audience. A narration always implies two time periods: the past situation as experienced (erzählte Zeit) and the situation now when the occurrence is being interpreted (Erzählzeit). Hence, whilst analysing the stories did not bring me any closer to understanding what had happened to the baby, an examination of the four versions taught me much about each narrator’s present situation and how they related to each other. In other words, the different renderings of the event allowed an understanding of the hegemony of interpretation. I argue in this paper that contradictions in narratives are more a chance than a challenge for ethnographic writing. I call on anthropologists not to erase out inconclusive stories in their ethnographic data but to delve into them and to find plausible explanations for why it is not possible to achieve conclusive solutions.
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