Monday, March 2, 2009

"Gapa", "Galpo", narratives...

The different narratives of a situation by the different people involved in it reminded me of a movie very close to my heart, Rashomon. As Connelly (2002) succintly puts it, the decision to retell a story will depend on the personal reasons/ motivations of the reteller. In today's world of health communication we have so many competing narratives. The search for the "real" or "right" narrative is not important but what's important is not to ignore these stories. Narratives provide us invaluable insights into a human beings life, suffering, existence, surrounding, health. In many ways it provides us a ground to move ahead, take decisions. 
In emergency response, in the first 48 hours, usually teams do not find much records or information as most records are affected and the normal information channels are in a disarray and non functional. So, the way the response team moves ahead is by collecting narratives: "so please tell us how did the flood waters come in and what were you doing then? How did you reach safety? Did you have any medicines with you?..and so on".  This narrative gives us a picture of the village/ community, some initial numbers to work on and a story to share with the larger community/ the world outside. 
Narratives help us situate ourselves, in our identity creation. As Adelson (2001) writes, they help the indigenous peope continuously negotiate their identities within the nation state. Hawkins (2002) puts forth beautifully in his fictional story and further connections with the greek play on Philocletes, the famous archer. The narratives display the ethical dilemma, the torn between choices situation for the young doctor. I assume this would be the situation in which many medical residents find themselves in the beginning of their career and lesser so as across time they make peace with the contestations and lose their reflexivity and "ethics (?)". 
Stories do matter and have a great effect. All the times, I have been to villages to interact with the community and implement some project, I will be asked to listen to a lot of problems/ stories and entertain requests of helping them. Of course, I would be careful not to give false promises and raise expectations but I will give them reassurances and promises of looking in to the matter by speaking with the responsible government functionaries. But in my heart of hearts, I know that my sheer presence there is raising expectations and they have sacrificed their valuable time to meet me for some benefit which I am not sure that I will be fulfilling.  Each day of working in the field is a ethical dilemma with no "right" or "wrong" answers. I realise that these interaction with the narratives and stories has guided me. In today's health scenario, there is no time for stories, specially in the timed world here in the US. "Time is money" and there is so much to do that one is always running behind...behind what..Time of course!!! So, is it only the anthropologist and the writer who has the time for narratives or some communication researcher who has been "funded" to work on narratives? Further, narratives are not sterile but a part of the context where the narrative is created. Taking it out of the context ensures its sterility but strips it of the meaning which is relevant to the community.
Perera (2001) scored a good point after all his pages of stories from a fractured community of Sri Lanka where every narrative is so contested that the only solace is in the present. Perera (2001) with his narratives shows that where the state, the rebels, the powerful, all prosecute, where the state, biomedicine, science, rational approaches cannot provide succor, its through narratives that the community finds healing. Its through their own constructed beliefs, stories that the mother is comforted of her son's death, the wife of her husbands' torture and of making sense of a life where everyone more powerful prosecutes/ exploits you without a reason. The narratives help the people make sense, articulate.
As communication researchers, we ought to spend more time on exploring narratives and research money as they give us access to hitherto unexplored spaces which can lead to coping and healing.

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