Writing of and within the dilemma: an auto/feminist/native ethnography on researching and publishing in Japan
Aya Kitamura (Tsuda College)
Paper short abstract:
Writing about Japanese women as a Japanese woman is a vulnerable endeavor. Through an autoethnographic account, this paper explores self-reflexivity vis-à-vis conflicting power relations endemic to researching, writing and publishing that further complicate the ethnographer’s dilemma.
Paper long abstract:
Feminist ethnographers and native ethnographers, those who study "one's own kind," face the oft-discussed predicaments of ethnographic representation, exploitation and appropriation most keenly. As a Japanese woman studying Japanese women, I often reflect on my situatedness and positionality, how I am a "vulnerable observer" (Behar 1996). Through an autoeghnographic account, this paper explores self-reflexivity vis-à-vis conflicting power relations endemic to researching, writing and publishing that further complicate the ethnographer's dilemma. Commonalities and connections between my research participants and myself, advantageous as they seem, at times turn out to be imaginary. I have had some of my interview requests rejected, and one research participant decided to withdraw all together after reading my book manuscript—as if to resist my ethnographic authority, to refuse to be represented as I intended. Powerful and powerless at once, where do I stand and how do I write? Upon publishing, despite my wish to write self-reflexively, exposing myself in sociological texts, my editors apparently had different agendas. One asked me to edit out "subjective" descriptions so that the book looks authentically academic, while the other, aiming at a more popular readership, wanted far more of such "accessible" accounts. My intention to write on the borders of the "subject/object" and "academic/general" dichotomies was, in either case, unfeasible. Simultaneously, presenting my autoethnography in an anthropological conference—only inside a safe house—exemplifies the compartmentalization of self-reflexive analysis, commonly observed in both anthropology and sociology. The borders are yet to be disrupted, and the dilemma is left unresolved.
Reimagining the self and the field in contemporary ethnography: insights from living and researching within and through borders