May 11, 2005

feminist ethnographies

More notes for the blog, since I panic and freeze when confronted by a blank page in Microsoft Word, and this at least makes me feel like I'm being semi-productive. I think I will just hand in some webpage addresses next week instead of an essay – either that or find a PA who can make sense of my disparate ramblings and quotations and write them up in something ressembling a meaningful and coherent essay form…

Notes on two articles
Stacey, Judith. 1988. Can there be a feminist ethnography? Women's Studies International Forum, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 21–27.

and Skeggs, Beverley. 1994. Situating the Production of Feminist Ethnography. In Maynard, Mary and Purvis, June (eds), 1994. Researching Women's Lives from a Feminist Perspective. Taylor & Francis: London.

Stacey begins by making the point that many feminist scholars have found ethnograpy to be especially apt for feminist research because it approaches knowledge as experiential and contextual, rejects positivism's false dualisms, and establishes an egalitarian relationship between knower-known

Aims of feminist research:

Most [feminist scholars] view feminist research as primarily research on, by and especially for women and draw sharp distinctions between the goals and methods of mainsteam and feminist scholarship. [They] evnice widespread disenchantment with the dualisms, abstractions, and detachment of positivism, rejecting the separations between subject and object, thought and feeling, knower and known, and political and personal as well as their reflections in the arbitrary boundaries of traditional academic disciplines. Instead most feminist scholars advoce an integrative, trans-disciplinary approach to knowledge which grounds theory contextually in the concrete realm of women's everyday lives. (Stacey 1988: 21)

Ethnography as specifically feminist:

Like a good deal 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 method draws on those resources of empathy, connection, and concern that many feminists consider to be women's special strengths and which they argue should be germinal in feminist research. (ibid: 22)

However, Stacey argues that ethnographic methods ironcially subject research subjects to greater risk of exploitation, betrayal and abandonment by the researcher than positivist research.

The lives, loves, and tragedies that fieldwork informants share with a researcher are ultimately data, grist for the ethnographic mill… (ibid: 23)
…an ethnography is a written document structured primarily by a researcher's purposes, offering a researcher's interpretations, registered in a researcher's voice (ibid).
The greater the intimacy, the apparent mutuality of the researcher / researched relationship, the greater is the danger (ibid: 24)

Postmodern ethnography

Stacey highlights a need for fertile dialogue between feminist scholarship and poststructural ethnography (one which has since been realised?)

[Critical ethnographers] attempt to bring to their research an awareness that ethnographic writing is not cultural reportage but cultural construction, and always a construction of self as well as of the other (ibid).

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  1. Ok – I look at your collection of notes here and I thing "bloody hell, what is she complaining about?"

    But then, I often suffer from the same blind panic and utter dispair at the prospect of having to actually write something about anything that I am obliged to do, so I do understand.

    Firstly, I'm crap at essays. They are always crap, so do as I say and not as I do!

    This is a module about methodologies and epistythingies, yes?

    So lets structure an essay outline that takes this pretty much as its starting point:

    1. Introduction. This is where you are going to give a little overview of the background to the essay, which in this case is the author, the book and the chapter you are doing a close reading of. Secondly, and this is important, you are going to tell us what the essay is (i.e. a critical close reading) and what its findings are: a fancy way of saying that you are going to tell us whether it is shit or not.

    2. An overview of methodoligies used in social research: a paragraph that mentions all the methodologies and what you are going to say about them (that they are related, that they overlap, that they are differing and complimentary tools that need to be selected and deployed depending on the job, that some are more dominant in certain disciplines than others). Then a paragraph on each of the methodologies, probably starting with quantitative and qualitative methodologies and followed by positivist versus non-positivist or post-positivist method (think of these four things as being in a grid relationship).

    3. What methodologies are dominant in feminist social studies? At an educated guess I would say that liberal feminism uses more quantitative, positivist methods where as radical feminists will go much further and rely more on qualitative and non-positivist methods (for a good article on post-postivism, albeit in International Studies, see Steve Smith's "postitivism and beyond. It is worth knowing that a more cynical word for non-positivist way of doing things is to call them "reflective" as opposed to "postivist/ rational".

    4. Where does this text fit in to social studies and feminist literature? From what you have told me, it is qualitative with a mix of positivist and non-positivist content. Is this because it fits into a radical/socialist school of feminism? Why does such a large part of feminism adopt such qualititative / non-positivist methodology? Is it because they see postitivism as being "after the fact" and merely re-inforcing an orthodox, male dominated, view of the social world, or is it that they are just crap at maths? i.e. what is this branch of feminist epistemology, what is their theory of what constitutes knowledge? That the author has used some positivist, albeit qualitiative methods suggests that there in an attempt by this feminist epistemology "in action" to operationalise feminist epistemology into a research method.

    5. If feminist epistemology has it weaknesses (above), what are the subjective weaknesses of this author's method? The method isn't explained, which is a bit shit but fairly normal, but reading between the lines what are the weaknesses of this study? Too little primary data? Abuse of secondary data? Is "participant observer" method just a cop out for farting around with ones subjects rather than having a rigourous, consistent method of gathering objective data? Did she "go native"?


    11 May 2005, 19:46

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