Author:Joseph Webster (Queen's University Belfast)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the performance of 'giving testimony' (the story becoming a 'born again' Christian) as not only a story of the moment of 'conversion', but also as an embodied narrative on the entire 'spiritual history' (autobiography) of the self by drawing on fieldwork among Scottish fishermen.
Paper long abstract:
This paper examines the performance of 'giving testimony' (the story of becoming a 'born again' Christian) as not only a story about the moment of 'conversion', but also as an embodied narrative on the entire 'spiritual history' (or autobiography) of the self by drawing on fieldwork among Scottish fishermen. By exploring the (auto)biographical interview as a site of bodily/emotional experience, I consider how the standardised act of retelling the story about how one was 'born again' speaks in interesting ways about what it means to be a certain kind of 'sincere' (Keane,2002) and 'committed' (Howell,2007) person. Equally, this kind of autobiography speaks about how the self makes sense of change through the social act of 'giving testimony' - a culturally particular account of the history of the self - by 'sharing' one's Christian experience of transformation from spiritual 'death' to spiritual 'new life'. Key to communicating the 'realness' (or sincerity) of this performative autobiography is the public expression of emotion. Where such displays of emotion are normally strictly taboo, especially within the vernacular masculinity of Scottish trawlermen, I suggest that the religious trope of 'giving testimony' allows a type of narration that acts as an inversion of this hegemonic expectation. Such interview data is interesting not (primarily) because it speaks about the (re)formation of certain types of masculinity, but because it shows how the biographical method is deployed as not only a tool of 'social research', but also as a 'folk' method for the unmaking and making of persons through embodied storytelling.
Exploring the biographical method