Friday, 19 August 2011

Living protests, changing lives

and here, joining a protest camp offers so much more than just the  chance to chain oneself to railings or lie down in front of bulldozers....

A life in the woods: protest site paganism

Over ten years ago I gave a presentation that was to change my life. I  spoke about a "somatic knowing" that "is the knowledge of faith, of emotion, of the gut feeling"[i]. I concluded that spiritual experiences in nature give us an embodied knowing that can inspire environmental action. My words spoke of an unexplored landscape and I embarked on a remarkable journey of discovery.
That 1996 paper revealed a broad horizon and it took a PhD to even begin to map out the territory. What I discovered was as profound as I’d hoped and more surprising than I ever imagined.

Academic research can be dust dry, so to create a fleshier appreciation of my work, I'd like to invite you to join me on a pivotal part of my journey. My fieldwork touched the individual threads of many lives, and this story weaves them into a tapestry. This is an autoethnography, a more intimate expression of fieldwork than most, which embraces the researcher's personal experience and reveals a "personal voyage of discovery" (Bruner, 1986)[ii].
Autoethnography is an aesthetic activity as much as an academic one in that it tells stories that invite the reader "to put themselves in our place" (Ellis and Bochner, 2000)[iii]. This is an imaginative retelling in as much as I distil many months at various protest sites into a single narrative. But every word speaks true: all substantive quotes are as spoken and always in a context that preserves their intent[1].

A new arrival
Field notes:
A few long days ago I was in London phoning the camp from my flat. Now the flat is empty, my unaffordable lease is done and, with my material life in store, I’m on a train going west. It started snowing just as the train left London and the fields all around are now dusted. Not ideal conditions to arrive in! Still, it may delay work on the road. I hope so. When I spoke to Jill on the phone she emphasised how “bloody beautiful” the woods are.

[1] Aliases are used throughout and two characters - Oak and Ben - combine more than one individual.

[i] Harris, 1996. Sacred Ecology.
- 2010. 'The Power of Place: Protest Site Pagans'. The European Journal of Ecopsychology, Vol. 1, issue 1, London.

[ii] Bruner, 1986, ‘Experience and its Expressions’, in Turner and Bruner, (eds), The Anthropology of Experience,  University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago

[iii] Ellis and Bochner, 2000

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