Because Cecile familiarised herself with the Indonesian language and culture before, she could pull of a relatively short two months MA fieldwork out there. She chose a site that she already knew quite well and took her guitar along this time too. When you visit Cecile, as I did, you’ll notice that she hums a lot and that music is never far away.
Participant observation with a guitar?
Singing songs on the beach, she regularly drew an audience. Her biggest fans were young children who invited her into their houses for brightening up their birthday parties, for instance. When it rained, they would in turn teach Sisi, her local name, their favourite songs in the local Balinese language. ‘Participant observation with a guitar?’ I wondered. Not really, as the families she got to know this way are not part of her current research at all. It just goes to show how well Cecile, or Sisi, gells in that environment. However, the guitar does play a role this time too: ‘When I want my respondents to forget I’m around, I’ll go sit with their staff to learn new songs; then the house owners carry on with their own business.’ Which then allows Cecile to observe daily routines without too much bias by her own presence.
It is not only inside that research is being carried out. At sunset local expats, many of whom Dutch men, come together for drinks near the beach. They often have love relationships with Indonesian women and are therefore of interest for the research. Their language skills are often insufficient and Cecile gets asked regularly to translate for them. Another way of participating in Lovina life and getting close to the real life stories or ‘data’ to collect. The following video glimpses at Sisi and the kind of ‘rapport’ she acquired; contemporary anthropologist in the field… translation of spoken text follows underneath. The song she sings is in Balinese!
The woman on the phone is adoptive mother Sue, checking why my visit to Sisi takes so long. Is everything alright, really? Sue was the first person I got introduced to. I needed checking out and in the mean time I was happy to find out Cecile had someone she could talk to outside her research. To let off steam, if necessary. Someone too that would look after her in case she would feel bad or fall ill. Thank you for taking such good care, Sue!
Near the dolphin statue – Lovina’s well known landmark – we bump into two women. They chitchat about a temple for tourists in the village where Kadek lives, yet Sisi rarely has time for touring. She has to work to do. When my filming stops, Cecile is about to admire Kadeks earrings, who then tells she got them from a German guy. She wants to move to Germany… another story that would fit Cecile’s research.
But Cecile already knows enough Indonesian women with foreign partners, like the Dutch men in the videoclip. They live most of the year near Lovina and deal with rules and regulations of migration – and intercultural weddings.
Visual Ethnography as a Method
The reason why I took some time at Ceciles place, when Sue phoned, is that we were looking at some of her video recordings on the laptop and checking out sound issues. Cecile uses the Visual Ethnography methodological option for her MA and took videogear into the field. For her current research she believes that the nonverbal component is very telling. I noted a few remarks – that will turn out not to be the whole story and probably biased by what I from the point of view as lecturer read into it:
‘How couples interact is important. You can see cultural differences so well. For instance using a table for dinner, or not. In some households you see two different lifestyles next to each other and I want to know how intercultural couples negotiate certain choices. At what moments in daily life do cultural differences play a role in love relationships?’ Thus my recollection of some of her views. Luckily I checked it with Cecile – long live internet – and she replies from Lovina (my translation):
‘In fact I believe that the video film contributes [to the research findings] by showing that respondents are real people with feelings as opposed to static entities, making choices purely based on straightforward rationalities. In the video I try to show them how they really are and that gets through best during interactions. Video also shows more about human vulnerable aspects. The various backgrounds I describe mainly in text.’
Cecile’s research is basically about romantic love; is it a socio-cultural construct and if so, how exactly? What tensions exist between romantic ideals and materialistic realities? How do friends and relatives respond to cultural outsiders? Do real people operate as so-called interdependent or independent selves?
Various theories and stereotypes are being put to the test by this ethnographic research. I am curious to read and watch the answers in Cecile’s film and thesis… to be continued this summer!
For the Visual Ethnography programme at leiden University, Janine Prins is coördinator & lecturer for the BA course Visual Methods and the Summer course Visual Methods.