EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W093)

Gendered contestation: ethnographic perspectives on power and uncertainty (EN)

Location C105 (access code C1764 )
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 14:30

Convenors

Jessica Johnson (University of Birmingham) email
Omotayo Jolaosho (University of South Florida) email
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Short Abstract

Contestation is always experienced as unfinished and uncertain, and the ethnographic method is ideally suited to probe its contours. Through a focus on gendered contestation, we seek to draw attention to marginalized spaces, activities and individuals in ways that are productive for social enquiry.

Long Abstract

Gender has long been recognised as a contentious concept in anthropology and it is increasingly being debated and deployed beyond the academy in sophisticated, highly theoretical ways. Attention to gendered practices highlights the tangled, unstable and improvisatory dynamics of power. This panel focuses on instances of gendered contestation occurring in domestic spaces, courthouses, consciousness raising groups, street protests, and beyond. Questions to be addressed include: how can we theorise the ways in which 'gender' is used, explicitly (or implicitly), to interrogate moral and ethical orders, refine social movements, motivate protests, or frame disputes? What can we make of the fact that 'gender' is simultaneously a locus of disagreement and a source of collaboration? How might we analyse the manifold ways in which 'gender' is discovered, understood, employed, and embodied as differently located individuals engage in contestations with each other, with the state, or with hegemonic ideas and practices? As gender discourses travel, how might the uncanny experience of sharing the language of gender critique with our informants be analytically mobilized?

Contestation is always experienced as unfinished and uncertain, and the ethnographic method is ideally suited to probe its contours in particular moments. Through a focus on gendered contestation, we seek to draw attention to marginalized spaces, activities and individuals in ways that are productive for social enquiry.

Chair: Andrea Cornwall (Sussex)
Discussant: Ida Susser (CUNY), Andrea Cornwall (Sussex)

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Questioning gender and politics of identity: activist coalitions and street protest in Palermo, Italy

Author: Maria Livia Alga (Université Paris8, IEC Institut Emilie du Chatelet, Université de Vérone)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores how gender may become the bearer of multiple political meanings within single moments of protest, revealing a shift away from the politics of identity towards a more mixed, cross-group politics. However, it also highlights how this process is invariably fraught with conflict.

Long Abstract

The notion of gender has been one of the foremost examples of a politics based on the idea of specific identities. Historically, it has been the call to action of "women". However, such notion has increasingly become the steppingstone of activist coalitions that bring together not only feminist movements, but also gay, lesbian and antiracist ones. This paper analyses the problematic use of gender made by two such coalitions in Palermo, Italy. It looks in particular at the processes of alliance building that were behind the organisation of two street protests. One was the local event linked to a national day of protest against the degrading imagery of women spread by Berlusconi and his media empire. The other was the local Gay Pride march. The events in question were characterised by an ample participation that brought together individuals from a broad activist and political spectrum, but also by arguments over the notion of gender among the actors involved in their organisation. What perspectives on such notion do these arguments reveal? Are the conflicts generated by constructs of identity and difference? Or are new, common interests emerging that allow the building of unexpected coalitions? In the context of a mixed, non-separatist politics, are alliances always contingent or can they foster processes of association that go against identities and cut across differences? This paper highlights how gender may become the bearer of multiple and conflicting meanings for social movements, and be transformed by such process.

Women betwixt and between: social change, gender struggles, and eating disorders

Author: Tanja Ahlin (University of Amsterdam)  email
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Short Abstract

It is often argued that eating disorders are caused by the ideal of thinness, but a case study from India illustrates they should be understood in the wider context of important and rapid social change in which the transformation of women's roles and status is significant and laden with tensions.

Long Abstract

Eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, have been discussed as a case of Western culture-bound syndrome; generally, they are understood as a product of preoccupation with body image and glorification of thinness, promoted by the Western fashion trends and media. Accordingly, the few epidemiological studies of eating disorders in South Asia that exist have focused on evaluating women's anxiety about their body image and weight. This paper, however, explores eating disorders in their broader context of profound cultural changes that tend to coincide with the expansion of anorexia nervosa not only in the West, but also in other societies. On the basis of a case study from rural Uttarakhand in North India, the transitions and contradictions in female identity are explored in relation to rapid economic, political, and social development. In the context of Indian culture, where food plays a key role in the creation, confirmation and maintenance of social relationships, food refusal may be interpreted as a form of individual protest against traditional collective values and beliefs about female roles. More importantly, this case study shows that disturbed eating is also related to important dynamic shifts in identity caused by modernization and development of the region, particularly the introduction of Western-style education and work. These changes in life-style produce uncertainties and tensions as the formation and preservation of personal identity, crucially linked to the exchange of vital substances through food and residence sharing, becomes fundamentally disrupted.

Visual interventions and gender mobilization in post-apartheid South Africa

Author: Omotayo Jolaosho (University of South Florida)  email
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Short Abstract

Images are critical and not merely incidental to political action. By focusing on the visible as “equally a pathway to the nonvisible” (MacDougall 2006:269), this paper considers visual practices as choreographies of sensorial embodiment and consciousness with transformative possibilities.

Long Abstract

"In South Africa, a woman is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read!!" This quote appeared on the back of some female protesters' purple t-shirts as they gathered in front of a Johannesburg courthouse in late 2009. The back of other t-shirts displayed different commentary while the front of each featured the uniform slogan "Solidarity with ☥ who speak out!!" The women, gathered in support of the plaintiff of a gang rape case, explicitly acknowledged the visual as crucial to collective dissent.

Indeed images are critical and not merely incidental to political action. Activists employ rich visual practices including posters, banners, clothing, gestures, symbols, photography, and video to mobilize. This paper investigates the visual as a realm of contestation through an advocacy project that sought to empower South African women as producers of female-focused human rights imagery. In workshops, participants created body-maps, posters, banners, sculptures, and t-shirts that they exhibited in venues and demonstrations such as at the courthouse described above. Through such imagery, they contested stereotypic representations and silences around women's experiences of rape, domestic violence, hate-crimes including the "corrective rape" and murder of lesbians, HIV/AIDS persecution, migrant insecurity, and economic exploitation. By focusing on the visual as "equally a pathway to the nonvisible" (MacDougall 2006:269), the paper advances a phenomenological approach considering these practices as choreographies of sensorial embodiment and consciousness. My analysis suggests that by rendering previous exclusions visible, these activists not only impacted the social terrain but also forged radically transformed subjectivities.

Black Swan, White Masks: contesting feminine lesbianism in a gay tourist town

Author: Laura Dixon (University of Manchester)  email
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Short Abstract

Drawing on Fanon, this paper discusses the contested representations of feminine lesbianism amongst British expats in a gay tourist town in Spain. Any potential challenge feminine lesbianism poses gets cancelled-out, as media images are used to resignify it as an extension of female heterosexuality.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses the effects that constructions of lesbianism - generated and circulated widely throughout the Anglo-American media - have on normative discourses of gender and sexuality amongst British expats living in the affluent tourist town of Sitges, Spain. Sitges is marketed as a 'cosmopolitan' location par excellence; an identity built partly on its reputation for playing host to an internationally diverse gay community. As alternative sexual identities are rendered explicitly visible within this cosmopolitan place-marketing discourse, British expats subsequently regard it as a space of tolerance and equality.

Despite this, specifically feminine lesbianism challenges the normative gender paradigm in a way that masculine lesbianism does not. I show how expats draw on media constructions within their everyday interactions to resignify feminine lesbianism as an extension of female heterosexuality, cancelling-out any challenge feminine lesbianism initially poses to prevailing gender norms. I argue that this resignification is based on particular understandings of 'representation' in which the act of having been made visible is understood to thereby render those visible differences equally and positively-valued.

Drawing on the work of Frantz Fanon (1967) and Kelly Oliver (1998; 2001), I suggest that this conflation actually confers a 'double alienation' so that through this resignification, all female homosexuality paradoxically becomes invisible at the exact moment representation and 'equality' is explicitly deemed to have been achieved. Far from elaborating a cosmopolitan 'openness towards difference', I argue that the resulting double alienation actually substantiates, and concretises highly conservative gender norms, even as it masquerades as the opposite.

Justice? Contesting gender and morality in Malawi's era of human rights

Author: Jessica Johnson (University of Birmingham)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper asks how we might conceive of justice in situations of intense social and legal pluralism. Through ethnographic engagement with divorce trials, I explore the implications of the temporary reconciliation of contested ideals in magistrates' judgements for understandings of justice.

Long Abstract

From the human rights trainings offered by local NGOs to the teachings of expert initiators, women in rural southern Malawi are exposed to, and engage with, a plethora of ideas about gender, justice and ethical personhood in their daily lives.

This paper examines these competing norms and conflicting moral frameworks through ethnographic exploration of divorce case trials in contemporary rural magistrates' courts. Tensions are highlighted between human rights-oriented notions of justice, which entail equality, and alternatives that draw on understandings of the materiality of morality and are more accommodating of complementary gender roles. Material morality refers to the complex ways in which moral personhood and ethical conduct are connected to agricultural and domestic labour, production, reproduction and distribution, and the social relations entailed therein. These, in turn, are implicated in a gendered division of labour, which informs social interactions, emerges in divorce hearings, and is challenged and/or reinforced by NGO representatives and initiation practitioners, in sometimes unpredictable ways.

Presiding magistrates wrestle with many of the same conceptions of masculinity, femininity, morality and justice that disputing spouses appeal to and elide as they present their cases in court. The results are uneven and reveal the intricacies of a complex social and legal landscape. If the desired outcome is 'justice', what kind of justice(s) is it, and how might it challenge or reinforce forms of justice suggested by human rights provisions, 'customary law', or embodied notions of material morality?

Fair Trade vs. Swaccha Vyāpār: gendered contestations of transnational justice regimes in Darjeeling, India

Author: Debarati Sen (Kennesaw State University)  email
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Short Abstract

In this paper I show how the idea and practice of Fair Trade informs women’s situated empowerment sensibilities in Darjeeling

Long Abstract

Fair Trade is a market based social justice movement that aims to address the inadequacies of conventional global trade by empowering marginalized producers through creating sustainable links between reflexive Western consumer activists and Southern producers. In its unfolding, Fair Trade has myriad gendered articulations in local communities, ranging from strengthening patriarchal projects of dominating women's labor to becoming a resource for women's activism against such tendencies. In this paper I show how the idea and practice of Fair Trade informs women's situated empowerment sensibilities in Darjeeling. Affected by a changing production scenario with the rise of organic tea production and Fair Trade certification, women tea-farmers in Darjeeling disassemble and reassemble the tenets of the global Fair Trade initiative to concretize their situated aspirations for justice. Based on long term ethnographic research on a tea cooperative in Darjeeling, I argue, that by creatively juxtaposing Fair Trade and swaccha vyāpār, a local translation of Fair Trade, women tea farmers upheld their own development imaginaries and questioned the depoliticizing tendencies within transnational justice regimes that tends to use them as mere instruments of market based justice. Therefore, in Darjeeling, we witness the emergence of new modalities of women's collective self-governance, which are influenced by interactions with market forces but at the same time stand to critique them.

The politics of translation: gender equality and aid in Norway and Ethiopia

Authors: Haldis Haukanes (University of Bergen)  email
Marit Østebø (University of Bergen)  email
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Short Abstract

Based on discursive policy analysis and ethnographically informed studies in Norway and Ethiopia we examine how the concept of gender equality travels between different settings, explaining the variety of meanings that the concept takes on with reference to contextual and political factors.

Long Abstract

During the last decades gender equality has emerged as a widely accepted political goal in the global development- and human rights discourse. Theoretically underpinned by notions of autonomy and individualism and accompanied by specific policy recommendations, gender equality appears to be conceptualized in a rather homogenous way in these discourses. But which transformations of meaning occur when these "global" ideas and recommendations are interpreted and/or attempted operationalized by actors outside the "global discursive space"? This paper pays attention to how the concept of gender equality 'travels' by following its transmutations in various interconnected settings. Based on policy analysis and ethnographically informed studies it examines conceptualisations of gender equality in Norwegian aid policies, among Norwegian and Ethiopian gender experts and finally among rural Ethiopian women. Our analysis shows that there are many similarities between the global and national interpretations of gender equality, but also significant differences. The distance seems particularly great between international policy formulations and the rural settings in Ethiopia, where gender equality is interpreted in a very narrow sense; i.e. mainly as an instrument for poverty reduction with a particular focus on men and women working together to increase production and economic growth. The variety of meanings that the concept takes on while travelling are investigated and explained with reference to contextual and political factors; i.e. a myriad of historical and current political and cultural values, practices and discourses which interact in shaping both its content and effects

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.