Friday, Oct. 14

Don Yoder Lecture in Folk Belief and Religious Folklife: How to have Theory in a Pandemic: Precarity, Autoethnography, and Belief Scholarship during COVID

Friday, October 14, 7:30 pm–8:30 pm
Promenade B

Sponsored by the AFS Folk Belief and Religious Folklife Section


Chair: Margaret Kruesi (American Folklife Center, retired)

Andrea Kitta (East Carolina University)

Don Yoder Lecture in Folk Belief and Religious Folklife, given by Andrea Kitta of Eastern Carolina University.

Influenced by recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, elections, and the opioid epidemic, I will I link my experiences with my ongoing fieldwork in ways we often don’t discuss, primarily because of the cultural restraints in academia that, despite emphasis on reflexivity, still do not allow us to be fully honest about our own subjectivity. As a belief scholar, I am troubled by this lack of acknowledgment of our own beliefs and the ways we manage those beliefs when they run counter to the beliefs of our fieldwork participants. In an age when people’s beliefs can kill us, what is the role of a belief scholar and folklorist? How do we even pretend to maintain objectivity after surviving a pandemic? In How to Have Theory in an Epidemic, Paula Treichler (1999) considers the complexity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the multiple meanings and consequences that disease represents. COVID-19 and Long COVID are more than serious diseases; they’re also a complex system of meanings, and those meanings have value, even when lives are at stake. But how do we make meaning when we are also suffering? How do we promote David Hufford’s assertion that people are smarter than we give them credit for while we watch people make decisions that harm us and others? How do we frame ourselves as the outsider who creates “a narrative that begins with unfamiliarity and naiveté so that it can end with knowledge” (Shuman 2011, 148) when we are all intimate insiders when it comes to COVID-19? Using fieldwork conducted during the pandemic on COVID-19 and Long COVID, as well as classic texts on ethnography and reflexivity, I will move towards creating theory and methodology for our brave new world.