Ongoing discussions about feminist anthropology as an active and relevant sub-discipline largely rely on historical comparisons that pit the political fervour of the past against what is deemed to be the less defined and increasingly disengaged feminist anthropology of today. In this paper, I argue that the prevailing tone of pessimism surrounding feminist anthropology should be met with a critical response that: (1) situates the current characterization of the sub-discipline within broader debates between second- and third-wave feminism; and (2) considers the ways in which the supposed incongruity between theories of deconstruction and political engagement undermines the sub-discipline's strengths. Throughout this discussion, I consider what an ethnographic study of motherhood in the context of HIV/AIDS can offer as we take stock of feminist anthropology's current potential and future possibility.
Motherhood and HIV/AIDS as Sites of Action
Pamela J. Downe
Local Knowledge and Universal Claims
In Vanuatu, where the revival of kastom (custom) has been pivotal in defining postcolonial identity, articulations of feminism(s) are offen met with ambivalence. The tension between discourses of individual rights and collective obligations and the tension between universal ideas of women's rights and local cultural practices such as kastom must be confronted. An engaged feminist anthropology, I argue, resists singular accounts of modernity by locating local knowledge and kastomary practices within a larger context that unsettles the boundaries of local and universal. Disentangling the ways in which contemporary critiques of kastom resonate with missionary and colonial representations of Melanesian violence and drawing attention to the structural violence of everyday life are also important tasks. Invoking the concepts of 'modest witness' and 'situated knowledge', I discuss what Strathern (1987) has called the 'awkward relationship' between anthropology and feminism and consider the possibilities of an engaged feminist anthropology.
Robin Whitaker and Pamela J. Downe
Feminist ethnography was a hot topic at anthropology conferences in the 1980s and 1990s. As students, we remember meeting rooms so packed that people crowded in the doorways, straining to hear energetic debates over the negotiation of power, the embodiment of systemic and structural violence, the possibilities for combining scholarship and political activism, and issues of identity and difference – not least the dangers of imposing an ethnocentric feminist agenda on ‘other’ women. By early in the new millennium, that passion had waned; feminist sessions at major conferences were fewer in number, audiences smaller. At the same time, even thinkers foundational to the field began to decry the lost promise of feminist anthropology, arguing that the Y2K version was less political and less effective (e.g., Alonso 2000; Moore 2006). For many feminist anthropologists who remain actively committed to engagement and advocacy, this is a troubling and puzzling trend. It is not as if the problems are all resolved or the injustices all redressed.
Many feminists have been troubled by questions of friendship in ethnographic research. For some critics, such assertions elide power imbalances, invoking a 'sisterly identification' built on essentialist models of gender. In this article I combine insights gained from partisan ethnography in the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition with feminist theory to argue that the problem lies not with claims to friendship as such, but with a naturalized model in which friendship is treated as a power-free zone. A more politicized approach to friendship offers analytical tools for thinking about methodological, epistemological, political and applied problems in feminist anthropology and politics and to wider questions about the relationship between intellectual and political life, critique and solidarity.
Dilemmas in Rural Mexico
Julia E. Murphy
Feminist promotion of gender equity in development began in the 1970s, challenging development policy and practice and producing a rich body of debate and scholarship. Feminist anthropologists, through scholarship and activism, made important contributions to the project of reforming development. A recent anthropological critique of development, however, referred to as the anthropology of 'development', has raised important questions about anthropology's relationship to development, presenting new challenges to feminist anthropologists who would engage with development. This new approach, despite its attention to power, has not had questions about gender at its centre. Drawing on fieldwork in southeastern Campeche, Mexico, this paper explores challenges of a feminist anthropology of 'development', including pressures for engagement and disengagement, and the apparent contradiction between reflexive critiques of, and feminist engagements with, development.
Remembering a Frontrunner
In German academic Volkskunde of the 1970s, scholar Ina-Maria Greverus was a pioneer in several realms. As a woman and feminist, she challenged the discipline’s gender order, including its hidden gendered epistemology; as an early reader of international cultural anthropology, she transgressed nationalistically confined horizons, and her methodological openness created space for new formats that challenged false assumption of scientific objectivity and neutrality.
Remembering Ina-Maria Greverus
The author reconsiders German scholar Ina-Maria Greverus as a committed feminist supporter of female doctoral students and early career academics. Greverus acted as an innovator especially in the realms of anthropology and aesthetics, and initiated a new international dialogue forum with the Anthropological Journal or European Cultures, which she founded in 1990 together with Christian Giordano.