#ANTH421 w/ @sarahshulist: Considering the situated production of identity construction in individual Albertan injured workers

The following is a project summary for my final research project for #ANTH421: Language and Power at Macewan University with Dr. Sarah Shulist (@sarahshulist) during the Fall 2017 term.


What were my methods?

In short: interview and cry.

In less-short: Knowing both of the people I would be interviewing (Anthony Hughes–herein “my dad,”–and Ralph Teed) I knew to only prepare 1 question per person (“Why do you call yourself what you do when people ask what it is you do for a living?”) as both my dad and Ralph tend to be very talkative. I also made sure to include both interviewees in the writing of the consent form, and it was decided that all parts of the interview and interview process would be made available for public access, save the consent form proper which would only be provided to my class professor/project supervisor Dr. Sarah Shulist.

In addition, as I knew going into the interview process that one of the primary concerns for both interviewees was lack of access to information I decided to print off all of the sources I used for this analysis (less the two bell hooks books, which I will be purchasing for them in January 2018) and provided a copy to my dad with the understanding that said sources would be made available to both Ralph Teed and Peter Samardzija at request. This is in following with individual fair-use laws, and I appreciate the contributions each author has provided to both my knowledge and the knowledges of my dad, Ralph, and Peter. I did not include citations in-text as I wanted to practice a reflexive close-reading method on the interview (shout-out to my English lit minor), and have instead provided a list of sources which have influenced my methods or understandings of the interview and project overall at the end of this post.

How did I come up with this project?

He let me know that he actually prefers the term contentious injured worker, which I found shocking because it wasn’t a term I recalled him using before.

I originally came up with the idea for this project while in the van with my dad on the way to school one day in October 2017. I remembered talking about identity formation in ANTH 421, and was telling him about how I usually identify him as an activist or lobbyist depending on the situation. He let me know that he actually prefers the term contentious injured worker, which I found shocking because it wasn’t a term I recalled him using before. As the child of an injured worker I am intimately aware of the effects of the labour my dad has put into his dealings with the Alberta Worker’s Compensation Board (herein “WCB”), and while the title of contentious injured worker is not something I was shocked by in itself I did find it shocking that it wasn’t something I had considered in the past. To me this term makes perfect sense considering the relationship between my dad and the WCB. Thus in designing my project I didn’t want to focus on the how my father had come into the title for himself, but rather why he has continued to use it for the past 20-odd years.

In designing the project I didn’t want to focus solely on my dad’s experiences, as I know his history in inextricably wrapped with the histories and narratives of so many others (currently named “The Crew”–a group of people sharing similar histories of trauma related to their dealings with the WCB). With that in mind I decided to also approach Ralph through my dad to also be interviewed. Ralph is someone who has been a presence in my life on a regular basis for a significant portion of my life, and I am a intimately aware of his history with my dad if not with the WCB.

I did not ask to speak to Peter Samardzija, as I knew I would not have the time nor opportunity to speak to him at the same time as my dad and Ralph, and due to the radical openness of the interview I felt that interviewing Peter separately would hinder my understanding of the information provided. That said I knew that my dad was intimately aware of Peter’s history and that both my dad and Ralph were close friends with Peter and would speak to their understandings of his experiences. Given the opportunity to continue work on this project I would dedicate the time and space to interview Peter in tandem with my dad and Ralph.

Although Peter was not present in-person his presence was felt in spirit, and I’d like to take this opportunity to again thank my dad, Ralph, and Peter for their contributions to my schooling and understanding of their intertwining life narratives.

Interview Summary:

As the interview proper happened over a period of several hours I have decided to provide a short summary in lieu of analysis (“Beyond The Scope” and all that). Instead, I recommend readers of this blog post either listen to the entire interview or pick a random time code and pay specific attention to the intonation of the speakers. Moreso than any other factor I found that the intonation of both my dad and Ralph were the greatest indicators of both the choice of contentious and former as identificatory prefixes.

“Why do you call yourself what you do when people ask what it is you do for a living?”

In asking the question I did (reminder: “Why do you call yourself what you do when people ask what it is you do for a living?”) my dad responded that he calls himself a contentious injured worker due to his long and complex history of medical malpractice and quasi-judicial injustices. He also provided a short recounting of both his medical narrative and judicial narrative with respect to the WCB as justification of this title choice. The specifier of contentious in front of the title of injured worker speaks to these narratives, as even just the interview time can attest to. In taking the time he did to answer my question he showed that the anthropological maxim of “It’s More Complicated Than That” is alive and well in the world of personal identification. At a base level he feels that there is nowhere else to go, but in the words of Ralph “there’s a reason we’re here” which has led my dad to also begin using the term advocate to describe himself.

Prior to the interview it was my understanding that Ralph used the term activist to describe himself, and I was legitimately shocked to learn that he now refers to himself as a former activist. My memories of Ralph include (but are certainly not limited to) tent villages, chaining himself to doors, and going to the Alberta Legislator Building with protest signs. Ralph considers himself to be an action-oriented idealist (something I feel a kinship to), yet he feels that his current positionality within The Crew as more of a supporter than a doer has resulted in the loss of his activist status. This is reflected much as it was with my dad in that Ralph provided personal, medical, and judicial narratives in order to justify his title choice.

Overall there was a sense that there is something larger than themselves which is deciding the language they have access to (as in a structured structure–not necessarily a deity), and influencing their language choices. This is something I obviously agree with, and given the opportunity I would delve deeper into this specific aspect of the interview. Unfortunately due to course time constraints this type of analysis is beyond the scope of this blog post.

How has this project affected me and my knowledges?

I think the thing I appreciated most about having this opportunity was being able to learn more about the history of The Crew’s history both in relation to and independently of one another. The intertwining and interrelational aspects of not only their medical narratives, but also their interpersonal narratives was something I had some idea of prior to the interview however it was [literally I’m lost for words as I’m writing this, but] very powerful to consider in such a short amount of time. It’s one thing to experience something over a period of years, and entirely another to experience it over a period of hours. I found this especially poignant in considering the current legal landscape of The Crew’s lives with respect to the military police. As a child I witnessed a fair amount of legal work being done around the house but having had a break as an adult the uptick over the past year or so with respect to the involvement of the military police has been jarring, and even moreso with respect to the interview time.

The labour that’s involved in “””just”” printing is quite high, especially considering the embodiment of movement which is involved.”

Oddly enough in printing the articles I gained a greater respect for the labour that my dad does. Using an Epson home printer is not something I’m used to doing, as I do the majority of my printing at the Macewan University library where there are quick-printing industrial printers. The labour that’s involved in “””just”” printing is quite high, especially considering the embodiment of movement which is involved. As someone with chronic pain the act of standing next to the printer and flipping pages flared up my pain, and I found myself needing to do regular stretches in even the half-hour or so I spent printing. Considering this in comparison to the type of printing my dad does (sometimes for days at a time, using multiple printers at a time) I can only begin to imagine the effect of that movement on his body, and it adds to my understanding of his use of the “contentious” prefix.

Working with people who I’ve either known my entire life (my dad), and people I’ve known for the majority or near-majority of my life (Ralph and Peter) has been an experience that even a month away from the interview I’m still struggling to put into words. While there was so much I was capable of expecting, there was even more that I wasn’t able to expect. I didn’t know, for example, that my dad had set a date for medically assisted dying and it forced me to confront that information in a way I wasn’t entirely prepared for (though I have since taken the time to talk to my dad about his wishes, and support him fully in his future decisions). In my previous experience with interviewing this seems to be a running theme, however, and moving forward I believe my pre-interview statement to myself will have to include “Expect The Unexpected.”


Bezo, Brent, and Stefania Maggi. 2017. “Intergenerational perceptions of mass trauma’s impact on physical health and well-Being.” Psychological trauma: theory, research, practice, and policy, Advance Online Publication (June 5).

Bourdieu, Pierre 1980. “On Symbolic Power”. From Language & Symbolic Power.

Bucholtz, Mary, and Kira Hall. 2005. “Identity and interaction: sociocultural linguistic approach.” Discourse Studies, 4-5, 7: 585–614.

Caretta, Martina Angela. 2015. “Situated knowledge in cross-Cultural, cross-Language research: a collaborative reflexive analysis of researcher, assistant and participant subjectivities.” Qualitative Research, 4, 15: 489–505.

hooks, bell, Feminism Is for Everybody (Taylor and Francis, 2014), <http://www.myilibrary.com.ezproxy.macewan.ca?ID=650569> (15 December 2017)

hooks, bell, Writing Beyond Race (Routledge, 2012), <http://www.myilibrary.com.ezproxy.macewan.ca?ID=415870> (15 December 2017)

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy, and Margaret M. Lock. “The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, 1, no. 1 (1987): 6-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/648769.

Sherwood, Juanita. “Intergenerational trauma isn’t just another determinant of indigenous peoples’ health.” Journal of Ethics in Mental Health, 9, (2014): 1-7.

Zhao, Yan. 2016. “Exploring the interactive space of the ‘outsider within’: Practicing feminist situated knowledge in studying transnational adoption.” European Journal of Women’s Studies, 2, 23: 140–54.


Author: B

I'm a 20-something university student with a blog.

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