Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Judith Stacey's "Can There be a Feminist Ethnography?"

Because this article was awesome (I wasn't convinced by her argument, but it's still useful, relevant, and important).

"Can There be a Feminist Ethnography?" by Judith Stacey 

Stacey starts her discussion on feminist ethnography by defining how most ethnographers and feminist ethnographers in particular have understood feminist ethnography to be.  Most view feminist research as primarily research on, by, and especially for women and draw sharp distinctions between the goals and methods of mainstream and feminist scholarship. Others, like Barbara Du Bois, also posit that the “actual experience and language of women is the central agenda for feminist social science and scholarship,” because, Dulli Klein argues, a methodology that allows for women studying women in an interactive process will end the exploitation of women as research objects.  Many feminist scholars share the view that ethnography is particularly appropriate to feminist research because, like much of feminism, “ethnography emphasizes the experiential. Its approach to knowledge is contextual and interpersonal, attentive like most women, therefore, to the concrete realm of everyday reality and human agency.” This, Stacey writes, is how she initially thought of ethnography as well.

But after two years of ethnographic research, she finds the two (feminism and ethnography) to be less compatible and contradictory and thus believes that there cannot be a fully feminist ethnography.  She discusses two major areas of contradiction—the first involving the ethnographic research process, and the second its product. Ultimately, she finds that inauthenticity, dissimilitude, exploitation, and potential betrayal are inherent to fieldwork. Moreover, the exploitative aspect of ethnographic methods—that everything the informants share with the researcher is ultimately data—is a further assertion of conflict of interest and emotion. In her examples, it is to become an observer or a participant in a key informant-friend’s funeral? This is because, she adds, “ethnographic method exposes subjects to far greater danger and exploitation than do more positivist, abstract, and ‘masculinist’ research methods. The greater the intimacy, the apparent mutuality of the researcher-researched relationship, the greater is the danger.”

She concludes by acknowledging that there are, indeed, ethnographies that are partially feminist, or accounts of culture enhanced by application of feminist perspectives, and that “there can and should be feminist research that is rigorously self-aware and therefore humble about the partiality of its ethnographic vision and its capacity to represent self and other” (26). But, in answer to the question in her title, she maintains that there cannot be a fully feminist ethnography.

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