Author: Abby Tozer

Hey! I am a second year University of Wollongong student studying a double degree of Arts (sociology, sustainable development) and Communications and Media (global media). Social Justice is a huge passion of mine and I hope to one day really make a difference in the lives of others. One person can help change the world, whether it's through simply being a respectful, harmonious global citizen or improving the lives of those less fortunate, everyone can have a positive impact. Follow my blogs for all things media related! Also... feel free to leave comments!! Enjoy x

SOUL SEARCHING: ETERNAL EPIPHANIES

Since initially embarking upon my study of Hinduism and the religion’s highly spiritualised death and burial practices, I have begun to experience many moments of epiphany. Coming into the research, I clearly had very little understanding of Hinduism or religious death and burial ceremonies, yet here I am 3 weeks later completely intrigued by diverse religious practices throughout the Asian continent.

Autoethnography has confused me, excited me and challenged me throughout the semester. However, it was not until I began to immerse myself in Hinduism that I began to realise how powerful autoethnographic communication can be. As Ellis et al. (2011) highlights, autoethnography ‘expands and opens up a wider lens on the world, eschewing rigid definitions of what constitutes meaningful and useful research’. It is this widening of one’s lens that ultimately defines the course of study, in turn representing the diverse nature of cultural interpretation. Thus, it is within the framework of personal description that I must analyse my own experiences, in the form of epiphanies and reflect upon how influential my cultural framework is in defining my research. It has become increasingly apparent that my experience will greatly differ from others. Therefore, it is important to use personal experience to illustrate facets of cultural experience, and, in so doing, make characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders’ (Ellis et al. 2011).

As previously touched on in my third blog post, my Western, atheist cultural background has somewhat blinded me in regard to global religious cultural practices in the past. However, through further research and engagement with Hindu death practices, I have begun to really develop an interest in the religions profound understanding of life and death. Upon first engaging with the video in my third blog, I was taken aback by the public spectacle of the burning of the dead, however, as I further delved into the cultural meaning of such practices I began to deeply reflect upon how diverse human nature and understandings of life can be.

Hindus hold the belief that supreme beings watch over a cycle of reincarnation, whereby, their soul becomes eternal and enters a spiritual realm, only to return to the physical realm in a new physical form. Thus, it is the idea of Karma that has continually caught my attention. My mum has extensively travelled India, thus I think it has been her description of the Indian caste system that has ignited this interest. Within Indian Hindu culture they socially stratify society into four categories (plus ‘outcastes’).

indian caste pic

Whilst this system acts to hierarchically stratify society and has been outlawed, the conceptualisation of reincarnation within Hindu culture in many ways supports its continued functioning. Throughout the Western world this system is highly criticised, yet within India, society still believes that one’s good or bad fortune (Karma) no matter their caste, will ultimately determine their social status in their next life. This leads me back to the burning of the dead. In Hindu culture, it therefore becomes apparent that the body could in fact be described as ‘the prison and the soul in being held prisoner for the sins of the physical self’, thus when the soul leaves, the physical body merely returns to the elements of earth. This epiphany has proven highly significant, my initial Westernised reaction toward the ‘intense (cultural) situation’ (Ellis et al. 2011), experienced upon first watching the public burning ceremony, has transformed into one of cultural understanding.

As Kalyanamalini Sahoo (2014) describes in his extensive description of Hindu religious practices, the funeral rites are of great significance. However, as I have personally discovered, it is not the physical body, instead the soul that is accorded significance (pg. 32)

Hindu funeral rites are performed at various stages linked to death:

(a) As death approaches; (b) For the disposal of the body; (c) For 12 days following death to transform the departed soul into a preta (i.e., ‘spirit’) body; (d) One-year memorial to assist the departing soul to reach pitru-loka; and (e) Annual Memorial Day in honour of the ancestors.

Also, I have always thought that this system of reincarnation continued forever, however, whilst watching the video below, I realised that this process continues until one’s soul ‘attains perfection and becomes one with the Divine’. This concept is not readily talked about online, thus with further research I aim to delve into it and assess its reliability.

My personal experience thus far has been extensive. Already, I have clearly begun to experience cultural epiphanies and I have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in one of the most diverse Asian religions. I am yet to personally experience the Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple in Helensburgh, however, I am still planning on doing so and capturing my experience whilst I’m there. I’m looking forward to communicating my experience with you further and can’t wait to experience many more epiphanies along the way.

Until next time…

Reference List:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P, 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Vol. 12, No. 1

Sahoo, K 2014, ‘Rituals of death in Odisha: Hindu religious beliefs and socio-cultural practices’, International Journal of Language Studies, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 29-48

 

SOUL SEARCHING

I’m not going to lie… digital artefacts freak me out. A self-professed analytical sociology student who loves to write essays hears those two words and internally screams. Add ‘autoethnography’ into the mix and it turns into a full-blown external scream. Yet here I am, having overcome my initial panic I can confidently say that maybe a new experience will be good for me…

Digital Asia has proven to be an eye opening, culturally immersive subject so far. Personally, I came into this subject with minimal knowledge about Asian platforms or films… or anything really. So why not take this opportunity to immerse myself in the holy waters of autoethnographical research and truly engage with the idea of experiencing a new culture.

One of the oldest and largest religions on the Asian continent, Hinduism not only blends thousands of years of practices and traditions, but accounts for 25% of Asia’s religious affiliation. A whopping 80%+ of the Indian, Balinese and Nepalese populations cite Hinduism as their main religion. Hinduism as a diverse, ancient religion is far too extensive for me to cover, instead I aim to delve into the religion’s death and burial rituals still readily practiced throughout the Asian world and on our doorstep here in Wollongong. As will become clear, my current knowledge regarding Hindu practices is minimal to say the least…

I have always been fascinated by the photographs my Mum took when she visited Nepal in the 1990’s. Captured on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River, they depict the Hindu tradition of the burning of the dead. These images are representative of my first ever personal experience with Asian religious death and burial customs, thus I hope that through personal engagement with these cultural practices, my experience can be further enhanced.

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So where to start? I did what every other curious person has ever done and whipped out that trusty google search bar. Low and behold, Helensburgh is home to one of the most famous Hindu temples in the Southern Hemisphere. The immersion of oneself into an authentic cultural experience is a crucial aspect of autoethnographical research (Ellis et al. 2011), hence the discovery of and plans to visit the Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple in Helensburgh will prove to be a fundamental aspect of my cultural experience.

Note: This video depicts the burning of the dead.

My initial experience of Hindu death and burial practices through digital sources has been quite eye opening. The Pashupatinath Temple, depicted above, is Nepal’s most famous Hindu Temple, situated on the Bagmati River in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Culturally, these customs are so far removed from the typical death and burial practices I have experienced in Australia. The burning of the dead in public places was initially quite a confronting experience. However, through further research I discovered that within Hinduism death is in fact not viewed as the ‘end’, instead the person’s spirit is freed, and rebirth occurs (soul searching… (just like me!!)). It is amazing how diverse religious practices are around the world, I have often turned a blind eye to them (being the atheist I am), however, as of late I have started to really become intrigued by cultural practices, that thanks to globalisation and the flow of people, have spread on a global scale. Thus, I ultimately hope to really delve into and understand how life and death are viewed within the Hindu religion, compared and contrasted to my own (atheist) experience.

The ultimate goal of this digital artefact is to analyse my personal experiences and hopefully many epiphanies through visiting the temple and immersing myself in online YouTube video sources and academic/news sources. In an attempt to truly understand and communicate this diverse cultural experience with you, I am considering incorporating photographs and self-reflexivity into either an auto-ethnographic vlog or blog series.

Maybe this digital artefact business won’t be so bad after all…

Until next time… 

– Abby 

 

Japanese Culture, Universal themes… Akira continues to Transcend Cultural Boundaries.

Anime. What do you know about it? If you had have asked me three weeks ago, I may very well have moaned at the prospect of watching it. Why is it I am so far removed from this phenomenon? Geographically, Australia’s closest neighbouring continent is that of Asia. A vibrant, culturally diverse, politically influential region of the world. I think I so readily align myself with Western culture that I forget to ‘build appreciation of and connection with culturally diverse peoples’ (Leong et al. 2017, pg. 7).

Deconstructing the idea of autoethnographical research over the past three weeks has led me to be far more self-reflexive in understanding how my cultural background has significantly influenced my interpretation of Asian culture. As per the definition I provided in blog one, Ellis et al. (2011) defines autoethnographical research as the process of ‘retrospectively and selectively writing about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or possessing a particular cultural identity’. Thus, it is my responsibility as an autoethnographer to not only analyse my experience, but also consider how my culturally driven interpretation may differ to that of others (Ellis et al. 2011).

Described as the ‘most notable apocalyptic narrative in Anime history’, Akira’s (1988) storyline is one of ‘apocalyptic destruction, societal breakdown and carnivalesque surrealism’, clearly influenced by war and political upheaval in Japan. Throughout Akira I was highly self-reflexive. As I documented on twitter, I have minimal understanding of Japanese political history, thus my interpretation of the film would be in some respect impacted (Pitard, 2017). However, as the film progressed, I had an epiphany, an aspect of autoethnographical research Ellis et al. (2011) believes to be fundamental. This film, along with ‘The Host’ were highly political films conveyed through animation, thus as a researcher it became apparent that the themes represented in Akira were in fact universal in nature.

akira

Neo-Tokyo is suffering from fascism, political corruption, bureaucracy and police militarisation. The rise of resistance groups in the face of such turmoil is a theme that is highly relevant no matter one’s cultural background. My preconceived concept of Asian films as being disconnected from my cultural context has been dramatically impacted by this revelation. However, the way in which I interpret such political turmoil is heavily determined by my cultural context, thus as an autoethnographer it is important I acknowledge that my assumptions, values and context will influence my research. It is this distinction that creates a collaborative journey between’ myself as the author ‘and the reader in understanding and knowing the culture studied’ (Pitard, 2017).

Beyond acknowledging one’s own bias, it is important as an autoethnographical researcher to determine the style we wish to communicate through. The choice or fusion between evocative or analytical autoethnography is crucial in determining one’s methodology. Coming from a sociological background, Anderson’s (2006) analytical style resinated with me. Thus, my research communication will not be limited to ‘informative description’, instead I agree with Anderson (2006) that ‘… the value and vitality of a piece of research depends on it providing theoretical illumination of the topic under investigation’ (Anderson, 2006, pg. 388).

References:

Anderson, Leon 2006, ‘Analytic Autoethnography’, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 373-393.

Chen, L 2017, ‘Looking at Akira as a guide to surviving fascism’, DAZED, https://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/34643/1/looking-at-anime-film-akira-as-a-guide-to-surviving-fascism, viewed 13/08/19

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Leong, Susan and Woods, Denise (2017) “I Don’t Care About Asia”: Teaching Asia in Australia, Journal of Australian Studies. Special Issue. pp.1-13

Pitard, J 2017, ‘A Journey to the Centre of Self: Positioning the Researcher in Autoethnography‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 108-127.

TheArtifice, 2018, ‘Akira: An analysis of the A-bomb and Japanese Animation’, TheArtifice, https://the-artifice.com/akira-analysis/, viewed 13/08/19

‘The Host’ – Monster-ous Political Satire…

Autoethnography… a term that constantly arises in media subjects, yet the definition still regularly evades me.

Defined by Ellis et al (2011), autoethnographical research is the process of ‘retrospectively and selectively writing about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or possessing a particular cultural identity’. The key word being that of ‘culture’, whereby, comparison and contrast between or within one’s culture allows for a deep, reflexive autoethnographical analysis of a topic. Thus, it must be made clear that such research in fact uses subjectivity as a crucial component in understanding the power dynamics and fluidity of culture. Moreover, she or he may be able to reach wider and more diverse mass audiences that traditional research usually disregards, a move that can make personal and social change possible for more people’ (Ellis et al, 2011), thus it is the inclusion of one’s attitude and beliefs that encourages cultural perspectives to develop and transform.

The Host imageThis leads me to consider how my cultural background impacted my interpretation of the film ‘The Host’. Having never watched a Korean movie before I was entering into a diverse, new cultural world. Growing up in an Anglo-Saxon household, in a small country town, restricted my access and interest in the multifaceted, culturally diverse Asian film industry. Thus, the film for me was viewed in comparison to a typical Hollywood film, illustrating how a contextual personal background can significantly influence one’s cinematic experience and interpretation of Korean film culture. In this case the exaggeration and satire made for a somewhat bizarre film experience.

The task of live tweeting throughout the film pushed me to question and analyse the historical context and subsequent use of satire. As Matt Kim reported, ‘the implications of the story, American imperialism and its military presence on the Korean peninsula, were lost on those unfamiliar with modern Korean history…’ (2016), whilst in another contextual twist,  ‘… underneath the imagery of American military presence was the even more subversive narrative of the incompetent South Korean bureaucracy’ (Kim, 2016). Evidently, the use of satirical language and themes within the film led me to reflect upon the US/South Korean relationship, thus reflexively applying my historical knowledge allowed me to better understand the political, social and cultural themes at play.

The process of live tweeting subsequently saw me further develop my understanding of Korean anxieties and desires, whereby, the clear loss of tradition is juxtaposed by the new freedoms accorded to South Koreans through Western influence (Turner, 2012, pg. 12). Coming from a Westernised perspective, the development within South Korea would be viewed as a democratic step forward. However, we must draw from ‘The Host’ and understand that Western influence and the subsequent demise of cultural identity is an enormous anxiety not only in South Korea, but throughout the world. 

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P, 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Vol. 12, No. 1

Kim, M 2016, ‘The Korean New Wave and the Anxieties of South Korean Cinema’, Inverse, https://www.inverse.com/article/13916-the-korean-new-wave-and-the-anxieties-of-south-korean-cinema, viewed 1/8/19

Turner, J 2012, ‘Monstrous Dialogues: THE HOST and South Korean Inverted Exile’, University of South Florida Scholar Commons, Graduate Thesis and Dissertations, pg. 1-12 -Accessible online: https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5440&context=etd