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Fictions of Feminist Ethnography

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography

Kamala Visweswaran
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttf31
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  • Book Info
    Fictions of Feminist Ethnography
    Book Description:

    Although feminist ethnography is an emerging genre, the question of what the term means remains open. Recent texts which fall under this rubric rely on unexamined notions of “sisterhood” and the recovery of “lost” voices. In these essays about her work with women in Southern India, Kamala Visweswaran addresses such troubled issues. Blurring distinctions between ethnographic and literary genres, these essays employ the narrative strategies of history, fiction, autobiography and biography, deconstruction, and post-colonial discourse to reveal the fictions of ethnography and the ethnography in fiction.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8544-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Feminist Fable
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction: Fictions of Feminist Ethnography
    (pp. 1-16)

    One of my favorite sets of images is that of Ruth Benedict readingThe Wavesby Virginia Woolf when she was composingPatterns of Culturein 1934, and Virginia Woolf readingPatterns of Culturewhen writing her novelBetween the Actsin 1940.¹ I believe that these images, as with others I will suggest in the following pages, remind us that writing involves reading, and help us to reexplore the relationship between ethnography and literature. To argue that ethnography is literature is to remind us of our presumptions about literature, to ask again, What is literature? To argue that literature...

  6. 2 Defining Feminist Ethnography
    (pp. 17-39)

    In a recent essay, Renato Rosaldo describes driving through the Santa Cruz mountains, and the following interchange with a physicist who has asked him to define what anthropologists have discovered. As Rosaldo replies in dismay, “You mean something like E = mc²?” it suddenly occurs to him: “There’s one thing that we know for sure. We all know a good description when we see one. We haven’t discovered any laws of culture, but we do think there are really classic ethnographies, really telling descriptions of other cultures, like the Trobriand islanders, the Tikopika, and the Nuer.”¹

    Malinowski, Firth, Evans-Pritchard. This...

  7. 3 Betrayal: An Analysis in Three Acts
    (pp. 40-59)

    In this essay, I attempt to confront some of the dilemmas within recent contemporary feminist theorizing of difference by reading a series of specific social relations (“betrayals”) as allegory for the practice of feminist ethnography.

    Such a theme is poignantly suggested by Judith Stacey’s (1988) article “Can There Be a Feminist Ethnography?” Here Stacey argues that “feminist researchers are apt to suffer the delusion of alliance more than the delusion of separateness,”² and that such a delusion may lead to what she calls “the feminist ethnographer’s dilemma,” in which the ethnographer inevitably betrays (or, I might add, is betrayed by)...

  8. 4 Refusing the Subject
    (pp. 60-72)

    This is the story of a woman who would not talk to me—who refused, in short, to be my subject. It is also the story of how I make her subject refusal itself a subject; of asking what new forms of subject constitution are forced upon her by now inscribing her silence in speech.

    “Lies, secrets, and silence” are frequently strategies of resistance. Yet the ethnographer’s task is often to break such resistance. Normative ethnographic description itself is rife with the language of conquest: we extort tales and confessions from reluctant informants (or shall I say informers?); we overcome...

  9. 5 Feminist Reflections on Deconstructive Ethnography
    (pp. 73-94)

    “Betrayal” began in a flush of catharsis; of bitterness melting into something like acceptance. In retrospect, I can see how the apostasy of a friend I had counted on was necessarily entangled in my understanding of other friendships, leading to a telescoping of the relations between telling a story, being told on, and telling on someone. The psychoanalytic, as we know, foments a certain critical perspective through the engagement of analysis. Yet if psychoanalysis rescripts the anthropologist-“informant” relationship into a doctor-patient scenario,² something rather different is being said about the nature of confidences and intimacy in the field. Here, however,...

  10. 6 Feminist Ethnography as Failure
    (pp. 95-113)

    The dusk of Madras often drops upon the city like a sari of pink gauze, and it is on one such evening that my friend Geetha and I thread ourselves through a narrow lane in search of a woman I was told had been jailed during the Indian nationalist movement. After several queries—Which granny? That one who lives across the street from so-and-so’s uncle, or the granny who stays with her daughters at the end of the lane?—we arrive at a tiny house with a picket fence wistfully erected against the usual small children, kittens, goats, and chickens,...

  11. 7 Identifying Ethnography
    (pp. 114-140)

    The offices of the Indian Consulate, Paris

    June 1991

    Trying to get a tourist visa to travel to India, I am called again to the counter, surveyed, finally asked, “Are you of Indian origin?” An immediate freezing, and then a slow stammer, “I don’t know what you mean. I was born in the United States; my father is Indian, that is he used to be ... now he’s an American citizen ...” my voice trails off. I begin again, unable to control the pitch of my voice, a register too high. “Why do you want to know? What difference does...

  12. 8 Introductions to a Diary
    (pp. 143-165)

    In a crowded English classroom at Indraprastha College, Delhi University, a group of students and their teachers are waiting for a lecture titled “Interpreting Women’s Writing: A Feminist Perspective.” I begin hesitantly, offering a few tentative definitions, hoping to turn a lecture into a discussion. I suggest a few questions for discussion: What is it that counts as “women’s writing”? What is literature? The students are slow to respond, shy, unused to being asked direct questions by a guest speaker. I try another tack: what do they think about the Ameeta Modi case?

    Their interest is piqued. Everyone has heard...

  13. 9 Sari Stories
    (pp. 166-178)

    Somehow, during the course of that first year in India, I accumulated a lot of saris. I’m not really sure how. Various concerned mamis, surprised and delighted with how “Indian” I looked, determinedly gave me saris at all possible moments: old ones, new ones, cotton ones, and silk; torn, but still lovely ones; others in colors so gaudy I dared not wear them. The logic was, if I looked Indian, surely in a sari, I must be Indian.

    I myself went through a batik phase and a craze for Bengal cottons. Then I entered my Kanchi cotton period, even traveling...

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 179-180)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 181-202)
  16. Index
    (pp. 203-206)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-207)