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The
Politics of Ethnography:
Translated Woman
In this book I attempted something that was
taboo for anthropology. I not only presented
Esperanza’s life story, but I explored my
own interpretations and responses to her
story, including the consequences that
thinking about her story had for my own life
(XVII)
Two theoretical and
methodological currents
• Advocacy in feminist literature (including
anthropology)
• Importance of anthropological confessions
as a methodological shift in ethnography
Testimonial as a type of advocacy
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Docummentary
Channels of communication
Preserve women’s history
Accessibility
Demystify common assumptions
Taken a position
Roots in Latin American historical fiction
Testimonial literature resonates
with other types of advocacy in
anthropology
• Ethnography as activism: Elizabeth Enslin
(1994)
• Repatriation for empowering subjects
Testimonials and ethno
autobiographies
• Marjorie Shasta’s “Nisa: The Life and
Words of a 1Kung Woman” (1981)
• Vincent Crapanzano’s “Tuhami: Portrait of
a Moroccan (1980).
• Mediations of relationships( ethnographer
and other)
Blurring distinctions (subject and
object)
I have tried to make clear that what I
am reading is a story, or set of stories,
that have been told to me, so that I, in
turn, can tell them again,
transforming myself from a listener
into a storyteller (13).
Emphasis on local episteme
Esperanza certainly understood that
the border between history, reality
and fiction, is a fluid one (16). I had
to edit and reshape what she told me,
turning it into something else (16)
Immediate versus timeless
• Women ethnographers have often found
themselves positioned in the daughter role relation
to the people with whom they work. In giving me
the role of comadre, Esperanza made me "fictive
kin”, but in a way both highlighted and formalized
the contradictions of the racial and class
differences between us (7)
Methodological influences from
anthropology
• Anthropological confessions: necessity to
show oneself as ethnographer
• A move away from ethnographic realism
• Malinowski’s diaries: ethnographer not a
detached recorder of culture
Contrasting with realist
ethnographies
•
•
•
•
Highly personalized styles
Stories of fieldwork rapport
Active construction of the ethnography
A world presented in which the
ethnographer plays a part
I was also forced to realize the extent
to which the ethnographic relation is
bases on power, for indeed, I had felt
uncomfortable when an ‘informant’ –
particularly another, less-privileged,
woman—was assertive and aggressive,
rather than complicitous and
cooperative as informants “should’ be
(6).
Remain realist
• Done to convince the audience of
authenticity
• Mentions personal biases, character flows,
etc
• Shows him/herself struggling to piece
together the story
Clifford (1983) Two rhetorical
strategies of confessions
• One: to cast oneself as student as an
apprentice of culture; comes to learn a
culture like a child learns a culture
• Two: to cast oneself as a translator or
interpreter of indigenous texts available to
the ethnographer only in the field
A growing discomfort about close links
between the fieldworker and the
inquisitor a extractors of
confessions...This discomfort was
highlighted for me in Mexico by the
intense awareness of race and class
differences in the countryside and by
the way people tended to position mw
in the role of a rich gringa from the
United states (3)
Discussion Questions
• Why does Behar think Esperanza needs the
anthropologists to mediate her story?
• Whose stories are they?
• Can testimonial an ethnic autobiographies
refashion our practice of ethnography as a
mode of cultural critique?
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