Sub-thesis 4

Researcher: Rasmus Dyring 

As responsive beings, researchers must set responsiveness methodologically to work

This project will examine how empirical anthropology methodologically can incorporate a phenomenology of responsiveness. Within empirical anthropology the need to supplement objective descriptions with accounts of lived experience is already acknowledged. This, however, does not mean that all problems are solved, because the merging of the two perspectives requires more than being aware of them and using them in an ad hoc manner. What is required is a systematic application on a sound theoretical foundation and this is where the incorporation of an existential scope in empirical anthropology meets a number of obstacles, which can be summed up in the two problems of how to access the experiences and worldviews of others as individuals and groups and to what extent the phenomena presenting themselves to the researcher are already tainted by his or her mere being there, by his or her preconceptions, in short; by what the researcher brings to the phenomenon. The hypothesis is that once the concept of responsiveness as the basis of both the experiences shared by the research subjects and as the basis of the meeting between these subjects and the researcher, is worked out thoroughly, these obstacles can be superseded, not by eradicating them, but by explicating them with regard to their responsive content and thus in effect setting them to work methodologically.

Sub-project 4: Setting responsiveness to work - Towards a Methodology of Existential Anthropology

This project will analyze the difficulties of merging the descriptive, third person perspective with an existential, first person perspective on three levels; a) an empirical level, b) a meta-theoretical level and c) a theoretical level.

(a) At the empirical level the question arises how it is possible – once the scope of existential experience is acknowledged as essential - to access such experiences. While objective descriptions are in principle based on the third person perspective of an observer, accounts of lived experience – it seems – has to rely on first person recollections, life stories etc. The main problem with this method of approach is that, while it on some level succeeds in giving voice to the experiences of the other, the epistemological and methodological standards that guarantee the scientific quality of its results are not clear cut. This points to the main difficulty of this level; namely how phenomenologically inspired forms of empirical anthropology can avoid simple story telling. 

(b) At the meta-theoretical level of analysis the question arises, whether existential anthropology as such is a methodological non-starter or even a contradiction in terms. If existential anthropology aims at producing a universal discourse on the basis of the intimate experiences of existence, then the existentialist tradition would certainly point to some inherent problems. According to Kierkegaard the singular existence (hiin Enkelte) – e.g. illustrated by the case of Abraham - is not able to communicate his genuine experience of existence without immediately succumbing to the generalities of language, whereby he himself becomes something general, and similarly in Heidegger we hear of the silent call of conscience in the authentic existence yielding to the idle talk of the mediocre everyday existence. The analysis at this level will present an exposition and discussion of the ontological and linguistic conditions of possibility of theoretically accessing the lived experience of the truly singular existence.

(c) On the basis of the critical work of sections a and b the theoretical section will devote itself to the question of how the concept of responsiveness can provide empirical anthropology with a methodological framework. It is now mandatory to show how the sub-concepts - interpretation, expression and preservation - may in fact let the anthropologist navigate in the field, producing results that pay due respect to the methodological requirements of science without compromising the existential experience of being human. It is essential to show how the researcher must accentuate and reflect on his or her own responsiveness and thus let it play a vital role in accessing and exploring a field of responsiveness shared by both the researcher and the research subjects, thereby setting responsiveness to work.