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Meet the team: Rebecca Jones

Now that the project has entered its final stages we are looking back on how involvement in the KEO research has shaped the ideas and carriers of our valued team members. Third person we have asked for a blog contribution is Rebecca Jones, who has been with the project since the very beginning as a research fellow and who is now a lecturer in the Anthropology of Africa at the University of Birmingham. 

 

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As the Knowing Each Other project draws to a close, I’ve been thinking about what I learned during my four and a half years working on the project. When I began work on the KEO project I was particularly interested in how southwestern Nigerians conceptualise and experience encounters with religious difference. The project allowed me to develop this interest much further, based not on literary texts – my previous area of expertise, following my PhD research on Nigerian travel writing – but on the lived experience of southwestern Nigerians, in their own words. Insights I gained from the project – such as how often our respondents participate in celebrations of people of other religions, and their justifications for doing so in terms of the knowledge to be gained – will underpin my future research for years to come. The project also challenged me to think about the relationship between discourse or language and lived experience: how far could we claim that what our survey respondents and interviewees told us they did was what they really did, and how far could we argue that what respondents said was a form of action in itself?

Practically speaking, my first major task was handling the enormous amount of qualitative and quantitative data that was produced by our survey of 2819 people. With a huge amount of data to input, translate and analyse, I had to learn (through a baptism of fire) how to manage the project and to work with a team of data entry assistants and translators to ensure the data was entered as accurately and efficiently as possible, including Yoruba-language data, which created its own challenges in terms of Yoruba orthography. Creating the database involved a lot of trial and error and a few hairy moments, but we eventually ended up with a dataset that I was really proud of.

Our first explorations of the data were one of the most exciting moments on the project, as both expected and unexpected trends began to emerge – such as the high rate of religious conversion among married women, or the trend toward conversion to Christianity.

Our first explorations of the data were one of the most exciting moments on the project, as both expected and unexpected trends began to emerge – such as the high rate of religious conversion among married women, or the trend toward conversion to Christianity. Working with our statistical research fellow, Giovanni Occhiali, on more detailed analysis of the data has given me new ideas about how quantitative data can support research in the humanities and social sciences. The project has also pioneered exciting new methodological approaches to anthropological survey data through our collaboration with corpus linguist Clyde Ancarno. Working with Clyde, we were able to examine in fine detail how southwestern Nigerians use language to discuss inter-religious difference and encounter, such as use of ‘Yorubaness’ to overcome religious difference, or appeals to ‘serving the same god’.

The project has also pioneered exciting new methodological approaches to anthropological survey data through our collaboration with corpus linguist Clyde Ancarno.

My research has always involved Yoruba-language material, but previously I had worked on published texts such as novels and newspapers. The KEO survey presented me with the interesting challenge of getting to grips with Yoruba as it is written and spoken in everyday language. Few researchers have this opportunity to work with so much everyday, written Yoruba. Together with our translators, I encountered dialectal variations, idiosyncratic tone-marking, colloquialisms, and countless new expressions which have enriched my understanding of the Yoruba language.

Another part of the project I particularly enjoyed was the opportunity to work on our book, Beyond Religious Tolerance. This taught me a lot about editing: from working with authors on drafts of their chapters, to ensuring a coherent argument across the book while still allowing individual arguments to flourish, and the challenges of standardising the Yoruba and Arabic language used in the book.

Finally, one of the major joys of working on the KEO project was getting to know our team members both here in the UK and in Nigeria, and learning a huge amount about research, fieldwork and academic careers from them all. Here’s hoping these friendships and professional relationships extend into the future well beyond the end of the KEO project itsel

 

Photo Credit: Rebecca Jones

Staff Profile: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/dasa/jones-rebecca.aspx

Twitter: @Rebeccasenoj

 

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