As an applied linguistic anthropologist, I conduct ethnography to study and understand local semiotics. At my ﬁeld site I observe, collect, and interpret signs and symbols – elements of communicative behavior including texts of all kinds. “Text” is situated language use (language in its broadest sense) that marks itself and its users’ location within economic, social, cultural, and historical settings (Leap 2003). Texts include actual words in narratives and life stories, content in distributed media (Chandler 2007; Fairclough 2003; Johnstone 2008); and things we say, read, write, hear, see, smell, move through, and wear. Even space is a kind of text (Soja 2003). Texts also include objects, artifacts, and materials (Leone 2005). They are signiﬁed and apprehended within systems of meaning that are learned; and are covertly and overtly reproduced among people (Bourdieu 2003; Decena 2008; Pêcheux 1982). Textual data oﬀer entry points for understanding points of view and the prevailing
ideological and socio-cultural constructs through which people recognize themselves and are being recognized. They oﬀer ethnographers the opportunity to glimpse and attempt to understand the lived experience of people across terrains of experience and subjectivity that are always-in-formation (Leap 2004). Texts signify and are signiﬁed within systems of meaning, or interwoven “orders of discourse” that are learned and reproduced among people who can communicate intelligibly with each other, and who act on their inter-intelligibility (Fairclough 2003). Gathering texts provided by people in their own contexts enables ethnographers to understand peoples’ senses of themselves within their lived experience (Dahlberg, Drew, and Nyström 2002). My ﬁeld site is a military treatment facility (MTF). With the consent of study
participants there, I probe how perceptions of ability (and disability) and perceptions
of deservedness are linked in the lived experience of patients, family members, non-medical attendants1 (NMAs), and caregivers who are in rehabilitation – either being treated or providing or supporting treatment. With their help I study whether there is a felt link between disability and deservedness, how the linkage is sustained, and how it aﬀects levels of recognition and access to resources. By “recognition” I mean being acknowledged, being addressed, being thanked, being saluted for example; and by deservedness I mean gaining access to such things as parking privileges, gifts, rewards, and privileged modes of communication including devices like tablets or smart phones. By collecting and analyzing textual data that both inscribe and circumscribe wounded, ill, and injured military Service Members’ (SMs) and interrelated others’ lived experience, I learn how research participants are actually interpreting, making sense of, and coping with their unforeseen experiences and conditions. For example, with permission, I listen to stories, study posters, announcements, and ﬂyers, join in or observe activities, take notes, and examine material culture such as uniforms, medals, patches, and prosthetics. My idea has been that studying the eﬀects of adventitious alterations to “ability”
in a structured and text-rich system like an MTF – a distilled space in which human socio-culture takes on an exaggerated and particular range of expression – will shed light on how it is that people decide on who deserves what, and how we subsequently confer or withhold recognition and access to resources. I hypothesize that while some material and immaterial results of being wounded, becoming ill, or being injured might be “obvious,” some might be “unnoticed”; and that these diﬀerences in perception might account for diﬀerences in levels of recognition and access to resources, and their consequences (Althusser 1971; Lancaster 2003; McRuer 2006). In other words, in this space I can observe and hear about what happens when people are unexpectedly changed; how their subjectivities are aﬀected; and in what ways and depending on whom, recognition and access to resources get re-calibrated. By gathering textual data and critically analyzing them, I get at the particular mechanisms governing practices and experiences at my site. My overall aim is to gain insights into aspects of lived experience that are signiﬁcant to people’s inclusion or exclusion at this site and beyond, how those aspects are constructed and reproduced, and the degrees of deservedness we accept or deny or negotiate when our own or others’ subjectivities (and their embodiments) are unexpectedly altered. By studying corporeal, cognitive, and conative changes and their consequences
in a space and time devoted to managing adventitious change, i.e. at an MTF, my projects address large questions about the body, identity, and disability; while at the same time indexing – or pointing to – how ideas and ideology centered on “ﬁtness” (and unﬁtness) are applied; i.e. their real eﬀects in lived experience. The existentialities that I track, the mechanisms that construct and sustain them, and the evidence I ﬁnd and document regarding the tacitness of these processes may be useful in theory and in practice – for social scientists, care providers, and researchers. By connecting theoretical questions and propositions regarding subjectivity with actual lived experience of alterations in self and others’ perceptions of worth to recommendations for
change(s) in practice and policy, my ethnography at an MTF provides an example of applied theoretical anthropology.