Gendering Ethnography

How Does Gender Affect the Fieldwork (and the Other Way Around)?

Convenors: Cristina Oddone (University of Strasbourg) & Costanza Currò (University of Helsinki) Contact: genderingethnography@gmail.com

Ethnographers’ approach to the field is never neutral. The researcher’s personal characters – in terms of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, origin, age, culture, language, religious and political beliefs, etc. – always have an impact on the social contexts s/he studies and on its informants. Symmetrically, the ethnographer is a sensitive human being and can be influenced and affected by the specific characters of the people and situations s/he analyses. Among different types of research, ethnography in particular requires to take an especially close look to reality. Accessing the field, participating in rituals and ceremonies, engaging in intimate conversations: these tasks compel the ethnographer’s ability to get accepted in a setting by “natives”, to create “a good climate” favourable to observation, and to succeed in hanging around for quite some time. In this process, the over-mentioned categories can play a crucial role in defining the power relations between “those who study” and “those who are studied”. In addition, they often become crucial interpretive keys for theoretical analysis. Although some of these dimensions have been widely discussed and examined (e.g. Elijah Anderson 1990, Martina Avanza 2008, Philippe Bourgois 1995), the role of gender has not been much explored.

The purpose of this panel is to share, discuss and analyse, in an open and critical way, the methodological and theoretical implications of gender in doing ethnographic research. We encourage the participation of scholars whose fieldworks did not explicitly focus on gender, but where gender rather emerged unexpectedly as a relevant category for analysis. It can be the case of research on migration, labour, schooling, urban studies, leisure, etc.

1. Presentations should offer a detailed description of the fieldwork and of the experience of male, female, and non-binary researchers in such contexts: Does gender play a role and have an influence on accessing the field, on the whole ethnographic experience and on the process of collecting qualitative data? How does gender interact with other dimensions of the researcher’s identity, values and beliefs – ethnicity and class, as well as religious affiliation, political orientation, etc.?

2. In particular, participants are invited to critically analyse how they deployed their personal resources to adjust and manage gender-related tensions arising on the field and in the relationship with social actors: How do ethnographers deal with gender issues? How do they benefit from the opportunities offered by gender or rather struggle to overcome the obstacles it entails?

3. By looking at gender as one of the categories organising social structure, participants are encouraged to analyse how its (unexpected) emergence can reveal new particular insights and generate relevant theoretical implications (e.g. Wendy Brown 2010).

Rather than being limited to specific journals and fora, the use of gender as a category for analysis should be mainstreamed in major disciplines like Sociology and Anthropology. The growing interest towards gender and intersectionality requires fostering a proper reflection on its implications in the process of doing social research and ethnography.

Open Questions

- How does gender participate in shaping the process of doing ethnography?

- How does it affect the relation with the fieldwork by imposing limits and constraints?

- What does gender trigger in terms of curiosity, desire, suspect, domination and fear, in relation to the field and to social actors?

- How does gender affect the ethnographer, in terms of gendered performance (verbal and body language)?

- What is the place of ambivalence in this peculiar context?

- What are the methodological and theoretical effects of using gender as a category for analysis among others?

Keywords

Gender, intersectionality, power relations, gendered performance, critical thinking, sociological imagination, reflexivity.

Fields of Study

Gender, sexuality, interactionism, feminism.

References

Elijah ANDERSON (1990) Streetwise: Race, Class and Change in an Urban Community. University of Chicago Press.

Martina AVANZA (2008) « Comment faire de l’ethnographie quand on n’aime pas « ses indigènes »? Une enquête au sein d’un mouvement xénophobe », in A. Bensa and D. Fassin (eds.) Les politiques de l’enquête, La Decouverte, Paris.

Philippe BOURGOIS (1995) In Search for Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. Cambridge University Press

Wendy BROWN (2010) Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. Zone Books, New York.

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