Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Understanding Child Abuse: An Ethnographic Journey


Written in 2001 as part of a year long anthropological fieldwork course (ANTH 315) that I was taking as part of my honours degree in cultural anthropology at Concordia University, my first print publication, Understanding Child Abuse: An Ethnographic Journey, was fraught with self-doubt and uncertainty as I struggled to find a style, let alone a tone that would do the topic I was discussing justice. Condensed into nine pages from sixty something pages, the art of editing was not lost upon me as I worked in conjunction with my fellow student editors and then professor, Dr. Nadia Ferrara. Nevertheless, though I was honoured to be included in Stories From Montreal II: Ethnographic Accounts of Life in North America's Francophone Metropolis, it was also a bittersweet moment.

Despite a Rocky Start, SFM Continued!
This was the second edition of a student publication that was originally started by a former professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Concordia University. Dr. Louise Gauthier was the visionary who not only fought tooth and nail to have undergraduate student work published in Stories From Montreal (1st Edition) but inevitably, it was partly the reason why she was not invited back to teach the following year. Dr. Gauthier was rather vocal about the treatment she had received at the time and whilst I valued my experience working for her as a student editor for the first edition of Stories From Montreal, admittedly, I was not certain if her efforts and hard work would continue to succeed once she left. If memory serves me correctly, Dr. Ferrara had similar difficulties in the end but regardless, Stories From Montreal II eventually saw the light of day. However, despite the initial internal politics that these two professors were subjected to, both editions were received well by several non-tenured and tenured professors alike in the department. I recall vividly being approached by Dr. Anthony Synnott at the second edition's book launch at Hurley's Irish Pub. He praised my work but added that he wished the chapter had been longer. Inevitably, he was right but the decision was out of my hands. Short and sweet, so to speak, is better than not at all imho. Ironically, despite everything the department of sociology and anthropology inevitably embraced Dr. Gauthier's idea and eventually went on to continue publishing undergraduate student work for several years afterwards. I can only hope that every edition afterwards was dedicated to her as SFM II had been.

In the end, my piece had been selected by Dr. Gauthier to be published before her departure from Concordia University and it meant all the more coming from her. Both she and Dr. Ferrara inspired me to do something similar in the future, though, like Dr. Gauthier, my attempts were met with the same closed minded attitude that is rampant amongst academics in tertiary level institutions. But that is a story for another day. As for my chapter, Understanding Child Abuse: An Ethnographic Journey, it was a labour of love. It forced me to face the realities of child abuse in ways that, at that time, I was not ready to do as I engaged with participants who were good friends and who themselves had been victims of child abuse. I had been working as a child/youth care worker (now known as special care counsellor) and I was constantly confronted with the realities of child abuse in Montreal's greater metropolitan area. It was all that I could do not to lose myself in each child's story. In many ways, Dr. Gauthier's ANTH 315 class helped me to contextualize what I was hearing and experiencing with children and adolescents. Inevitably, it also helped me compartmentalize and understand my own family's history. The end result is the chapter below:



Today Dr. Gauthier works as an editor vis a vis her own private business whilst Dr. Ferrara continues to teach at McGill University. Both women helped inspire me and many other students. Both of them helped encourage my love for writing. They are the kind of teachers that helped shape my own teaching practices and interest in student development and critical thinking. As for the topic of child abuse, whilst I am no closer today in understanding how someone, anyone, could behave in such a way towards children, I continue to advocate for positive change. I have since also begun addressing issues found in tertiary institutions including but not limited to rape culture and victim blaming. Again, the latter is a story for another day.

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