AGSA: Paula Pryce, “Listening: New Ethnographic Methods for the Study of Silence & Contemplation”

Imagine doing fieldwork in a place where people almost never talk. Years of ethnographic research in American monasteries taught Paula Pryce to listen in ways beyond the aural. To grasp what was happening at silent field sites, Paula asked the same questions of herself, the anthropologist, that she did of contemplative Christians: How do human beings attune themselves to the subtle, ambiguous, and invisible? Are there ways of training ourselves to listen, see, and sense more acutely that will allow us to learn about the inner worlds of others?

In addition to her use of more standard methodologies, Paula Pryce developed “intersubjective fieldwork” and “deep listening” techniques not unlike the very attunement practices which contemplatives themselves observed. Modifying these modes of perception for ethnographic enquiry assisted the ethnographer in learning to combine the intensive participation and critical observation that allowed her to listen to silent communities.