EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P016)

Feminist activist ethnography and social change

Location T-314
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Iris Lopez (City College) email
Elisabeth L. Engebretsen (University of Oslo) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

There is an intimate connection between feminist ethnography, methods, and activism. This panel continues a crucial dialogue about feminist activist ethnography in the 21st century--at the intersection of engaged feminist research and activism in the service of the communities with whom we work.

Long Abstract

There is an intimate connection between feminist ethnography, methods, and activism. Feminist anthropologists have often engaged in intimate collaboration within the communities they study and have developed innovative feminist methodologies that address the needs of these communities. Reconsidering transnational possibilities for the collaborations, intimacies and revolutions advocated in the recent edited collection, Feminist Activist Ethnography: Counterpoints to Neoliberalism in North America (Craven & Davis 2013), panelists argue that feminist ethnographers--positioned and conducting fieldwork throughout the world--are in a key position to reassert the central feminist connections between theory, methods, and activism. Together, we suggest avenues for incorporating methodological innovations, collaborative analysis, and collective activism in our scholarly projects. What are the possibilities (and challenges) that exist for feminist ethnography 25 years after initial debates emerged in this field about reflexivity, objectivity, reductive individualism, transnationalism,and the social relevance of activist scholarship? How can feminist ethnography intensify efforts towards social justice in the current neo-liberal political and economic climate? This panel continues a crucial dialogue about feminist activist ethnography in the 21st century--at the intersection of engaged feminist research and activism in the service of the organizations, people, communities, and feminist issues we study.

Discussant: Patricia Antonionello (Brooklyn College, CUNY)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Gendered nuances of engagement: feminist ethnographic reflections toward a critical anthropology of migration in Italy

Author: Sara Bonfanti (University of Bergamo)  email

Short Abstract

Analyzing the predicaments of firsthand ethnographic fieldwork relations from a feminist standpoint, this contribute intends to plea for a reflexive and critical turn in the ever expanding anthropology of migration and multiculturalism, with a focus on the recently established Italian national scholarship.

Long Abstract

While burgeoning, the anthropology of migration and multiculturalism in Italy has not yet adequately addressed the issue of engagement.

In this paper, I’ll explore on-field identity politics and ethical implications delving into two gendered episodes of my multisite research with Punjabi diasporas in Italy, which illustrate forms and dilemmas engagement yields in social and applied anthropology.

I first endangered my onsite credibility when informally sent to settle a family conflict. It took me weeks to mediate between a close Punjabi teen runaway from home and her kin, who perceived me as a pernicious outsider while she deemed me as a counselor and go-between: an Italian young mother, an “expert” on Indian transnational migrations, an advocate for women’s rights.

I then attempted to perform a participatory ethnography when hired, as a lecturer of Italian to immigrants, to run a public seminar on the local integration of Indian ethnic minorities. Being assisted in the training by another Punjabi girlfriend who related her life-history, I felt the uneasiness as a feminist anthropologist in “speaking for others” while demanding the voice of others be heard.

These accounts challenged my ethnographic and interpersonal ties with my collaborators and the responsibility I held for the knowledge co-created in such settings, which could add to decolonize the unequal relations observer/observed and question the intersectional social positions we were enmeshed in.

I finally argue that feminist engagements prompt methodological and ethical reflexivity to surface in ethnographic narratives, broadening the horizons of critical anthropology within and beyond migratory contexts.

Introduction: engaging feminist activist ethnography transnationally

Author: Christa Craven (College of Wooster)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will introduce the panel by reflecting on Dána-Ain Davis & my vision for our recent edited collection Feminist Activist Ethnography: Counterpoints to Neoliberalism in North America and consider possibilities for expanding feminist activist ethnography transnationally.

Long Abstract

As a co-editor of the recent edited collection that this panel centers around, Feminist Activist Ethnography: Counterpoints to Neoliberalism in North America (with Dána-Ain Davis, Lexington Books 2013), this introductory paper will reflect on key decisions that were made as we edited this volume, highlighting the central contributions of feminists of color throughout the collection. The collection also benefits from the insights of feminist scholars across a range of professional positions: from the cutting-edge work of feminist graduate students to that of seasoned ethnographers who have watched neoliberalism emerge over the past few decades with a keen and critical eye. I will ultimately argue that feminist ethnographers—those featured in this collection, on this panel, and beyond—are in a key position to reassert the central feminist connections between theory, methods, and activism. Although the focus of our collection was on North America (a geographical area of study frequently ignored or dismissed by anthropologists), I contend that considering the possibilities, the challenges, and the promise of feminist activist ethnography transnationally is vital to the future of our discipline. As the panel abstract queries: What are the possibilities (and challenges) that exist for feminist ethnography transnationally, 25 years after initial debates emerged about reflexivity, objectivity, reductive individualism, and the social relevance of activist scholarship? How can feminist ethnography intensify efforts towards social justice in the face of global neoliberalism? This panel will offer an important opportunity to consider these questions outside of a North American context.

Negotiating intimate worlds: an integral ethnography of reproductive freedom and social justice

Author: Iris Lopez (City College)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reflects the challenges I faced working within traditional anthropological paradigms to understand the high rate of sterilization among Puerto Rican women. It examines the integral theoretical and methodological framework I developed to contest these anthropological perspectives.

Long Abstract

There is an intimate connection between feminist ethnography, methods, theorizing, and activism. This paper reflects the personal and professional questions and challenges I faced in my 25 year trajectory studying the individual, cultural, social,and historical forces that have led Puerto Rican women to have one of the highest rates of sterilization in the world. As a working-class woman of color, feminist ethnographer, and anthropologist, I explore my positionality doing research in my own backyard, in the Brooklyn neighborhood where I was born and raised. This entailed overcoming the dualistic framework of women as agents versus victims by developing an integral model of reproductive freedom and social justice that transcends and includes the individual, cultural, social, and historical forces that shape and constrain Puerto Rican women's fertility options. It also required thinking about how to do fieldwork in a highly complex urban society such as New York City in ways that would benefit the community with whom I was working, which in turn influenced how I collected the data, shared it with the community, and how I subsequently used the data.

Neoliberalism, microfinance, and inequality: feminist ethnography and social justice

Author: Patricia Antoniello (Brooklyn College, CUNY)  email

Short Abstract

Is feminist ethnography on social justice undermined by a neoliberal focus on market solutions, especially microcredit for women living in poverty? This paper suggests microfinance creates new oppression and fails to alter the entrenched social, economic, and political determinants of inequality.

Long Abstract

Is feminist ethnography on social justice undermined by a neoliberal focus on market solutions, especially microcredit for women living in poverty? This paper examines how feminist ethnography with its core of social and political relevance contributes to an on-going analysis of microfinance and inequality. Microfinance delivers financial services to low-income clients or solidarity lending groups who traditionally lack access to banking and related services, in effect, microcredit draws those outside financial markets into debt. Almost thirty years of microfinance has done little to alter the entrenched social, economic, and political determinants of inequality that directly mediates women's well being in South Asia. Are there real on-the-ground advantages of women's microloans and income generation projects? Or, do these top-down neoliberal approaches circulate inequality and dispossession creating additional forms of economic and social oppression while masking the real sources of women's poverty— underlying caste and gender inequality? This paper suggests microcredit propounds the dominance of neoliberalism and reinforces the fundamen¬tally unequal relations between women, previously without credit or independent banking histories, who become debtors and creditors, such as, banks and burgeoning microfinance companies. In addition, it assesses the uneven and complex relationship between a white euro-American ethnographer collecting life histories of women living in rural Indian villages who participate in research that articulates what Craven and Davis (2013) call 'intimacies for political effect.' Ultimately, how does engaged feminist ethnography that interrogates neoliberalism and market solutions for women examine the parallel question of inequality while endorsing social and economic justice?

Sexual/reproductive health, social movements and anthropology in México

Author: Anastasia Martino  email

Short Abstract

My research deals with the issue of sexual and reproductive health in Yucatán (México). Which is the role that a “feminist-activist” oriented anthropologist can play within the political arena where sexual and reproductive rights are negotiated and defined?

Long Abstract

My research has been focused on family planning policies, use of contraceptive methods and the issue of abortion (illegal practice in most of Mexican states).

I decided to take into account different social actors: women, men, health professionals and social movements activists.

I have been working with public associations (pro-choice and pro-life movement) that are ideologically oriented on specific positions. In order to make possible my fieldwork, I have been asked to show my own ideas about reproductive and sexual rights. Although I don't agree with most of pro-life movements' positions, I have been able to negotiate terms and conditions of my presence in their structures, "being there" just like an external researcher. With pro-choice association, instead, we managed to build a collaborative relationship: besides being a foreign researcher dealing with sexuality and reproduction, I have become part of the group. It was through this collaborative action, and not only thanks to my "being there", that I have gained access to the group. I'll reflect on how my research has been defined and "facilitated", in one case, by my decision to play an active part in the pro-choice group; in the other, by the distance I put between myself and the pro-life group.

What are the challenges and possibilities of my work, as an anthropology researcher, a women and, somehow, an activist about sexual and reproductive rights?

Big sisters acting out: performative protest, feminist identity politics and the solicitation of prostitution in Iceland

Author: Kelly Johnson (University of Durham)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses Big Sister’s performative activism against the solicitation of prostitution in Iceland – exploring how performance, rhetoric and identity politics mobilised public support – and closes by considering how this research engages with Big Sister’s overall pursuit of social justice.

Long Abstract

This paper presents the innovative activism of Big Sister, an anonymised group of women who came together in Reykjavik to protest against a systematic toleration of the solicitation of prostitution and other related offences by the state and wider civil society, despite these acts being illegal in Iceland.

Big Sister's members powerfully incorperated the metaphoric and the performative throughout their feminist activism. Yet, rather than 'dramatizing' the issue and relegating their arguments to the realms of the theatrical, by re-locating prostitution within the intimate community setting in which it operates, Big Sister's protests vividly contextualised prostitution and the sex industry in Icelandic society, rousing widespread moral indignation and mobilising support, action and change.

This paper will firstly explore the use of performance, rhetoric and identity politics involved in the activism, arguing that the strategic use of these devices produced an overall narrative aesthetic to the movement, which made the protest particularly public, persuasive and appealing to multiple audiences and ideologies.

Secondly a reflexive account will be given detailing how my research engaged with Big Sister members and their activism; exploring the mode and purpose of this research - as well as considering the role of voice, objectivity and collaboration throughout - in relation to Big Sister's active pursuit of social justice.

Different women: gender, power, and feminism (or lack of it) in Chechnya and Latvia

Author: Ieva Raubisko (University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the variations of feminist discourse in different historical and cultural contexts. Focusing on feminism in Eastern Europe and the lack of public feminist discourse in Chechnya, it discusses the implications of such differences for ethnographic work and feminist activism.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the variations of feminist discourse in different historical and cultural contexts. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in two societies with Soviet past, Latvia and Chechnya, it engages with specific issues of Baltic and Eastern European feminisms, as well as the lack of public feminist discourse in Chechnya.

While in Chechnya pronounced patterns of gendered structuring of power relations within the extended family and the wider public space can be observed, in Latvia ostensible gender equality may conceal strict understandings of biologically determined women’s role in society as well as images of ‘ideal female’ suffused with sexist attitudes towards women’s looks and behaviour.

The paper attempts to examine both the different socio-cultural understandings of women’s roles and statuses in the two societies and the common experiences and legacy, if any, of the Soviet gender policies. It also considers the consequences and implications of common, yet different, historical contexts and discourses for the ethnographic fieldwork and analysis. What kind of feminist activism, if any, can be initiated in the regions where feminist tradition is week or has developed in ways markedly different from feminism in Western Europe and North America?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.