Reading novels as part of social science research

Books on a shelf. blurry. colourbox

Aslaug Gotehus writes about Viajero – A Filipino novel in the book corner.

By Aslaug Gotehus

Conducting doctoral studies involves a lot of reading. Mostly, I read peer reviewed articles and books on theory and methodology, but I also try to find time to read novels. I believe that reading novels makes us better researchers and better writers.

In my PhD project, which is part of the WELLMIG project, I focus on the experiences of nurses educated in the Philippines. Although my focus is on the individual nurses and their experiences, getting to know the culture as well as the history of the people is also central.

The Philippines is a nation of ‘travelers’ and Filipino migrants are found in almost every country in the world. Recently, I read a historical novel by F. Sionil Jose – ‘Viajero – A Filipino novel’, a book that provides a comprehensive overview of Philippine history. The novel tells the life story of Salvador dela Raza, an orphan that was brought to the US in 1945 by an American captain. In his search for identity, Salvador  takes us on a journey through the history of the Philippines. From the earliest contact with China, through Magellan’s ‘discovery’, the voyages of the galleons across the pacific, Marco’s dictatorship, the EDSA revolution, and the Cory Aquino administration. The story concludes with the movement of Filipino workers to the Middle East and Filipinas in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo.

As a migration scholar, it was interesting to read the story of the Philippines through a ‘travelling lens’. Mobility has deep historical roots in the Philippines, and Jose presents the major historical events of the nation in parallel with Salvador’s own life journey. The book does, however, require a focused and attentive reader. I enjoyed being guided through the main events of Filipino history, but Jose did not manage to get me really interested in the life of Salvador dela Raza.  The novel is not a page-turner, but it certainly provided me much better insight into and knowledge of the Filipino people and their history.