Accepted paper:

The superstitious anthropologist: reflections on fieldwork, teaching and informants' ideas of the future


Gareth Hamilton (University of Latvia)

Paper short abstract:

I consider how my experiences growing up in Scots-settled Northern Ireland, in a superstitious environment, have affected my anthropological career in terms of research & teaching. Part 1: Ulster-Scots upbringing; part 2: fieldwork experiences, informants; part 3: teaching & local superstitions.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I consider how my experiences growing up in a Scots-settled area of the north of Ireland, in a superstitious environment, have thus far affected my anthropological career in terms of both research and teaching. With a starting point in the first section of an environment of pseudo-Christian, Ulster Scots and traditional Irish mystic beliefs surrounding how actions and events (intended or happenstance) affect or appear as signs or harbingers of the future, I present some of the superstitious ideas which have affected me deeply while conflicting with the Enlightenment-inspired notions of rationality inculcated by a conservative education system. In the second part, I question how this has affected my approach to fieldwork, including anticipating its vicissitudes before departing to the field, as well as during it. In so doing, I compare and contrast this sense of prediction of the future with the self-employed persons - whose own vision of the future was important in their career choice and its maintenance - I met during fieldwork in Halle an der Saale in eastern Germany. In the third section I consider the experiences of teaching beginner anthropology students abroad. In particular, and in mind of those above-mentioned questions of Enlightenment-inspired notions of rationality, I highlight my feelings of discomfort when seemingly risking 'de-bunking' local superstitions, such as a quasi-mortal fear of indoor draughts, when dealing with ideas of belief, in light of my own heavily inculcated superstitions.

panel P43
A tartan imaginary: cultural identity through the looking glass of the 'Scottish' second sight phenomena