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The Role of the Reflexive Self in Mailer's Protests

Jon Dean

Keywords: Bourdieu; literature; Norman Mailer; qualitative methods; reflexive research

In The Armies of the Night (1968) and Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968/2008) Norman Mailer details the exploits of the anti-Vietnam war protestors and his role in the protests. With an ethnographer’s eye for detail and a novelist’s eye for imagery, he constructs a picture of youthful fear and exuberance, a totalitarian reaction to protest, and documents an America which he realises is slowing eating itself. In these nonfi ction novels, he places himself at the centre of events, interpreting the data through his own frazzled, drink-fuelled, mischievous self. This article utilises Pierre Bourdieu’s methodological framework of refl exive sociology to both critically analyse Mailer as an ethnographer and qualitative researcher and ask whether inquiry into social protest can be adequately conducted through the autobiographical gaze of a novelist. It is argued that by using such literary resources and techniques, we can, in the spirit of C. Wright Mills, move to a more public sociology where literary techniques are valued, rather than dismissed as unscientific.

Affiliations

Dean, Jon - Sheffield Hallam University