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The goal of my cultural interview was to apply my theoretical knowledge concerning ethnical fieldwork in a practical case where all the information and connections were limited to one real person. I met Oleksandra Zinevych on the web, discussing a television show that we both liked, and this relationship grew into an e-mail friendship. I just asked her to help me out with this project, knowing that she is interested in any sort of academic work, and I got her agreement at once.
The key informant person that was used as ego in this essay is Oleksandra Zinevych coming from Czech Republic. She was contacted through e-mails and Skype. The interview itself was done using Skype online conference; and as I needed to confirm some doubtful details, I wrote her a note on e-mail. I asked Oleksandra multiple questions and wrote her answers after her. She was very enthusiastic with her participation in this research, so Oleksandra provided me with a lot of details. My questions were somewhat predetermined before the interview started, but the majority of them was born during the interview, as they helped me to catch the story idea and follow it up.
I had put my notes in the electronic version; I actually created a small story that was gradually transformed into a complete diagram. I evaluate my overall perspective as being etic, and beyond the cultural boundaries. The terms used were quite neutral without any emotional or emic accounts. I was trying to turn off my own experiences not to disrupt the story of Oleksandra’s family. Although interviews appear to be the most personal form of research, as compared to questionnaires, I enjoyed doing it more as I could feel empathy for the person I was listening to and keeping track of her emotions instead of receiving plain factual information. I could follow Oleksandra up with supporting questions that seemed to be impossible in any other kinds of anthropology research.
The methods, I applied in my cultural interview, included analytical and modeling approach. According to the information I received from my friend, I constructed a model – Kinship Diagram – that completely followed the tendencies of the real life. I have put information lucidity as my first priority, so it was essential to listen to Oleksandra’s answers carefully. I know that any interview has a factual and a meaning level, though working with the latter may turn out to be challenging
Kinship Diagram for Oleksandra Zinevych
The closest relatives of Oleksandra Zinevych are her mother and her father, as they still live together in the same apartment. Once a month she visits her grandmother Katya and her grandfather Vladimir, as they live in the same city, and it takes half an hour to get to their place. They also communicate on the phone and see each other on special occasions. As Oleksandra's grandparents have certain health issues, they usually do not come and visit Sasha and her parents though sometimes it happens, as well.
Sasha sees her grandmother Valentina (father's side) once or twice a year. Valentina lives in a different city, and it takes two hours to get to her place. They do not talk on the phone either. Sasha and her grandmother Valentina communicate occasionally but try to keep track of each other's lives.
Sasha's aunt Victoria lives in a different region of the country, and it takes twelve hours to get to her by train. Sasha and her parents have never come to see her at her place, and they have never met her new husband. However, Victoria comes to the city where they live (and where she used to live earlier) on special occasions, and it is the time the family unites. Victoria brings her two sons along, as well. This happens once or twice a year. Meanwhile, Oleksandra’s cousin Vladimir does not keep in touch; he left for Belgium and lives there now. The last time Oleksandra heard about him was about 10 years ago. Cousins don’t even use modern technologies, such as Skype or e-mail, to see each other on the webcam or meet on the web-chat. However, sometimes Oleksandra gets occasional greetings from Vladimir’s mother, Irina, who is not actually a blood relative.
Oleksandra Zinevych belongs to the Slavic culture, as she and her closest family members come from Eastern Europe. She is a teenager and relates to the common interests that other young people have. She goes to the university, and her social group related to the studies is her strongest connection, as her studies and her part-time job are her primary interests. Her boyfriend also used to attend the same university. Her connection to her university is the strongest possible. She may partially relate to the social group of Prague youth, though it is her secondary interest.
From the details I received from my informant, I may arrive at the conclusion that Oleksandra Zinevych has a tendency to support the ties only with her closest relatives. With this approach, she is expected to stop communicating with her parents a lot, as soon as she changes her settlement and moves out to live with her future husband. It means that family ties and kinships are not valued highly by Oleksandra. The informant’s story behind the family connections by the Kinship Diagram demonstrates that distance, travel expenses, time shortage and lack of communication serve as serious “noise” obstacles between the informant and her blood relatives.
Her connectedness to the social and ethnic groups is also underdeveloped. Oleksandra is extremely individualistic and does not see the benefits she may get from relationships with other people.
Considerations for future work may include the following measures:
- Oleksandra should try to develop her connections with her possible relatives that she’s unaware of. As the diagram demonstrates, her circle of relatives is not very broad.
- In my view, her relatedness to the social groups, ethnic cultures or subcultures is quite neutral. It would be nice for her if she made an attempt to broaden her circle of friends and social groups that she is involved in. For instance, Oleksandra is interested in rock music, so she may easily meet many young people in Prague and make friends with them on the basis of common music interests.
- Besides, her connection to her grandmothers – especially Valentina – and all of her cousins is not as intensive as it could be. Oleksandra should try to stay in touch with Vladimir, who stays in Belgium, using modern technologies and telecommunications. As soon as the connection is established and supported, she may come and visit her cousin in Belgium, making sure their family ties are not broken forever.
- Oleksandra may try to visit her aunt Victoria and her young sons from time to time. It is much easier for her, as a free young lady, to travel from one part of the country to another. Victoria may be busy working and bringing up her kids.
- Oleksandra should try to look deeper into her family roots. The information about her ancestry that comes before her grandparents is completely unknown to her. It is useful to carry out an anthropology research in this direction, as it will give Oleksandra quite a different prospective on how wide her family really is.
When it comes to my personal biases and perspectives, I have to admit that I was strongly affected by my own culture and values that include strong family ties, high estimation of friendship, romantic relationships, and social activity, staying involved with everything that is going on around me. I was trying to direct Oleksandra to emphasize the influence of these aspects in her life, but I was surprised, by the way, that our views on the same issue differed. She tends to be more reserved, concentrated, and serious-minded, and is just not ready to communicate with a lot of people. This problem of trying not to be subjective was resolved in a couple of minutes as I managed to “get tuned” to Oleksandra’s emotions and mood, “turning off” my own considerations and judgments at that moment. I can describe my experience with a metaphor; I learned to be a measurement instrument for anthropology information instead of becoming a prism to distort information.