Susanne Ådahl is a visiting fellow with Hearing the Voice from 9 – 20 September 2013. She writes: Research on voice hearing is being conducted in Finland through an interdisciplinary project called Mind and the Other: An Interdisciplinary Study on the Interactions of Multiple Realities, located at the University of Turku and financed by the Academy of Finland (2013-2016). The sub-project on the subjective and lived and experience of voice hearers in Finland is conducted by one of two a medical anthropologists working in the project.  I, the voice researcher, have previously been investigating the subjective experiences of organ transplant recipients and farmers’ experiences of social suffering in Finland.

In this present project I am mainly interested in is how voice hearing is explained and given meaning by voice hearers; how they interact with the voices and negotiate agency between them and the voices; and, how these lay explanations on voice hearing sheds light on the cultural values surrounding the Finish mind.  Methodologically I use an ethnographic approach where I conduct exploratory in-depth interviews, attend events, observe the discussions of peer support groups and follow internet discussions of a discussion group organised and run by an association of and for voice hearers (Moniääniset = the multivoiced). My main interlocutor group is voice hearers recruited through the Moniääniset association. Some of the members of Moniääniset may have received a psychiatric diagnosis, been hospitalised and rehabilitated; others again have joined the association just to share their experiences of voice hearing with peers and to receive support, advice and understanding. To them, voice hearing is a phenomenon that affects their lives, but is not something they link to a medical diagnosis, nor do they necessarily want to have any contact with the mental health services. My plan is to expand the interlocutor group to include individuals who call themselves “kuulijat” (“hearers”) and whose voice hearing is one of several exceptional traits – like telepathic abilities and clairvoyance – that they possess. The research process is in its initial stages still and I have recently started conducting field work by attending events organized by the Moniääniset association and peer support groups organised in Helsinki. I have also started recruiting interlocutors to be interviewed.

The broader project, “Mind and the Other” studies the human mind in interaction with otherworldly agents and realities often interpreted as supernatural in the contemporary West. The question of human interaction with supernatural beings and the roles and meanings they are given in different cultural contexts is studied by means of the interdisciplinary collaboration of seven researchers representing psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, folklore studies and cultural history. Research materials and methods involve both quantitative and nuanced qualitative approaches. They include semiotic and narrative analyses of folklore texts and Icelandic sagas, ethnographic fieldwork in Western Africa and contemporary Finland, participant observation, interviews, psychological questionnaires and experimental laboratory methods, as well as neuroimaging and psychiatric diagnosing. For more information please consult the project web site.

The purpose of my visit to the Hearing the Voice project is to become acquainted with the work carried out by the project researchers and to consolidate and create contacts with those working in the field of voice hearing in Durham. I will be attending meetings of the project and I will also be attending the Second Meeting of the International Consortium on Hallucination Research. I (optimistically) hope to get some reading done and to work on a paper to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in a workshop on Caregiving and Communities: Challenging and transforming healthcare.

I am looking forward to meeting all the project researchers and hearing more about research in Hearing the Voice.

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