The Gaze. Unfolding Realms of Enquiry
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This text probes into the phenomenon of seeking, as it is narrated by, and manifesting itself among, people who have visited Norwegian Buddhist groups to various extent. Seeking may manifest itself in a multitude of activities, from meditation to yoga, Tai Chi, to different kinds of healing and to massages, as well as to general courses of “self development”. But seeking also goes beyond such tangible and observable activities. It embraces certain modes of reflecting on the self and the world as well as modes of enacting these reflections. This means that seeking transcends distinctions between the individual and society, as being a project whereby the individual can be understood as (re)creating her/himself as a socially constituted being. By probing into stories about seeking, this investigation wrestles with intersections between language and embodiment, and between social context and the individual. Seeking is used as a prism through which the analytical gaze is cast in a multitude of directions. The stories told by seekers are explored alongside the enterprise of making stories into objects of study as such: What we learn from stories will depend on what we believe stories to be in the first place. It depends on what realms of enquiry our analytical tools allow us to slice open. By tracing the investigative procedure as a certain kind of gaze, one that makes objects of study crystallize, the project leads into a terrain where power-structures become visible. Much academic literature focuses on religious and spiritual matters in ways that objectify seeking – thereby emptying it of what is at stake for the seeker. The shopping metaphor that frequently characterises much academic literature, may illustrate this point. Questioning the shopping metaphor, this analysis investigates its conditions of emergence, and discerns certain renderings of seeking ( – and thereby also of the seekers – ) as products of the analytical process itself. The analytical process, alongside unspoken ontological and epistemological presuppositions, has the propensity of creating gaps between the knowledge produced by the investigator, and the knowledge the individual seeker has of what is at stake in her/his personal quest. This text points out and explores such gaps, directing attention towards the limits of our analytical tools. The present study slices into analytical complexities from an angle where concrete immediacy and experience is made the methodological starting point. It does not claim to be making any exhaustive investigation: On the contrary, a central point is that there will always be more to reality than what we happen to have access to. But by extracting and annotating elements from phenomenology, critical realism and narrative theory, conceptual tools are explored that may probe into life stories in ways that may better account for the imperatives behind their construction. Simultaneously, seeking in itself is revealed as a way of opening up realms of enquiry, of probing into questions of life and death. The informants as well as the researcher may be understood as engaging in processes of unfolding: Realms of enquiry, and lives to be lived. Acknowledging life stories as phenomena arising from bodies immersed in the world, a world that works upon the narrator as well as being worked upon, and last, but not least, where something is at stake for the storyteller, this dissertation explores, and argues for, the necessity of a phenomenology of narratives.