Am I the factor of symbolic violence in my research?

A Book Critique upon The Spectral Wound by Nayanika Mookherjee in relation to my research

This past Tuesday night, I produced an inner conflict with myself. As I was reviewing the content of the ethnography entitled The Spectral Wound, a feeling of guilt overcame me and a daunting question came to mind. I’m I the factor of symbolic violence in my research? Anthropologist, Nayanika Mookherjee, has open my mind to the dehumanization of individuals that have confronted situations of trauma and suffering and has made me wonder if I am doing the same thing. In this ethnography, Mookherjee examines the dehumanization of the birangona through the public memory distributed in the media, art works, and by humanitarian activist. Despite my desire to be of service to communities, I am beginning to believe that I am actually providing a disservice by portraying them as victims.

I fear I may be curating and further advocating a sense of oppression for the working class residents of Greenmount West. Mookherjee argues in the ethnography about the injustice done to the birangona through testimonial culture. Testimonial culture promotes a heroic image by empowering victims “to speak and to give voice to the voiceless”. However, according to Mookherjee this culture appropriates narratives and hides “aspects of the narratives of victims that do not fit into a predetermined construction of victimhood” (Mookherjee, 2015). As disgusting as this sounds, I think that during the beginnings of my research, I unconsciously set the stage to make a victim out of the residents of Greenmount West. As I was conducting interviews and reading literature, I believe that I may have been sourcing out information that follow the common public narratives about working class residents wrongly getting displaced from their home.

In addition, I fear that I am creating a subjective image for the residence of Greenmount West. In the ethnography, Mookherjee points out the issue of subjectivity upon victims in the media. In the case of the birangona she states,

“That society always constructs authentic victims as defenseless and innocent. While the innocent birangonas fulfill their role of victimhood for the nation, the authenticity of a raped women is located in the middle-class perception of sexual codes of the poor and their sense of trauma. Acceptable images of heroism among birangonas are linked to a notion of agency that is embedded in this middle-class sensibility” (Mookherjee, 2015).

This statement has made me question the methodology of my research. Did I choose this topic because it is relevant in the minds of the middle class? I’m I constructing my evidence in a way that it makes my interviewees look innocent and defenseless for a more appealing story for my audience? Are only specific type of people agreeing to take part in my research seeking compensation in attention from a wider audience? Any form of subjectivity in my project will interfere in the process of presenting the facts of the situation. This deeply worries me because it is important to me that I represent the community of Greenmount West as honest as possible. I do not want any of my bias to lead me to subjecting them.

Moving forward with my research, I need to be aware of the lessons Mookherjee is presenting in her ethnography. Despite the fact I had a hard time understanding it the first time I read it, I highly respect her examination the literary and visual representation of victim hood.