Ethnography: Fictions, Feminisms, and Vulnerability
Many interpretations of feminist research practice maintain that knowledge is situated and coproduced between researcher and subject, thus always already implicated in difference, and best addressed through reflexivity and positionality. In producing oppositional knowledge, and knowledge for social transformation, feminist ethnographers concern themselves with how researchers, storytellers, and narrators are positioned within the text. They grapple with questions of polyvocality, representation and translation as well as with the staging of dialogic encounters, authorship, and the researcher’s responsibility to respondents and to the research community as a whole. This roundtable reflects on how feminist ethnography can offer a richly chaotic terrain for undoing all cannons and for enabling an ever-contested, embodied, tentative, and unfolding cocreation with differentially situated knowledges and experience.
Can feminist praxis embrace an inherently anti-disciplinary vulnerability and refuse strictly bound notions, labels, frameworks, fields, or genres – including those assumed by invocations of ‘feminisms,’ ‘ethnography,’ or ‘research? Can notions such as solidarity and responsibility, trust and hope, vulnerability and reflexivity serve a useful purpose in ethically navigating the forms of epistemic violence in which metropolitan academics are, and will always remain, complicit? How might we conduct research that is politically relevant to the lives of less powerful collaborators? And how might we create knowledge in a way that does not replicate unequal relations of power?
Shalini Puri, Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh, works on the Global South with a focus on the Caribbean. Her research spans postcolonial studies, memory studies, feminism, marxism, fieldwork, the public humanities, and the arts and everyday cultural practices. She co-founded the Pitt Prison Education Project. Puri is the award-winning author of The Caribbean Postcolonial and The Grenada Revolution In the Caribbean Present. Amongst her edited volumes are: Theorizing Fieldwork in the Humanities: Methods, Reflections, and Approaches to the Global South (2016, with Debra Castillo); Caribbean Military Encounters (2017,with Lara Putnam), and The Legacies of Caribbean Radical Politics (2011).
Dia Da Costa is Professor of Social Justice and International Studies in Education, Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta. Her research analyzes the complex relationship of activism in contemporary India to state violence and development discourses. She is the author of Politicizing Creative Economy: Activism and a Hunger called Theatre (University of Illinois Press, 2016) and Development Dramas: Reimagining Rural Political Action in Eastern India (Routledge, 2009). Her recent research has moved toward the study of the ways in which South Asian communities in North America name, challenge, and reproduce state violence.
Lisa Biggs is an Assistant Professor at Brown University in the Department of Africana Studies / Rites and Reason Theatre. As an actress, playwright, and performance scholar, she is interested in the role of the arts in movements for social justice. Most recently, her scholarship has focused on the impact of theatre programs for women incarcerated in the U.S. and in South Africa.
Shenila Khoja-Moolji, is Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies, Bowdoin College. Her work examines the interplay of gender, race, religion, and power in transnational contexts, particularly in relation to Muslim populations. Dr. Khoja-Moolji is the author of Forging the Ideal Educated Girl: The Production of Desirable Subjects in Muslim South Asia (University of California Press). The book combines historical and cultural studies analyses with ethnographic work to examine the figure of the ‘educated girl’ in colonial India and postcolonial Pakistan. Her work has appeared in Signs, Feminist Theory, Comparative Studies of South Asia and the Middle East, Gender and Education, and Feminist Media Studies, among others.
Moderator: Elora Chowdhury, is Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Chair of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston. Her teaching and research interests include transnational feminisms, gender violence and human rights advocacy, narrative and film with an emphasis on South Asia. She is the author of Transnationalism Reversed: Women Organizing Against Gendered Violence in Bangladesh (2011), which was awarded the National Women’s Studies Association Gloria Anzaldua book prize in 2012; and the co-edited volume (with Liz Philipose) Dissident Friendships: Feminism, Imperialism and Transnational Solidarity(2016). Currently she is working on a book project titled, Transregional Filmscapes in South Asia: Borders, Encounters, Histories (with Esha Niyogi De).