Accepted paper:

Rapport and impersonality in engagements with Yoruba lives


Karin Barber (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Paper short abstract:

What is “rapport” in ethnographic engagements, and what are its sources? How does it relate to impersonality in the evocation of lives and life experiences in different performance/textual genres? I explore these questions through the lens of my own life of research in the Yoruba region of Nigeria.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I reflect on an engagement with Yoruba people in southwest Nigeria over a period of forty years. Telling each other about our lives - and gossiping about other people's lives - is such an important part of everyday social interaction that it isn't surprising that in ethnographic work exchanging biographical narratives can be a means of creating rapport as well as a tool for eliciting 'data'. But I'm interested in exploring this idea of rapport and its sources. It might be thought that 'Passion' is an expression of the personal, which 'Reason' attempts to transcend in the interests of disinterested objectivity. Rapport then would arise only in the domain of passion, of the personal. But clearly this bifurcation doesn't hold. I want to compare my experience of working with a popular theatre company, where actors and audience members continually told personal life-stories, both on and off stage, in order to convince and exemplify; and that of working on oral praise poetry, which though wholly person-focused and vocative - an "I" intensely addressing a "you" and in so doing promoting the self-realisation of both - nonetheless involves a fragmented, multivocal text that is deliberately created to escape and float above any personal voice, experience or identity, including gender identity. It is not only Enlightenment thought that seeks to transcend the immediacy of personal interest and viewpoint. I found that the task of de-riddling these opaque and elusive texts brought moments of rapport with my interlocutors perhaps more memorable than any other.

panel P07
Reason and passion: the parallel worlds of ethnography and biography