Day 1 went really smoothly. We spent most of the morning talking logistics, and I'm really confident we've got a good plan.
We've outlined our program for the next few months (our kontrek according to QB), including time out for the Christian Convention at Morrow Farm (I'll head to the Katherine Country Music Muster instead), QB's prior engagement at a cultural awareness week for Kakadu National Park rangers and my parents' visit in late May. We've even factored in time out for funerals. Our actual program consists of a training phase, a phase where we work with speakers in nearby communities and then trips planned to work with speakers who live in communities further a field. Travel to more distant places will also be easier later on once all the water about the place dries up and roads open again.
Monash University Ethics Committee requires me to write and deliver a lengthy Explanatory Statement to all participants and in return receive a signed Informed Consent form. Discussing this with QB and RW took well over an hour, which in my opinion is a very good thing. We talked about why it is important to understand from the very beginning what the recordings are for and what will happen to them once I leave. When people understand that the recordings will be part of my PhD corpus, they can choose before we start recording to omit details they don't want replayed elsewhere (e.g. sacred/secret stories). We talked about confidentiality versus being identified as the teller of a particular story. University ethics committees have the expectation that all participants must be treated anonymously. Only recently have field social scientists (anthropologists, linguists) been able to argue that for many speakers of indigenous and/or endangered languages, it is prestigious and part of one's cultural title and practice to be identified with the telling of particular stories. To treat a recording as anonymous is to disrespect the wishes of the performer. We also talked about archiving conditions. Speakers also have the right to decide who can access archived versions of their recordings. Some speakers don't want to put any restrictions on their recordings. Others ask that researchers ask their permission before using the recordings. Some state that only their families should have access to their recordings.
QB and RW made different choices when writing their informed consent forms. That it took some time to talk about all these issues, and that they made different decisions reassures me that they both understood the discussion, and were making their own choices instead of feeling influenced or pressured by me, or by each other. One of them chose to only allow her family to access her recordings in the archive. As a linguist, this is my least-preferred option, but the positive spin is that I obviously didn't pressure her into doing what would suit me best. These two will be helping me have discussions about ethics with all the people we hope to record. I have confidence that we'll do a good job of explaining the choices and their consequences.
Approaches to ethics also serve as good examples of how culture(s) are always adapting and changing. Most Australians are aware of there being a taboo in Aboriginal cultures on the use of the name (and often, images and audio visual recordings) of a deceased person. Such a taboo has significant consequences for a project dedicated to recording the oral histories of elderly people for the sake of language and cultural transmission. It could happen that we produce a number of recordings, which may become tabooed once the people in them pass away. The taboo would interrupt the transmission of the content of the recordings. Increasingly, this is being recognised by elderly speakers, who are asking that in the event of their deaths there be no taboos on any cultural documents they created. They realise that sometimes in order to maintain culture, you have to change culture. Not everyone agrees on this point however. It will be interesting to hear what different people have to say on this as we travel around.