Feminist ethnography is an "ethnography with women at the center written for women by women" (Lila Abu Lughod). Discuss this quote with references to anthropology and literature.

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In what has become a classic formulation, Lila Abu Lughod asked in 1990, “Can there be a feminist ethnography?” Her answer was not only that there can be but also that there must be this type of anthropological analysis. However, she acknowledges that there is not a singular way to...

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In what has become a classic formulation, Lila Abu Lughod asked in 1990, “Can there be a feminist ethnography?” Her answer was not only that there can be but also that there must be this type of anthropological analysis. However, she acknowledges that there is not a singular way to conduct or write this. She and other scholars have noted that there is an irresolvable tension between the two components, “feminism” and “ethnography,” because they come from two different sources.

Drawing on feminist critiques of anthropology from earlier decades, Abu Lughod encouraged scholars to reassess the discipline’s contributions, including the prominent contributions of women anthropologists. "By women, for women" applies both to re-reading earlier works and to re-envisioning research from the bottom up, including the gender of practitioners and representation of women within the discipline.

The idea that “ethnography” is a part of “anthropology,” a social science with a particular history, is often considered especially problematic because many of its early practitioners were male and, whether deliberately or unconsciously, imposed Western biases about gender relations into every aspect of their study, beginning with research topic and questions. In contrast, “feminism” involves sustained attention to female situations, including refusal to take for granted preconceived notions about what is “natural.” In the latter regard, anthropology is well suited to feminist investigations because it addresses the cultural aspects of every dimension of human location in the world.

At the heart of the call for feminist ethnography is the recognition of subjectivity and situational perspectives. This includes acknowledging that ethnography does not result in an objective representation of reality and that ethnographers conduct research and write from a particular position: Every view is a view from somewhere. More generally, the kind of knowledge produced by anthropologists is subsumed within a general framework of academic and personal understandings of what constitutes knowledge. This situation means in part that female anthropologists may have different insights into social issues and structures, but it also means that all anthropologists should attend to the ways that gender influences cultural formations within any group among whom they are studying.

Roughly contemporary with Abu Lughod’s article, a number of authors posed similar questions and encouraged further attention to women’s voices. While some of this literature and subsequent critiques support many of her points and expand on their application, other works challenge both underlying premises and the ways they have supported anthropological research. Useful sources to consult include the following:

Behar, Ruth, and Deborah A. Gordon (eds.). 1995. Women Writing Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lewin, Ellen. 2006. Feminist Anthropology: A Reader. Malden: Blackwell.

Moore, Henrietta L. 1988. Feminism and Anthropology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Strathern, Marilyn. "An Awkward Relationship: The Case of Feminism and Anthropology." Signs, 12 (2): 276–292. doi:10.1086/494321.

Wolf, Diane L. Wolf (ed.). 1996. Feminist Dilemmas in Fieldwork. Boulder: Westview Press.

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