Research Update: Layers of Analysis

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'm coming up on the end of my stay here in Bangladesh, and I must admit that it's been a very up and down ride. High points (like learning Bengali, spending time with family, seeing amazing locales, shopping, learning a lot) and low points (like getting your arm partially eaten by a cockroach - literally the worst). But one thing that has been consistent throughout is the work I've been doing, not only on my own projects, but on my larger goal of researching perceptions of madness/mental illness.

Although I am not nearly sure about how I will be writing my final paper on this, I am really proud of the work that has been done by me and my partners in crime - my sister who has been translating for me and all the interviewees that I've been able to get in touch with. I was definitely surprised by how much gossip and drug use were involved in the way people view mental illness, and how much social issues as a whole permeated peoples' understanding of what it meant to be "healthy" or "unhealthy." These are only tip of the iceberg findings, but I know that as I delve deeper into the writing, more will surface.

I've conducted many interviews here, both in Bengali and in English. Talking to a wide range of people - while oftentimes a struggle to arrange - has really enlightened me on just how different peoples' lives and experiences are. This project is also a process of learning humility and how the research process can never really be definitive, although it may contribute a small piece of perspective on the larger narratives. There is just too much stuff to find out!

However, that being said, I don't know if I myself want to undergo that kind of "finding out" any longer. I like doing research, of course, but I realize that it is wrapped up in a lot of exploitation and red tape that makes me uncomfortable - in a nutshell, we as academics are benefiting from using the opinions of people who will gain nothing from talking to us, while we gain material and credit for analyzing their words. It's true enough that my current project is fairly benign in that regard (I'm not using it to nefarious ends or anything) but there are other areas of change where I think I can do better by the people I'm working with. More on this to come.

All in all, I'm glad to say that the first stage of this project is coming to a close. There's a lot of work still to come, but seeing how far I've progressed in the last few months has been really heartening and exciting. Now it's time to put pen to paper and make sense of it all.