Not-the-Troubles : an anthropological analysis of stories of quotidian life in Belfast
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To understand the complexity of life in a city one needs to consider a spectrum of experience. Belfast has a history of conflict and division, particularly in relation to the Troubles, reflected in comprehensive academic studies of how this has affected, and continues to affect, the citizens. But this is a particular mode of representation, a vision of life echoed in fictional literature. People’s quotidian lives can and do transcend the grand narratives of the Troubles that have come to dominate these discourses. Anthropology has traditionally accorded less epistemological weight to fleeting and superficial encounters with strangers, but this mode of sociality is a central feature of life in the city. The modern stranger navigates these relationships with relative ease. Communicating with others through narrative – personal stories about our lives – is fundamental to what it is to be human, putting storytelling at the heart of anthropological study. Engagements with strangers may be brief encounters or build into acquaintanceship, but these superficial relationships are not trivial. How we interact with strangers – our public presentation of the self to others through the personal stories we share – can give glimpses into the private lives of individuals. Listening to stories of quotidian life in Belfast demonstrates a range of people’s existential dilemmas and joys that challenges Troubled representations of life in the city. The complexity, size and anonymity of the city means the anthropologist needs different ways of reaching people; this thesis is as much about exploring certain anthropological methodologies as it is about people and a place. Through methods of walking, performance, human-animal interactions, my body as a research subject, and using fictional literature as ethnographic data, I interrogate the close relationship between method, data and analysis, and of knowledge-production and knowledge-dissemination. I present quotidian narratives of Belfast’s citizens that are Not-the-Troubles.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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