Ethnographic Research Project: Guidelines
Healer Case Study
Healing takes place through a variety of modalities and in numerous contexts. The objective of this research assignment is to help you understand one particular form of healing that takes place within (e.g. acupuncture) or alongside (e.g. curanderismo) our (U.S.) medical system. This field assignment involves learning about healing in a specific context and requires that you engage in participant observation and face-to-face interview.
Academically researched background to paper:
Your paper must be grounded in a body of academic literature (no websites), to which you refer when describing the background of the healing modality you choose. A paper on acupuncture, for example, must include some discussion about acupuncture that comes from at least five (5) different academic sources. This background may include history; where the modality is practiced; the percentage of people who practice it or who access it for healing; concerns or issues associated with it; concepts, such as symbolic anatomy, associated with it; or other topics that you find interesting and helpful in your understanding of the modality and the healer. I suggest you do your background research first, so that you have some basis of understanding before you meet with your healer.
The interview: what to observe, ask, and write on:
Below are themes that you MAY include in your paper and sample questions. You may use these questions as written here or create your own according to your topic and interest.
The Setting;
Where is the site of the healing? What is the physical setting like? How is the place arranged? Who is present? What types of patients visit this healer?
Illness Etiologies:
What are the beliefs of disease causation that the healer deals with? What is the belief of disease causation that the healer espouses? Are the views different or similar? In what ways? How is the anatomy and physiology viewed? What is the symbolic anatomy the healer refers to in healing, if any?
The Context of Healing:
What is the world view in which this form of healing fits? How does the healer’s view of disease causation relate to the larger understanding of how the body is situated in the world? How is the body viewed? Is it viewed as part of a larger collective? Or as an individual? How does is the body/person seen in relation to the larger cosmos?
The Healing Method:
How does healing take place? What are the various method employed (e.g. surgery, acupuncture, use of herbs, use of pharmaceuticals, coin rubbing, sweating), the tools used (e.g. scalpel, needles to release points, dandelion leaves, coins, eucalyptus and wood), and the places where healing takes place (e.g. on a table in a hospital, on a table in a clinic, at home, in a sweat lodge, in another world)? How long does the treatment last? Is there expectation that the patient should return (is the treatment ongoing)?
The Healer’s Training:
How did the healer become who he is today? Did he/she receive formal education? Did he/she work as an apprentice. Did he/she have a “calling”?
The Healer’s Reason for Becoming this Form of Healer:
Why did the healer select this form of healing over other? What is related to training, to calling, to upbringing, to relationships in the past?
The Healer’s View of His/Her Relation to the Patient:
Does the healer see him/herself as a superior to the patient? Does the healer see him/herself as a component of the healing process, in which the patient is equally important? Does the healer see him/herself as a facilitator in the healing process (think about the “jumper cable” example in the reading)
The Healer’s Relation To or Role in the Biomedical System:
How does the healer view the biomedical realm of healing? Does he/she see his/her form of healing as opposing biomedicine or as a complement to it? If the latter, when does he/she recommend biomedical treatment to the patient?
Approach: It is important to attend to the fact that you are visiting – and essentially learning from – a healer who may or may not espouse a world view different than your own. Remember that there is often a close connection between religion / spirituality and healing. While some things may seem unfamiliar to you, it is extremely important to be respectful and learn with an open-mind.
It is also important to remember that the healer is giving her/his time freely and sharing her/his own knowledge without cost. It is therefore extremely important to remember to be respectful at all times and give a token of gratitude (a spoken “thank you” or written “thank you” is always appreciated). Think of how you would feel if someone were asking you a set of questions for an interview.
Also, please remember that this class is repeated semester after semester, and maintaining a good relationship with your healer will help other students in the future.
Developing a Rapport: This paper also requires that you develop a rapport with the healer by engaging with him/her in at least two (2) interviews. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to conduct both interviews. These interviews may vary in length, but they should allow you sufficient time to gather most of your information in a DETAILED manner.
Qualitative and Quantitative Questions: The majority of your paper should stem from information gathered from qualitative questions, as understanding healing within a human framework is key to anthropology. This means that at least some of your work should be open-ended interviewing (e.g. “Can you tell me about ____? “ “Could you explain ____ to me?” “Tell me how you came about to be a nutritionist/allopath/massage therapist”). However, you should include some quantitative figures in your paper, whether gathered from academic sources or from interviews (e.g. what percentage of the population engage in this form of healing? What percent of patients are repeat – come back again? etc.).
Academic Sources: At least five academic sources must be consulted. These sources will help orient yourself to the nature of healing and its cultural context, but they will not be the focus of your paper. Rather, the focus of the paper is on the healing method as you understand it from the description provided you by the healer Popular, unreviewed publications are not accepted.
Format: 10 pages, minimum, double-spaced. 12-point font. References included on a separate page (NOT included in the last). References should be MLA or APA format.


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