To be completely honest, I was incredibly apprehensive about today’s events. I had a lack of confidence in my own social/interviewing skills and the fear that the collaborators would dismiss us as amateurs who were just taking up their time. Whereas I was pretty comfortable meeting my JACQUES ambassador because he has made it a mission to educate and raise awareness about his situation, I was worried that a person who has lost his/her job won’t really feel that same empowerment, and thus, won’t be as motivated to really open up to an 18 year old college student who has his whole life in front of him. I guess I was focusing on the dichotomy between us and them, and not really the collaborative aspects of this project. Even if they weren’t as empowered and excited to tell their stories as my JACQUES ambassador, all the collaborators from Sparrow’s Point chose to be there today.
A sense of collaboration really set in once the interview was over. I was paired up with a man who was clearly as nervous as I was, a machinist who was laid off at 63 and decided to take early retirement. During the interview, I was worried that wasn’t asking the right questions and that they weren’t strong enough to get him to open up. However, once I turned the camera off, he told me that he was generally an introvert and even during his time in the mill he kept to himself. We continued talking for another 15-20 minutes and every time one of us thought we had covered everything, we would find something else to bring up. He even came in 10 minutes after he had left, while I was packing up, and told me that he was at the post office when he remembered there were things he forgot to tell me that he wanted me to know. And the things he told me in that short period of time were some of the most personal things I heard from him in the 75 minutes or so that I was with him.
I don’t really think it was anything in particular that I did that got him to open up like that, I just think that is the nature of any form of collaborative work. Long-term collaboration is not only courteous and, in many cases, more ethical, it is also often necessary. I did ask a number of unnecessary and incoherent questions during the interview, out of nervousness and fear of silence. But once the recording had stopped, and I stopped worrying about getting good soundbites, and he probably stopped worrying about the eloquence of his answers, I think that’s when the connection was really forged. In that sense, today really exceeded my expectations. I learned just as much about the personal effects of deindustrialization as I did about certain skills needed to be an effective anthropologist.