Givers and receivers: auto-ethnographic stories and self-reflections about life in a Flemish institution for people with an intellectual disability

Saturday, November 2, 2013
First author:
Reciprocity & Friendship I

Anthropology, Faculty of Social Sciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

All authors:

Frank A. Renders

self-reflectionsintellectual disability


The process of alienation I experienced in the course of fieldwork as a caregiver in a Flemish institution is described. Alienation is considered as a tool to obtain scientific knowledge and insights. It is a precondition that enables to relate with the strangeness of the other. My research further investigates this claim.


Auto-ethnographic stories and self-reflections are the central building blocks. This resulted in a self-willed style of writing consisting out of a collection of different texts (subjective stories, theoretical considerations, excerpts of files, notes, reports). A connection is sought between the subjective, the cultural and theoretical level. These perspectives together constitute my framework of reference by which I perceive and coherently represent life in the institution.


Alienation embraces a double movement: on the one hand it refers to a clash between myself (the researcher) and the other. In the second movement, an intense exchange takes place  between myself and the institutional surrounding. This interplay takes place in a space-in-between. Attention is on my performance and the way I understand, interpret and create meaning through a simultaneous internal dialogue. It reveals the reciprocal nature of the concept of belonging.


This method is a relevant strategy to portray the process of mental growth of the researcher-caregiver. It also generates an additional perspective about the figure of the resident, namely as a ‘giver of knowledge and information’. This requires a redefinition of the traditional understanding of care. People with an intellectual disability can only be depicted as ‘givers’ only when the caregivers identity themselves as ‘receivers’. In the current system of care this perspective is neither a theme nor a practice.