Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Research Methods: Gender, Sexuality in Ethnographic Fieldwork

So! I'd like to share here some questions that I compiled for my Music, Gender, and Sexuality class for tomorrow's discussion. I wish I had the time to share all the other discussions we have in class, but that'll have to wait for another lifetime or something. The texts we're using for this week are cited below (albeit the citation is inconsistent. That's okay - you'll live with it.) Oh, and this week's theme is research methods and gender expression/performativity in ethnographic fieldwork. 

Music, Gender, and Sexuality
November 22nd, 2011
Discussion Questions – Research Methods: Gender, Sexuality in Ethnographic Fieldwork
1.       Warm-up questions/thoughts: current events in Egypt and Pakistan. Recently, 20-year-old Egyptian feminist-activistAliaa al-Mahdy posted fully naked pictures of herself on her blog and incited the anger of not only conservative Muslims across the world but also many liberal and feminist Muslims.
Recently, also, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authorities (PTA) released a list of over one thousand English words and phrases and over 500 Urdu words and phrases that it will no longer permit during Text messaging. For the list of English words, please click here
, and for some news articles on the issue, please click here or here.
The former matter appears to be a response to the suppression of sexuality in the society (for both women and men) and the latter to the expression of sexuality. Discuss.
2.       In “Can there be a Feminist Ethnography?” Lilah Abu-Lughod insists that her essay will not be written in her usual narrative style in which she shares stories and anecdotes from her interactions with Egyptian women. Yet, she shares several such interesting anecdotes and refers to some of them again at the end of her article. Why do you think she does this?
3.       Abu-Lughod points out that to ask the question of whether feminism can make a difference in anthropology provokes “a reconsideration of the problem of ‘objectivity’ since if objectivity is the ideal of anthropological research and writing, then to argue for feminist ethnography would be to argue for a biased, interested, partial, and thus flawed project.” She later adds that “If, as anthropologists, we know what we know through emotionally complicated and communicatively ambiguous social encounters in the field, then certainly objectivity is out of the question and anthropology is not to be likened to science” (10). Yet, anthropology is considered a science. How is science defined, and what makes anthropology one? More importantly, Abu-Lughod writes that “feminist theorists have argued that objectivity within science is both part of a dualism that is gendered and is a mode of power. Some argue it should be abolished, some argue it should be reformed.” To what extent, do you think, is the former statement true, and what is your position on the latter? Moreover, what is the difference between being objective in a science like engineering (or biology) and in a science like anthropology?
4.       What is the (or an?) alternative to feminist ethnography? If a feminist ethnography centers on the lives and experiences of women, what do other forms of ethnography center on? Is the label “feminist ethnography” possibly redundant, when/if feminism by definition or inherently aims to highlight the issues, concerns, and experiences of women and other marginalized groups of people?

5.       Barz and Cooley’s discussion on the sexual experiences of anthropologists during fieldwork made me wonder what the role(s)an anthropologist-author has in society. It also made me wonder why I felt awkward hearing the thought of the sexual experiences or a conversation on the sexuality of anthropologists, but I don’t feel nearly as weird at the thought of doctors’ sexual experiences. How different are the ideas/practices of sex with “natives” to those of sex with “subjects” (for a scientific study) or patients (for a doctor)? Also, do rules of ethics and sexuality shift with disciplines. Perhaps our intimate involvement with our “subjects” might render us to be more subjective rather than objective in our study.
6.       In the foreword of Shadows in the Field, Barz expresses her disappointment over the fact that not enough material has been published on ethnomusicology, that “we would have expected some ‘how-to’ books, textbooks for courses in the field methods; works that theorize the problems of the interpersonal relations involved; books about the changing concepts of ‘field’; and detailed accounts of individual experience” (viii). Yet, she writes before that ethnomusicology “is a field which has, more than most, devoted a great deal of attention to its own methods and techniques, developing, indeed, a tradition of self-examination and critique” (ibid). But where exactly is this self-criticism and self-examination being discussed if there is indeed a lack of literature on ethnomusicology? How does the author know, for instance, that this is the case? What are the media for these discussions? She admits that there has been a “thin strand” of such writing, but is this enough data for her to assume that ethnomusicology has, more than most, given a great deal of attention to self-exploration and criticism?
7.       I was fascinated by most titles in the Table of Contents of Shadows in the Field, but the one that caught my attention immediately enough for me to read and ponder on it was “Virtual Fieldwork: Three Case Studies.” This might be because of my own interest in virtual ethnography and my efforts at legitimating them every time someone asks what the purpose of virtual ethnography could possibly be and claims that the Internet is not an authentic source for studying a community. But I have observed that these communities have a lot to offer us in various fields, leading us to ask questions about how identity politics are performed on the Internet, how representative the online interactions among different members of the virtual community are to those in the “physical” culture, how gender relations are maintained – and so on. As Babiracki explains it, "virtual fieldwork is a means of studying real people…." (91). Still, I wonder, Can there really be such a thing as “virtual fieldwork,” and how “authentic” is it? Also, in cases where an Internet community is being surveyed or studied, is it important to let the community know it is being observed?
8.       Babiracki discusses ungendering herself as an anthropologist in village India, writing, "With tape recorder in one hand and microphones in the other, I positioned myself between the head of the women's line and the group of men dancing in front of them, then simply moved around the circle with the flow of the dance, neither male nor female--the ungendered researcher" (Babiracki, 175).
In other instances, it seems that by “ungendering” herself, she means shifting her roles—the roles she is accustomed to in America—as a being to accommodate the norms of the society she’s in, and they vary with situations and circumstances, not just with cultures (e.g., the two music-culture groups she is studying, the Mundaris and the Nagpuris, perform gender roles vary differently, and one practices gender segregation while the other does not). She writes, for instance, that
I had already played with assuming both male and female roles in Mundari music making long before my first research trip.... I alternated female and male roles in those performances: singing and dancing with the women in one half, and playing flute and dancing with teh men in the other. Dr. Munda insisted, for the recreation to be authentic, that I must take on the role of a man completely when playing the flute. I dress in a dhori and kurta, with my hair in a topknot, and shadowed his dance movements until I could move like a man (174).
However, it is interesting that she chose to live with three females while in this village – not with males, or mixed. Can this be interpreted as a way for her to gender herself?


Abu-Lughod, Lila. 19990. “Can there be a Feminist Ethnography?” Women and   Performance: a Journal of Feminist Theory 5(1):7-27.
Kulick, Don. “The sexual lives of anthropologists: Erotic subjectivity and ethnographic     work.” Taboo: Sex, Identity, and Erotic Subjectivity in Anthropological Fieldwork,       Don Kulick and Margaret Willson, eds. New York. Pp.1-22.
Babiracki, Carol. 2008. “What’s the difference? Reflections on gender and fieldwork in   village India.” In Barz, Geoffrey and Cooley, Timothy, eds. 2008. Shadows in the            Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology. Oxford University.     Pp.167-182.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Dare to opine :)

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...