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Fictions of Feminist Ethnography

1994
Author:

Kamala Visweswaran

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography

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.

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.

This book will enrage as many readers as it will engage. It reveals the vulnerabilities of much post-structuralist feminst ethnography while deftly politicizing its own fragilities. It takes the reader from Spivak and Anzaldua to Malinowski and Benedict, from Palo Alto and Fresno to Delhi and Madras, with unsettling confidence. In its handling of race, nation, and gender, this is vintage cross-writing, diasporic anthropology for the queer and there, stalking anthropology in its globe-spinning present.

Arjun Appadurai

Although feminist ethnography is an emerging genre, the question of what the term means remains open. Recent texts that fall under this rubric rely on unexamined notions of "sisterhood" and the recovery of "lost" voices. Writing about her work with women in Southern India, Kamala Visweswaran addresses such troubled questions in the essays that make up Fictions of Feminist Ethnography. Blurring distinctions between ethnographic and literary genres, the author employs the narrative strategies of history, fiction, autobiography and biography, deconstruction, and postcolonial discourse to reveal the fictions of ethnography and the ethnography in fiction. In the process of reflecting on the nature of anthropology itself Visweswaran devises an experimental approach to writing feminist ethnography.
What sets this work apart from other self-reflexive feminist ethnographies is its rigorous engagement with the concrete inequalities, refusals, and misunderstandings between the author and the women she worked with in India. In each essay, she takes up the specific ellipses of power differentials in her field research and works out their epistemological consequences. The result is a series of contextualizations of the politics of identity in the field, at "home," and within the lives of women who particpated in the Indian nationalist movement. We learn in lucid detail about the partiality of knowledge and the inevitable difficulties and violations involved in representing the lives of women, both inside and outside the United States. Clearly and forcefully written, this book should be of interest not only to anthropologists but also to cultural theorists and critics, feminist scholars and writers, and other social scientists who grapple with epistemological and political issues in their fields.

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography

Kamala Visweswaran is an assistant professor of anthropology in the graduate faculty at the New School for Social Research.

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography

This book will enrage as many readers as it will engage. It reveals the vulnerabilities of much post-structuralist feminst ethnography while deftly politicizing its own fragilities. It takes the reader from Spivak and Anzaldua to Malinowski and Benedict, from Palo Alto and Fresno to Delhi and Madras, with unsettling confidence. In its handling of race, nation, and gender, this is vintage cross-writing, diasporic anthropology for the queer and there, stalking anthropology in its globe-spinning present.

Arjun Appadurai

In this brief but complex book of essays, Visweswaran explores the question of the possibility of a feminist ethnography from several different perspectives. Visweswaran touches on many central issues in anthropology today, including modernism, deconstruction, ethnic identity, the politics of representation, and the narrative.

Choice

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography is an ambitious, experimental, comprehensive and learned book directed at a professional (anthropological) audience. I find the book thought-provoking and highly recommendable because of the sensitive, critical and sometimes even surprisingly innovative handling of ‘data’. In addition to the sharp analyses, it succeeds in elegantly combining form and content, and in mastering the unification of literary criticism with identity politics and a sophisticated feminism.

Folk: Journal of Danish Ethnographic Society

The text provides an excellent resource for thinking about what constitutes ‘reading,’ ‘writing,’ and ‘researching’ from a feminist ethnographic positioning.

Journal of Contemporary Ethnography

This is an exciting collection of essays which self-consciously intersect and extend each other formally and intellectually, rather than a book which sandwiches specialist technical material between an introductory theoretical framework and concluding overview.

Noel Elizabeth Currie

In reaching beyond traditional ethnographic form, K. V. places her own style of feminist ethnography at the nexus of feminist anthropology and literature-in the forms of autobiography, personal narrative, fable and fiction. By working through these ‘experimental’ forms K. V. puts her own theories of feminist ethnography into practice, calling traditional positivist ethnographic form into question, as well as the rather limited definitions of current experimental ethnography.

Cross Cultural Poetics