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Politics of Ethnography:
Feminism and Anthropology
First, patterns of male dominance, West and rest,
have tended to restrict the study of “exotic”
women to female ethnographers--both because
female Others often were not deemed important
enough for male anthropologists to study, and
because non-Western female worlds were often
off-limits to strange males (Di Leonardo 1998:
What is the relationship between
feminism and anthropology?
• Ignorance of contribution of women in the
• Anthropological genealogies (male oriented)
• Their contribution to reflexivity (personal
experience or autobiography) ignored or
appropriated (I.e. Powdermaker 1966 and Mead
Why has main stream
anthropology been reluctant to
acknowledge that gender makes a
difference in ethnography?
• Considered less objective (associated with
• Considered confessional literature
• Considered outside of the generic “he”
• Considered outside the gender neutral “neopositivist” paradigm
The positionality of women
makes a difference
• Male
• Profane
• Economically
• Excluded
• Marginal
• Female
• Central role
• Important in ritual
• Respected
• Non-marginal
Three layers
• Bias imported by the male
• The bias inherent in the society
• The bias inherent in Western
Deconstruction of gender
symbolism and sexual
• Men associated with culture and women
with nature; physiology
• Women social roles; domestic domains
• Concept of pollution
Deconstructing the structure of
male bias by
• Focusing on women
• Building data: about women by women
• Reworking and redefining anthropological theory
Ardener (1975) and the theory of
“Muted Groups”
control over modes of expression
Male dominated structures
--ways of communicating (linguistic concepts)
--ways of writing (mankind for humankind)
--dominant ideology
--different world views
The Challenges from without
Decentred authority
Forced to become reflexive
The reflexive turn” Crack in the
Mirror by Myerhoff and Ruby
• to examine a field problem
• to examine anthropology itself
• to publicly examine the anthropologist's
response to the field situation
Problems with the assumption of a
privileged status (women studying
Ghettoization of feminist anthropology
--too specialized --image problem
The assumption of a universal category of “women”
--not the same in all cultures
Perception of ethnocentrism
--a bias in favor of one culture ( that of the woman
Discussion Question
• What are the advantages and disadvantages
of a feminist anthropology in the
construction of ethnographic knowledge?