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Dancing Through the Perfect Storm: Encountering Illness and Death in the Field and Beyond

Part of the Theory and History in the Human and Social Sciences book series (THHSS)

Abstract

In this chapter, I approach the question of how personal experiences of illness and death affect ethnographic research and analysis. For this aim, I discuss a close friend’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, and death in relation to my research on end-stage liver diseases and liver transplant medicine. Drawing on Michael D. Jackson’s notion of “intersubjectivity,” I argue that the experiences in my private life allowed me to get a more nuanced understanding of the issues I explored professionally in the field, like facing life-threatening illnesses, impending death, and hospital life. Based on my research in clinical settings on liver transplantation, I address particularities of clinical fieldwork and claim that emotional reflexivity serves as a meaningful methodological and analytical “tool” of ethnographic research when working with people who face life-threatening illnesses. Drawing particular attention to feelings of discomfort, I highlight the importance of emotional reflexivity for anthropological inquiries when exploring, and encountering, illness and death—in the field and beyond.

Keywords

  • Death
  • Discomfort
  • Hospital ethnography
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Emotional reflexivity

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I translated Philipp’s e-mail and text messages freely from German into English.

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Acknowledgements

Very special gratitude goes to my dear friend Maria, Philipp’s wife, mother of three, emergency surgeon, who has never forgotten how to dance and laugh during the craziness called life. Her feedback on this chapter was crucial and her caring, beautiful words reflected how amazing a person she is. I am also deeply grateful to my supervisor, Sabine Strasser, for her encouraging support during my fieldwork and beyond. She trusted me to make the right call—a trust not taken for granted. This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation [project number 149368 and 175223].

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Correspondence to Julia Rehsmann .

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Rehsmann, J. (2019). Dancing Through the Perfect Storm: Encountering Illness and Death in the Field and Beyond. In: Stodulka, T., Dinkelaker, S., Thajib, F. (eds) Affective Dimensions of Fieldwork and Ethnography. Theory and History in the Human and Social Sciences. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-20831-8_17

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