Gender and ethnographic research

Posted: June 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books | Comments Off on Gender and ethnographic research

Warren, C.A.B. and Hackney, J.K.  (2000). Gender Issues In Ethnography.  Thousand Oaks, CA.  Sage.

Warren and Hackney’s interesting book treats how gender influences, shapes, affects, and is part of ethnographic data collection, especially a researcher’s experiences in the field.  Below are some of my notes on Warren & Hackney’s key ideas & concepts.

Gender DOES influence ethnography and the fieldwork experience

  • “Gender is built into the social structure of…social orders, across time and space, permeating other hierarchies of race or status.  Living within a society or visiting one as a fieldworker presupposes gendered performances, interactions, conversations, and interpretations on the part of both the researcher and respondents.” (1)
  • “…gender shapes the interactions in our settings; it shapes entrée, trust, research roles and relationships…”  (3)  It shapes the fieldwork experience as well as the knowledge produced in the fieldwork setting.
  • Ethnography has stages, including: “entrée into the setting, finding a place, fieldwork roles and relationships, research bargains, trust and rapport, and leaving the field.  Gender both frames these stages…” (3)
  • As ethnographers, how we enter a fieldsite and how we are received/perceived by people in that fieldsite is affected by gender, as well as:  “marital status, age, physical appearance, presence and number of children, social class, and ethnic racial or national differences…” (5)
  • In terms of access, the authors differentiate between physical access and access to actual meanings (see p. 6) and note that gender will affect both of these factors.
  • When we enter a culture, be essentially become part of its “landscape of contemporary life” (11) and who we are is established in part through the “existing cultural stock of knowledge and action available” (12) in that context.  This includes the cultural-historical attitudes towards and beliefs about gender, of course.
  • Your place in the fieldsite probably won’t be static.  These authors believe that our “roles and relationships” in the fieldsite are constantly being negotiated and renegotiated – we shouldn’t take them for granted or assume that they won’t change.  (14)
  • Gender (yours, informants’) will affect interviews in some way, whether in what people wish to disclose to you, or in how they communicate with you, or how they view you, etc.
  • Even if you connect with informants through shared gender, your rapport/connection will be further affected by perceptions of/evaluations of other factors like “education, marital status, and social class” (39)

Practical Considerations for ethnographers, especially female ethnographers

  • Marital status/Parental status:  What is a “legitimate” woman in the cultural context where you are collecting data?  These authors note that marriage and motherhood are fuller, more legitimate social members in some societies than single or childless women.  Factors like this can affect how you are viewed and treated by informants. (see p.8-11)  Shared characteristics (marriage, parenthood, others) can possibly help you to establish a connection with your informants.  How might differences affect your connections with informants?
  • Clothes: “Sometimes the research task is facilitated by wearing clothes that are the same as one’s hosts, sometimes not.” (22)  Dress and hairstyles:  “may be adopted to fit into the culture’s gender roles, to disassociate oneself from those roles for some particular purpose, or to satisfy other demands based on age or social class.”  (23) What are you expected to wear, based on your identity, or your preferred identity in that setting?
  • Body norms:  “researchers own conformity or nonconformity with [body norms] [has] research consequences.”  (25)
  • Consider etiquette, boundaries, norms, meanings, etc. related to gender in that cultural context.  What are the expectations about your behavior as a (female) ethnographer?  What are the rules in regards to talking with informants?

Other reflective questions

See excerpt from Krieger on p. 58:  How do informants expect us to behave?  How do informants expect each other to behave?  What ideas are we bringing with us into the site?  What gender-related expectations are flexible, breakable vs. inflexible, required?  How can gender hinder or assist us in the data collection?

Other interesting concepts

  • Fictive kin (14-15) – as stranger/ethnographer establishing your place in a fieldsite, you might be adopted as a family’s child, or people’s sister, etc.
  • Cross-gender behavior (15-) to what extent are you permitted to flout or cross gender lines as a stranger/ethnographer in the fieldsite?
  • Permitted deviance:  “ways in which norms differ from behavior or norms for foreigners differ from norms for natives.”  (58)

My comments/questions

  • Assumptions about and expectations related to gender will vary from culture to culture.  How do our assumptions as a research team, or our personal assumptions, compare to those of our informants, or to those of the informants’ cultures-at-large?  We should be aware of this as we conduct our fieldwork.
  • We should always have some background information on gender norms in the settings we study, and be aware of how they compare to gender norms in our home settings.
  • One message of this book is to consider what aspects of informants’ worlds you are/are not seeing as an ethnographer.  What percentage of those worlds do you actually have access to?  Be aware of the limits of the information that you are collecting.
  • What roles are we as researchers being “cast in” (35) because of gender (ours, our informants’)?  What control do we have over that?  How can we negotiate that?
  • In writing up fieldwork for articles, conferences, etc. what do researchers put in/leave out in regards to gender in their methodology sections?  To what extent should their gender and the gender of their informants be treated, discussed?  How much of the gender element is necessary/important to expound on to explain findings, to make sense of the study?  (see p. 39 onwards)
  • As discussed by these authors (see p. 49 onwards) fieldnotes are not neutral, timeless documents, but are definitely rooted in the socio-cultural attitudes of the time/place/period in which they are written.  Furthermore, they are rooted in our individual characters, beliefs, assumptions, etc.  Our fieldnotes say as much about us – the writers – and our times as they do about the people we observe and interview.  How do you deal with this fact in analyzing and writing up your fieldwork?
  • Perhaps we should incorporate an ecological analysis into our work to be more aware of the different contextual layers that influence meaning, meaning making, and our own roles as ethnographers in the fieldsite?  For example, include some cultural-historical analysis as macro and micro levels?
  • To what extent do we modify our behavior to fit in with the gender norms/expectations where we collect data?  Our attitudes, plans, results vis-à-vis modifying our behavior should be documented, discussed.
  • How does gender (as well as other gender-related characteristics covered in this book) make it easier or difficult to gain trust, to establish rapport, to get deep information?  How do these characteristics influence our interviews, our observations, our interactions?

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