Discovering emancipatory research

Last year (2013), when i was working on the bigger research that i worked upon, and was almost closing it, I encountered the perspective of emancipatory research. As it is, I had been very uneasy with the idea of survivor-research as a paradigm, because it necessarily means that one is a survivor. This linguistic framework itself is a problem as far as I am concerned- as though it is  the holocast that you are referring to, that you have survived. If I am not wrong, perhaps that was the genesis of the word too.

For me researching in an area whose contours and nuances you understand well, from multiple positions- from experiencing the suffering of the soul to reaching that objectivity of a researcher, that you can also examine your own story like an outsider (no matter how much courage it takes to write it down) takes a lot of heart. And of course I derived that heart from reading the writing of Carolyn Ellis, for nothing except the honesty with which she wrote, and that which I can never expect from the writing of a fellow Indian, because we do not share our personal stories in public- at least not to that extent. Her book, ReVision, became such a benchmark for my own writing that once I wrote my big research I had that as a model to go with. I wrote to her, and shared what I felt about her book, and would she be kind enough to look at my research and possibly write a foreword for it! She almost agreed, though I could not finish my own writing in time, to send for her comments (still doing it actually!)

Anyhow, coming back to the subject of emancipatory perspectives, the first thing that appealed to me about it was the linguistic appeal- as I was as it is somewhat uncomfortable with the ‘survivor’ tag. Then secondly I find it more empowering than feeling like a loser- the sense I get from the word ‘survivor’ (may be a whim, but certainly that is how I feel). Plus I also feel I am not a survivor to the extent that I have survived something- I have been able to reinterpret suffering in the context of psychosis- depression as well as seen the continuum of human emotions as they go from one extreme to another. This is an attitude of inquiry, not necessarily passive observation. I am not just letting the waters pass over me, I am letting myself be transformed from an observer to someone who is interacting with the material that the waves are bringing. And that of course started happening in the context of other people also, when I moved from my personal autoethnography to a more social version of it (my bigger research).

I was at the end of my research, when I encountered, thanks to the academia network the writing of Noah De Lissovoy, and others…had a little correspondence with him and he shared with me further ideas about emancipatory perspectives. My journal paper to the Canadian Journal of Music therapy had already been submitted and now I was reading about emancipatory perspectives!!! When I got a feedback from the reviewers, I actually brought in the perspectives! what a thing to do- I changed the conclusion, and I suddenly felt as though the chips had fallen in place.

Perhaps the most important thing about the emancipatory approach is that it does not consider the university as a privileged place for the construction of knowledge– and that is truly liberating. For someone like me, whose college education formally stopped with the onset of what was called psychosis, in 3rd year college (notwithstanding the later degrees I accumulated), to come to a point where my research could be contributing something to the overall construction of knowledge is a great leap for me personally. I do not feel anything except humbled by it, for the colossus of human suffering is so huge that if we can only offer our little stories as offerings of hope to other fellow human beings, in a bid that they can see their own sufferings with newer lenses, that is real emancipation for all of us. There is no point in doing autoethnography for me, except the desire to hold the hands of everyone who is touched by my voice- physically, musically and spiritually.

In fact this perhaps is the greatest victory of my research too- for most people who were research informants with me, at any stage, upon meeting me and seeing my various degrees of engagement, ‘accomplishment’ (as if there is anything) feel inspired- and THAT is the hope they all needed.Now most are better off than before, one even got married- after long discussions in which I may have also contributed. I think in general the work i am doing is quite satisfactory and of a nature that inspires others, who are in the throes of suffering.

Perhaps if I had been in another country, the whole society would have valued my knowledge- but India is a different sort of place. Though we call ourselves a great collective civilization, we are in fact very individualistic- for in the accomplishment of nobody we truly feel happy or as though they are good or worthy of encouragement or celebrations. Fools have other fools falling over them on every pretext and universities are full of jokes going on in the name of research. But I feel relieved that I have discovered the perspective of emancipatory research, for I no longer need to yoke of a university department to ratify my findings…the world will be my testimony. So what if an Indian university could not open its doors for me- many signs will come from around the world to say that my research is truly useful, and not just another jugaad.

Of course I cannot thank Prof Misra enough for always egging me on, even till date- even after becoming a vice chancellor- wanting me to write my bigger autoethnography. Am not sharing the contributions of Prof Dalal here, because it merits a longer writing. But I feel that more than writing my story, there is a need to help others reinvent their stories and accordingly, in addition to working in research, I am donning the new mantle of Recovery Consultant in mental illness. I have been there, and know what it takes- and nobody can challenge me on that- not even ‘professionals’, for their knowledge comes from a theoretical perspective alone and that too guided by criteria set in foreign countries, whereas my knowledge comes from experiential perspectives honed by theoretical engagements- and that is truly emancipation for me, from ignorance. My college had its motto as sa vidya ya vimuktayethat alone in knowledge which liberates. And I know when I go down in this life, I will go with the satisfaction, that whatever two penny bit I learned, I was true to it enough that it proved to be my liberation- from aeons of darkness that surrounded my soul. So now holding other hands is my destiny, also via music.

Last bit, so I recently wrote to Noah sharing with him how discovering emancipatory research, thanks to his paper, somewhere changed the course of my own thought, though sadly I could not write the bigger research within that framework. Just got a response from him saying-

Hi Prateeksha,

Thank you for your message. I am very glad to hear that my work has been useful to you. Congratulations on the publication of your article, which sounds great. Best wishes going forward.

Noah

Yes…going forward now.

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