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An Awkward Relationship: The Case of Feminism and Anthropology

Author(s): Marilyn Strathern


Source: Signs, Vol. 12, No. 2, Reconstructing the Academy (Winter, 1987), pp. 276-292
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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AN AWKWARD RELATIONSHIP:
THE CASE OF FEMINISM
AND ANTHROPOLOGY
MARILYN STRATHERN

Feministscholarshipoffersthe promiseof a commongroundbetween


disciplines.Yet thisverypromisealso raisesquestionsabouttheimpactof
feminist
theoryon mainstream
disciplinary
development.Indeed, theone
idea-the desirabilityof establishingautonomouswomen'sstudiescenters-invariably recalls the other-the desirabilityof revolutionizing
whichencapsulatesthe
establishments-apairofpropositions
mainstream
thatgives feminist
ideationaldivide between autonomyand integration
worksacross
theoriestheirpoliticaledge. The factthatfeminist
scholarship
disciplinesmeans it cannotbe parallelwiththem,and thisis awkwardin
workin anysingle
relationto the idea thatfeminist
insightsmightmodify
This articleis based on a lecturegivenin the series,ChangingParadigms:The Impactof
FeministTheory upon the World of Scholarship,at the Research Center forWomen's
Studies, Adelaide, Australia,July1984. I thankSusan Margareyforher invitationand
and forthusdrawingmyattentionto the issues ofparadigms.The lecturewas
hospitality,
publishedin AustralianFeministStudiesJournal1 (December 1985): 1-25. I had spokenon
ofCalifornia,
similarthemesat theDepartmentofAnthropology,
University
Berkeley,and at
the HistoryofConsciousnessUnit,SantaCruz, and thankcolleaguesat bothplaces fortheir
comments.Inspirationalso came fromthe Research Group on Gender Relationsin the
The journal'sreaderswillrecognize
SouthwestPacificat the AustralianNationalUniversity.
ideas of theirs,forwhichI am mostgrateful.
[Signs:Journalof Womenin Cultureand Society1987, vol. 12, no. 2]
of Chicago. All rightsreserved.0097-9740/87/1202-0007$01.00
? 1987 by The University

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Winter1987 / SIGNS

For its impactto be registeredon


discipline,forinstance,anthropology.
mainstreamtheorizing,
feminist
wouldhavetobe construedas
scholarship
an isomorphicsister"discipline"fromwhichideas and conceptscould be
borrowed.Any conceptualizationof the relationshipbetweenfeminism
and anthropology
mustaccountforthisawkwardness.
Much ofthe literatureon thefailureoffeminist
scholarshipto change
studies
and traditional
assumes
the
of
feminist
disciplines
isomorphism
for
is
in
terms
of
the
immense
task
ofparadigm
it
often
couched
disciplines,
shift.The idea thatparadigmscan be shiftedsuggeststwothingsat once.
The underlyingassumptionsthatconstitutedisciplinary
bias in its unreformedstateare exposed; at the same time,displacingthesewitha conscious theoreticalframework
challengesexistingtheoreticalframeworks.
Fundamentalpremisesare thusopen to assault.Yet thisidea ofparadigm
of whatwe do, turnsout to be an
shift,so dear to our representations
our
of
inadequate description
practice.I shall tryto showwhy.
are
both
in their subject mattersand in their
distinct
Disciplines
Feminist
studies
examine
new subjectswhichtheycan offerto
practices.
different
women
at thecenter,as subjectsofinquiry
disciplines:"placing
and as active agents in the gatheringof knowledge."'What, then, of
different
frameworks,
practices?Practicesareconstituted
by
bytheoretical
conceptualgivensand assumptions,and also by the kindof relationship
whichan investigator
establisheswiththe subjectitself.This articleexploressomeoftheproblemsthatdisciplinary
practicescanputinthewayof
relaresponsivenessto feminist
theorizing.It focuseson theinvestigator's
awkwarddissotionshipwithhis or her subject,a sourceof particularly
nance betweenfeminist
practiceand thepracticeofthedisciplineI know
best, social anthropology.
It is perhapsironicto highlighta dissonancebetweenfeminismand
foranthropology
is sometimessingledout forthe extentto
anthropology,
whichithas been affected
feminist
has
by
thinking.
Certainlyanthropology
interestsparallel to those of feministscholarship,but the proximation
resistancemorepoignant.Indeed, it maywell be,
makesanthropologists'
as one oftheSignsreadersputit,thatthedissonanceis actuallya productof
feminists'
and anthropologists'
intellectualproximity-that
theyare,as the
readersuggested,neighborsin tension,neighborswhosesimilarities
provoke themto mutualmockery.I presshomethepointby consideringthe
dissonance between specificbranches of feministand anthropological
theorizingwhichon the surfaceappear congenialto one another.Rather
thanlookingat well-establishedareas of anthropology,
I consideran innovativeapproachthatsharescommoninterestswithradicalfeminism.
1JudithStacey and BarrieThorne, "The MissingFeministRevolutionin Sociology,"
Social Problems32, no. 4 (April1985):301-16. I am grateful
toBarrieThorne,fromwhomthis
articlehas profitedgreatly.
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Strathern / ANTHROPOLOGY

Practitioners
of both imaginetheymightbe overthrowing
existingparatodrawon its
digms,and one might,in turn,expect"radical"anthropology
feministcounterpart.This does not seem to have happened. Theirresistancetoone anotherwillthrowlighton thedifference
between"feminism"
as such.
and "anthropology"

Anthropology:Successfulor unsuccessful?
between feministand anthropological
The affinity
thoughtis centralin
revoluJudithStaceyand BarrieThorne'saccountofthemissingfeminist
tionin sociology.Anthropology,
theystate,joins historyand literatureas
the fieldsin whichthe mostimpressivefeministconceptualshiftshave
can be attributedto the
occurred.The impressivegainsofanthropology
femaleimprinton the anthropological
"significant
pavementsfromthe
ofkinshipand genderin tradidiscipline'searliestdays,"to thecentrality
tionalanthropological
analysis,and to a holisticperspectivethataccepts
genderas a pervasiveprincipleof social organization.2
In manyways ideas generatedby feministinquiryhave received a
socialanthropologists'
ofother
readyresponsein mainstream
descriptions
societies.No one anylongercan talkunselfconsciously
abouttheposition
of women. It is no longer possible to assume that women are to be
measuredby the statustheyhold relativeto anotheror relegatedto a
chapterdealingwithmarriageand the family.The studyof genderhas
become a fieldin its own right.Most majorareas of anthropology
were
rapidlycolonizedby suchideas duringtheenormousgrowthofinterestin
feminismin the 1970s, creatingthe subdisciplineof feministanthropology. The earlyquestions asked by feministanthropology-Whatis the
How do systemsofinequalplace ofideologyincollectiverepresentations?
ityarise?Areanalyticcategoriessuchas "domestic"and "political"useful?
and, How are conceptsofpersonhoodconstituted?-remainat the forefront
ofitsconcerns.Moreover,thedisciplineprovidesmaterialsforpartof
the feministenterprise,namely, the scrutinyof Western constructs.
Anthropologistshave investigatedWestern biological idioms; have
stressedthatwhathappensto womencannotbe comprehendedunlesswe
look at whathappensto men and women,and thatwhathappensin that
realm cannotbe comprehendedwithoutattentionto the overall social
system;and continueto provideglimpsesintootherworlds,intodifferent
2
StaceyandThorne,303. See alsoCarolMacCormack,"Anthropology-aDisciplinewith
a Legacy,"in Men's StudiesModified,ed. Dale Spender(New York:PergamonPress,1981),
in her castigationof the social
99-110. JudithShapiro, however,includes anthropology
and
sciences,which"have yetto come to termswithgenderas a socialfact"("Anthropology
the Study of Gender," in A FeministPerspectivein the Academy,ed. E. Langland and
W. Gove [Chicago: UniversityofChicago Press, 1983], 110-29, esp. 112).

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Winter1987 / SIGNS

formsofoppressionand freedom.Anthropology
suppliesa rangeofcrossculturaldata that,to borrowa phrase,are good to thinkwith.
The disciplinethusappearstooffer
an unparalleledpositionfromwhich
to scrutinizeWesternassumptions,enlargingthe scope offeminist
enterprise by remindingus of the conditionsunder whichwomen live elsewhere.Yet,intheearly1970s,specificfeminist
interestenteredanthropologyin theformofstingingattackson thediscipline'smale bias. Thiswas a
clearsignalthatanthropologists
could notafford
to be complacent.Simply
havinghad a "place" somewhereforwomen in theiraccountswas not
enough;theycould well be replicatingmale evaluationsofwomenin the
societiestheystudied.Thisfeminist
critiqueofbias quicklyfounditsmark.
Afterall, feminists
were askingthekindsofquestionsaboutideologiesand
models that anthropologists
recognized.In short,they gave excellent
advice.3
anthropological
in anthropology
Staceyand Thorneperceivesuchinnovations
through
the formulaof paradigmshift.To them,feministgains in anthropology
have shiftedparadigmsin twosenses:existingconceptualframeworks
have
been challenged,and the transformation
has been accepted by othersin
thediscipline.Thus "ofall thedisciplines,feminist
has been
anthropology
the mostsuccessfulin bothof these dimensions."4
is similarly,thoughless optimistically,
Anthropology
singledout in
Elizabeth Langland and Walter Gove's collectionof essays on feminist
perspectivesin the academy.5By comparisonwiththe stateof affairsin
several disciplines,they conclude that anthropologists
have long been
sensitiveto differences
in male and femalebehavior,but theyleave it at
that. Whereas Stacey and Thorne see anthropology6
as accomplishinga
double paradigmshift,Langlandand Gove's morepessimisticreflections
see the major shiftstill to come. However, these authorsboth take a
transformation
offrameworks
as the criterionforsuccess.
and
Gove
of
Langland
speak theresistancedocumentedin theircollections:the scholarsagree thatwhile a "feminist
perspectivehas begun to
affectthe shape of what is known-and knowable-in theirrespective
3
See JaneMonnigAtkinson,
(ReviewEssay),"Signs:JournalofWomenin
"Anthropology
Cultureand Society8, no. 2 (Winter1982): 236-58, esp. 238. Ironically,Edwin Ardener's
paper on the problemofwomenwas writtento elucidatecertainfeaturesofmodelbuilding
and, in retrospect,has become a contribution
to feministliterature;see Edwin Ardener,
"Beliefand the ProblemofWomen,"in The Interpretation
ofRitual,ed. JeanLa Fontaine
(London: TavistockPublications,1972).
4
Staceyand Thorne,302.
5 Elizabeth Langland and Walter
Gove, A FeministPerspectivein the Academy:The
DifferenceIt Makes (Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press, 1983; firstpublishedby the
SocietyforValues in Higher Educationand VanderbiltUniversity,1981).
6 1 referto social/cultural
A moderatecase forphysicalanthropology
anthropology.
is put
by Helen Longinoand Ruth Doell, "Body, Bias, and Behavior:A ComparativeAnalysisof
ReasoninginTwo AreasofBiologicalScience,"Signs9, no. 2 (Winter1983):206-27,esp. 226.

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Stathen

/ ANTHROPOLOGY

disciplines,perhapsthe moreurgentnote in each essay is the failureof


curricula.Paperafterpaper
women'sstudiestoaltercollegeand university
the disciplineis
concludesthat,while the potentialpower to transform
unleashedthatpower."7
great,women'sstudieshas not yet significantly
They echo an overviewof women's studiesthatrefersto the "massive
resistanceagainstwhichfeministscholarsstruggle."8
Langlandand Gove
ask about the cause ofthe failure.Theiransweris in termsofa paradigm
model(thoughthisis nota phrasetheyuse): "Women'sstudieshas had so
little impact on traditionalbodies of knowledgebecause it challenges
deeply held, oftensacred beliefs .... [It] challengesvested interests;it
uprootsperspectiveswhichare familiar,and, because familiar,comfortable .... [For] women'sstudiesis notan additionalknowledgemerelyto
be tackedon to thecurriculum.It is, instead,a bodyofknowledgethatis
transform
theexistingcurand shouldtherefore
perspectivetransforming
riculumfromwithinand revise receivednotionsof what constitutesan
In otherwords,feminist
analyses
'objective'or 'normative'perspective."9
curriculabecause suchanalyinfluencedtraditional
have notsubstantially
frameworks.
ses challengefundamental
disciplinary
is concerned,
As faras the impactoffeminist
thoughton anthropology
wherewould one place the resistance?Can one in factsee it in termsof
over paradigms?
challengeand counter-challenge
is in manywaysan open discipline.Faced withan
Social anthropology
tendto grabfora tool
arrayofsocialand culturalsystems,itspractitioners
as
kit,inJamesClifford's
phrase(see n. 30), whichcontainssuchconstructs
can be turnedto analyticalutility.Specializationsproliferate-regional
economicsand politics,legal theory-as do frameworksethnography,
Marxism,structuralism,
symbolicanthropology.This tolerance made
room for the studyof gender and forfeministideas. Yet a milieu of
tolerancehas also reducedfeminist
scholarshiptojust anotherapproach,
one way amongmanyintothe data. Consequently,a declaredinterestin
puttingwomenback on the map encouragestheoreticalcontainment.If
feminist
scholarshipis seen as thestudyofwomenor ofgender,itssubject
is
can be takenas somethingless than"society."Feministanthropology
thustoleratedas a specialtythatcan be absorbedwithoutchallengeto the
whole.
Withinanthropologyfew names are associatedwith an exclusively
is tied to a generalcatefeminist
anthropology
position.Rather,feminist
7 Langlandand Gove, 2.
8 MarilynBoxer,"For and AboutWomen:The Theoryand PracticeofWomen'sStudiesin
the United States," in FeministTheory:A Critique of Ideology,ed. Nannerl Keohane,
Michelle Rosaldo, and BarbaraGelpi (Sussex: HarvesterPress, 1982),260.
9 Langlandand Gove, 3-4.

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Winter1987 / SIGNS

as wellas itssubjectmatter.0Clearly
gory,to "women"as itspractitioners,
ofmanyfeminist
scholarstorestorewomentoview.Butit
itis theintention
thattheirconcernscan be concretizedin thisway. Where
is unfortunate
see themselvesas takingon the whole of the
feministanthropologists
discipline,theyare metwitha tendencyto sectionoffgenderanalysisor
women'sstudiesfromthe restofanthropology.
Perhaps,as Langlandand
anthroGove would argue,thisis a reactionto threat.Feminist-inspired
pologistsraisingquestionsaboutmale bias could be regardedas challenging the foundationofthe subject,withits theoreticalemphasison group
and on rulesand norms,and withits
on systemsofauthority,
structures,
assumptionsabout the descriptionof totalsystems.Ironically,however,
come under scrutiny-and
where these conceptshave mostpowerfully
"groups,""rules,"and "norms"have hardlysurvivedthe last decade-it
has been in responseto internalcriticismthathas had littleto do with
stillcontinuesto know
feministtheory.Meanwhile,social anthropology
itselfas the studyof social behavioror societyin termsof systemsand
Iftheseconstitute
a paradigm,thenitis largely
collectiverepresentations.
intact.
Is this in facta process of challenge and counter-challenge?
Does
feminist
theorypresenta profoundthreatto core paradigms?Andhas the
deflectedbytherestoftheanthropological
threatbeen ingeniously
population,assumingit is just "aboutwomen"?Both the idea ofchallengeand
otherface,itsopennessto feminist
and anthropology's
counter-challenge,
ideas, invite one to thinkin termsof paradigms.Indeed, Stacey and
Thornecharacterizethe fieldsin whichfeministthinkinghas had most
headwayas ones with"strongtraditionsof interpretive
understanding,"
" Here theconclusionwould
and self-critical.
thatis, ones thatare reflexive
seem to be thatthose disciplinesmostaware of the paradigmaticbases
upon which they proceed will be most open to paradigmshift.This
flaw.
argument,however,containsan interesting
The flawis made visibleby the invocationofThomasKuhn'sworkon
paradigmsin scientifictheory.Withoutsuch a reminderone mightget
ofparadigmsas "basic concepawaywitha commonsenseunderstanding
and orientingassumptionsofa bodyofknowledge."12Yet
tualframeworks
featureof the Kuhnianparadigmis thatthe scientistshe
one significant
studiedbecomeawareofparadigmshiftonlyafterthefact.The wholepoint
10See JudithShapiro,"Cross-cultural
in Human
Perspectiveson Sexual Differentiation,"
Sexuality:A Comparativeand DevelopmentalPerspective,ed. H. Katchadourian(Berkeley
and Los Angeles: UniversityofCaliforniaPress, 1979).
"l Staceyand Thorne(n. 1 above), 309.
12Ibid., 302; Thomas Kuhn, The Structureof
ScientificRevolutions,2d ed. (Chicago:
Universityof Chicago Press, 1970). Langland and Gove do not cite Kuhn, thoughtheir
terminology
stronglysuggeststhattheyare familiarwithhis work.

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Strathern / ANTHROPOLOGY

is thattheydo notaimtoshiftparadigms-theyaimtoaccountforthingsby
whattheyknow.The twinideas ofparadigmsand thepossibility
ofshifting
them remainpowerfulones. These ideas belong to the way innovative
scholarsrepresentthemselves.They are partofthe way theytalk about
what they do. The image of perspectivetransformation
belongs to the
rhetoricofradicalism-and requiresexplanationas partofthatrhetoric.13

The rhetoricof paradigm shifting


Paradigmentersthe vocabularyofthe socialsciences(and humanities)to
refertoa constructed
model.One mayenvisagenewparadigms"invented"
"'4 The idea ofoverturning
or an alternateparadigm"emerging.
paradigms
is a popularmetaphorfortheperceivedchallengeandcounter-challenge
in
betweenfeminist
therelationship
scholarshipand establisheddisciplines.
It is the receivedradicalview thatpeople willdefendtheirpresentparaor threatening
to giveup whatone
digmsbecause it is too uncomfortable
has. In her surveyon women'sstudies,MarilynBoxerobserves,"Justas
foundthatthegoalsofthewomen'smovementcouldnotbe
manyfeminists
fulfilled
method,'so women'sstudiesscholars
bythe'add-women-and-stir
discoveredthatacademic fieldscould not be cured of sexismsimplyby
accretion."'5Initialcompensatoryscholarshipled to the realizationthat
would suffice.Many scholarshave foundan
only radicalreconstruction
revolutions.Kuhn'sformulations
explanationin Kuhn'stheoryofscientific
are takenas justas applicabletothesocialsciencesas theyaretothenatural
sciencesforwhichhe developed them.I suggestthattheyare less applicable thanappears at firstsight.
I giveone example.ElizabethJanewayfollowsKuhn'sformulations
in
of
detailto showthattheyprovidea powerfulanalogyfortheinvestigation
sexstereotypes.16He defineda paradigmas an implicitbodyofintertwined
theoreticaland methodologicalbeliefthatpermitsselection,evaluation,
and criticism.Change is firstevaluated,thenregisteredas an anomalythe pressureof anomalies eventuallyforcinga new normativemodel.
of female sexualityprovide
Janewayargues that male representations
ofbehavior,beliefsthatpropatternsthatfitintothe accepted structure
vide a sourceofpermissiblemetaphorsthroughwhichpeople thinkabout
themselves,standardsfor behavior, and exemplarslearned fromthe
13See Longino and Doell; Donna Haraway,"In the BeginningWas the Word: The
Genesis of BiologicalTheory,"Signs6, no. 3 (Spring1981): 469-81.
14See Elizabeth
Janeway,"Who Is Sylvia?On theLoss ofSexualParadigms,"Signs5, no.
4 (Summer1980):573-89, esp. 588; and Ethel SpectorPerson,"Sexualityas the Mainstayof
Identity:Psychoanalytic
Perspectives,"Signs5, no. 4 (Summer1980): 605-30, esp. 613.
15
Boxer,258.
16 Janeway.

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Winter1987 / SIGNS

Beliefsabout female
anonymouspressureofascriptivesocial mythology.
sexualityalso act like Kuhnianparadigmsin theirresponseto anomalies.
Over time,anomaliesforceparadigmsintoa different
position;insteadof
beingtakenforgranted,
theybecomeidealspreachedabout.Indeed, she is
concernedto pressthepointthatforsome,male sexualstereotypesnever
fitted.Women could never share fullyin them, since they cannot fit
themselvesinto expectationsof male normalcy.Paradigmsin her view
establishthe rules of normalcy.
thatJaneway's
Yet, what do we do with the internalcontradictions
ofnormalcyalong
"paradigms"also seem to entail?The veryconstruction
exclusivemale lines,forinstance,invitesquestionsabouttheplace ofmen
ofwhatis normal.Janewaywrites,
and womenin relationto itsdefinition
"The shared beliefsand values expressedby our 'paradigms'of female
sexualityare not,in fact,sharedfullyby thewomenwho have had to take
themas models."'71 wouldsuggestthatthefacttheyare notsharedcomes
less froma failureof a paradigmto accommodaterealitythanfromthe
structureofan ideologywhich,in speakingto certainsocialinterests,also
propositions.It is
reproducesothersand thus promotescontradictory
important,then,to look at the mannerin whichso-calledparadigmsare
shared.
to "abandonthe
SandraCoyneradviseswomen'sstudiespractitioners
and stilloverwhelmingly
unsuccessful
effort
to transform
energy-draining
the establisheddisciplines.Instead theyshouldcontinuedevelopingthe
new communityof feministscholarswho will eventuallydiscovernew
stateparadigmsand founda new normativescience."18This interesting
ment breaks with the assumptionthat paradigmsare like some set of
culturalnorms;instead,it locatesparadigmsin relationto a community
of
The questionis whetherwe are stilldealingwithparadigms
practitioners.
or not.
in naturalsciencestemmed
Kuhnhimselfclaimsthathisinvestigations
fromrealizingthe extentto whichsocialscience,by contrast,was characterizedby overtdisagreement.He professesto be puzzled at thewayhis
Kuhn notes the
notionof paradigmhad been adopted in otherfields.19
in
natural
nature
the
science:
there
are
of
few
community
specific
relatively
that
revolutions
affect
universal
so
a
comschools,
competing
perceptions;
munity'smembersare theonlyjudge ofone another;and puzzle solvingis
an end in itself.Kuhnemphasizesthesharedmeaningsofparadigmswhich
both define a scientificcommunityand are definedby it. Of course,
communitiesexistat different
scientific
levels,buton thewholetherewill
Above all, thereis
be agreementabout the statusoftheirdisagreements.
17

Ibid., 575.

18 Cited by Boxer,260.

'9 Kuhn (n. 12 above), on the firstpoint,viii; on the second, 208.


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Strathern / ANTHROPOLOGY

generalagreementabout scientists'relationshipto theirsubjectmatter:


the worldpresentsthemwithproblemsto be solved.
ofa closedsystem.Revolutionservesonly
These are thecharacteristics
to close the systemagain: successiveparadigmsreplaceor substitutefor
betweenparadigmsis short-lived
one another.Overtcompetition
because
theproponentsofthenew paradigmclaimtheyhave solvedtheproblems
thatputtheold one in crisis.Yetthishardlyfitsthepresentcase offeminist
between
antagonism
scholarship,insofaras it has an interestin sustaining
"paradigms."Here it is the verychampioningof a new "paradigm"that
overtintereststo
makestheold one problematic.Indeed, itis infeminists'
take a conflictview of theirsocial context.If so, its explicitconceptual
frameworks
cannotbe regardedas paradigms.

Competitive premises
Talkingabout paradigmsis not the same as usingthem. The metaphor
ofmassivefoundations
and theherculeantaskit
suggeststheimmovability
wouldbe to dislodgethem.Yet whenwe are dealingwithsocialscientists
overturntheirowntheoriesand construct
whoconstantly
explicithistories
of internalrevolution,I do not thinkthe key to resistanceis feminism's
let alone "paradigms."I wish to
challenge to intellectualframeworks,
intherelationship
betweenanthropology
accountfortheawkwardness
and
and thecontinuing
resistancethatfeminist
encounfeminism,
scholarship
terms.Talk about "paradigms"belongsto the conscious
ters,in different
effort
to establisha new subjectmatter.Whatcannotbe so self-consciously
shifted,I shall argue, is the natureofinvestigators'
relationshipto their
matter
that
create.
We mustlookto
subject
particularscholarlypractices
the social constitution
ofbothfeministand anthropological
practice.
Neitherfeministscholarshipnor social anthropology
is closed in the
itspractitioners
Kuhniansense. Thus thereis no one anthropology;
range
torelativists,
fromthoseinterestedinpowerrelationsto
fromdeterminists
thosewhogiveprimacytoculturalmodels,fromthepoliticaleconomiststo
the hermeneuticists.
Manyofthesepositionscorrespondto philosophical
in history
orliterary
criticism.
ones or have counterparts
Whenanthropologistscall themselvespoststructuralists,
theycannotescape contemporary
anymorethantheyevercouldclaima monopolyon the
literarytraditions
It shouldbe no surprise,then,thatsmallas it is,
conceptofstructuralism.
is based on divisions.Socialanthropologthefieldoffeminist
anthropology
divideintotwocampsoverwhetheror
ical studiesofwomenpersistently
is universal.One side argues thatWesternconnot sexual asymmetry
in unfamiliar
contextsand that
structsblindus fromseeingegalitarianism
we encounterhierarchicalrelationsonlyin thehistoricalcontextofprivatized ownership.The otherside argues thatwe should look forsexual
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Winter1987 / SIGNS

inequalityin all itsforms,forsexualdifference


everywherecontributesto
Diane Bell has called these"evolutionist"
sociallyconstituteddifferences.
and "universalist"
positions;theyecho establishedstrategiesintheanthrodata.20
pologicalhandlingofcross-cultural
also has to accommodateitsexplifeminist
theory
Anyoneoverviewing
have a politicalflavor:liberal/
Labels
self-differentiated
positions.
citly
The politicalvantagepointsprovidea model for
radical/Marxist-socialist.
offeminist
thedifferentiation
vantagepoints,whichagainreplicatepotential intellectualdivisionswithinWesternsocietyat large. Indeed, it may
look as thoughthereis an impossiblearrayoftheoreticalpositionswithin
feministdebate: "Here we are speakingin manyvoices."2 Yet it is a
inrelationto
thatthepositionsareheldexplicitly
phenomenonoffeminism
one another.Throughthe vastamountofinternalcriticismand countercriticism,thevoicesdepend on one another'spresence.It need hardlybe
feminismplaces itselfin relationto both
instancedthatMarxist-socialist
on thefact.The
and is constantly
liberaland radicalfeminism
commenting
no
one
In
never
other
are
words,
viewpointis
dispatched.
arguments
is
created
feminist
dialogically,in the sense
"theory"
self-reproductive:
thatall the positionsin the debate constituteitsbase. The pluralismthat
and feministscholarshipwould seem to
characterizesbothanthropology
have themtouchmutualgroundat severalpoints.Andhereis thecontrast
withnaturalscience: not simplythatwithinsuch scholarlypracticeone
findsdiverse"schools"(also truein science)butalso thattheirpremisesare
in relationto one another.
by theirnatureconstructedcompetitively
ofscientific
scholarsto theirsubKuhn characterizedthe relationship
natural
world
is conceivedas
The
one
of
as
problemsolving.
ject matter
related
different
of
made up
throughsets of"laws"
things,ultimately
be
in
conflict.
The
cannot
"natural
whichby
problemis how to
logic"22
the natureof
rules
for
laws.
these
registering
Paradigmsprovide
specify
the
look
like.
In
social
what
its
would
and
solution
the problem
sciences,
between the theoreticalpositionsI have been
however,the differences
ofdifferent
socialinterests.The
talkingaboutcorrespondto theformation
are basicallysimilar
of
who
as
made
is
conceived
social world
up persons
interests
that
themselves
but divided between
may indeed conflict;
by
allows
more thanthat,"social logic"
viewpoints.Scholarly
contradictory
20Diane Bell, DaughtersoftheDreaming(Melbourne:McPhee Gribble/George
Allen&
Unwin, 1984), 245-46.
21
Haraway(n. 13 above), 481; see also Michele Barrett,Women'sOppressionToday:
Problemsin MarxistFeministAnalysis(London: Verso, 1980); Hester Eisenstein,ContemporaryFeministThought(Sydney:UnwinPaperbacks,1984);JeanBethkeElshtain,Public
Man, PrivateWoman:Womenin Social and PoliticalThought(Princeton,N.J.: Princeton
Press,1981),esp. xix;JanetSayers,BiologicalPolitics:FeministandAnti-Feminist
University
Perspectives(London: TavistockPublications,1982).
22CompareT. M. S. Evens, "Mind, Logic and the Efficacy
ofthe Nuer IncestProhibition,"Man, n.s., 18 (1983): 111-33.
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Strathern / ANTHROPOLOGY

of this social world internally


practiceconcernedwith the constitution
It wouldbe pointlessto seek a homogenizareplicatesthisdifferentiation.
tionor reconciliation
ofall pointsofview; therecan be, in thissense, no
thesocialworld,rather,is
commonworldview.Whatis seen to constitute
betweendifferent
viewsfromdifferent
thenatureoftherelationships
social
positions.
The anthropologist
does notwishto assimilatethe characterofother
systemsto his or her own. The essence ofthe comparativemethodis to
notcollapsethem.Feministtheoryalso has an
makesense ofdifferences,
interestin difference-inconstantly
it
bringingto mindthe "difference
makes" to considerthingsfroma perspectivethatincludeswomen'sinterests.Insofaras men's and women'sinterestsare opposed, perpetual
effort
mustbringthisto attention.Again,homogenization
makesno sense.
Feminism'sand anthropology's
concernsin promotingdifference
would
seem to be furthergroundsformutualconvergence.So whythe resistance?
The answer cannot lie in "paradigms,"first,because the different
theoreticalpositionsoccupied in the social sciencesare notanalogousto
the paradigmsof Kuhnianscience. They are based on overtconflictbewhichcannotbe reduced to
tween competitiveconceptualframeworks
singlepositionsand, second,because theoreticalpositions,in anthropologyat least,are in factoverturnedand displacedveryeasily-radicalisms
abound. It may be objected thatsuch positionsare not, then,reallyof
status,and we shouldlookfordeeperparadigms.Yet to do so
paradigmatic
forinstance,it is encounters
would be easier fromwithinanthropology:
with alien social and culturalsystemsthatallow one to scrutinizethe
notionsthatinform
Westernconsubject/object
dichotomyor commodity
ceptsofpersonhoodand identity.Fromtheanthropological
pointofview,
much feministthinkingparticipatesin such constructs,embodying
ethnocentriccommentaryupon the world. Third, the awkwardrelaand anthropology
is livedmostdramatically
in
tionshipbetweenfeminism
the tensionexperiencedby those who practicefeministanthropology.
thescholaris facedwithtwodifferent
Theyare caughtbetweenstructures:
ways of relatingto her or his subject matter.The tensionmustbe kept
the one forthe other.
going;therecan be no reliefin substituting

Neighbors in tension
For the tensionbetween feministscholarshipand anthropology,
I have
used the term"awkward,"to suggesta doorstephesitationratherthan
barricades. Each in a sense mocks the other,because each so nearly
achieveswhatthe otheraims foras an ideal relationwiththe world.
There is, in anthropological
inquiry,a longtraditionofbreakingwith
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Winter1987 / SIGNS

A recent
the past, so thattheoreticalgenerationstend to be short-lived.
in thepresare innovations
heirto thisconstantradicalization
interesting
of experience.
ent contextforthe weightplaced on the interpretation
Experience is also an explicittopicoffeministinquiry.The well-argued
in the sense thatits
radicalview is thatfeminist
theoryis "experiential,"23
firststep is consciousnessraising.In transmuted
form,a numberoffeminofexperience.RaynaRapp
istanthropologists
emphasizethe significance
the "searchforanalysisof
reportedin her 1979 reviewof anthropology
morefinelydelineatedfemaleexperience";she laternotesinterestin "the
as mediatedthroughperceptionsof
lived body"-women's self-concepts
theirbodies.24NancyScheper-Hughesaddressesa feminist
anthropology
situation:ethnograthatexplores"the natureofthe self"in the fieldwork
Yet the focuson similarissues in
phy as "intellectualautobiography."25
has proceededas a quiteindependentradical
writing
generalethnographic
contribution.
The anthropoldevelopment,withoutregardforthefeminist
ogist'saimis to grasp"livedexperience"throughperceptionsofthebody;26
of ritualexperience"is heraldedin a collectionof
"a new anthropology
Feministinterestin thesematterswouldnotbe
essayson initiationrites.27
challenging"paradigms"thatare notalreadyunderchallengefromwithin
I thinkthisis because "experience"is notthe common
the anthropology.
it
meetingground appearsto be, and myfocuson itwillbe a focuson the
and feministscholarshipas such. I
awkwardnessbetween anthropology
the
idea
of
the
contrast
way
experienceis used in nonanthropobriefly
and
in
discourse
nonfeminist
discourse.In
feminist
anthropological
logical
each case it is developed as a weapon againstorthodoxy.
Feministscholarshipsees itselfas challengingstereotypes
thatmisrepresentwomen'sexperiences.Women'sexperiencemaybe setagainstmale
ideology,includingacademictheorybuilding,whichappropriatesspeech
and imageintheinterestsofpatriarchy.
These aretheimagesofsexuality
of
whichJanewaytalked-women being made to feelin certainwaysabout
couldbe doneforthem.Closelytiedto
themselves,as thoughthatthinking
23 NannerlKeohane, MichelleRosaldo,and BarbaraGelpi, eds., "Foreword"to Feminist
Theory:A Critique of Ideology(n. 8 above), vii; also Cheri Register,"LiteraryCriticism
(ReviewEssay)," Signs6, no. 2 (Winter1980):268-82, esp. 269. Staceyand Thornenotethat
feminist
therelationship
theorists"are reconsidering
betweenknowerand knownto develop
a methodofinquirythatwillpreservethepresenceofthesubjectas an actorandexperiencer,"
and stresstheiraffinity
to otherswhocontributeto hermeneutic
and neo-Marxist
critiquesof
positivistsocial science (n. 1 above), 309.
24 Rayna Rapp, "Anthropology
(Review Essay)," Signs4, no. 3 (Spring1979): 497-513,
esp. 500 and 503.
25
Nancy Scheper-Hughes,"Introduction:The Problem of Bias in Androcentricand
FeministAnthropology,"
Women'sStudies 10 (1983): 115.
26
Michael Jackson,"Knowledgeof the Body," Man, n.s., 18 (1983): 327-45.
27 Gilbert
Herdt,"Preface"to RitualsofManhood:Male Initiationin Papua New Guinea
(Berkeleyand Los Angeles: UniversityofCaliforniaPress, 1982), esp. xix.

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the personal,experiencecannotbut resonatewithconditionsas theyare,


even if its meaninghas to be broughtup to individualconsciousness.
ofa knowledgewhichcannotbe
Experiencethusbecomestheinstrument
appropriatedby Others.It can onlybe sharedwithlike persons.
Essential to thisview of the feministtaskis the need to expose and
therebydestroythe authorityof otherpersonsto determinefeminine
thatwomenare the Otherin men's
experience.The constantrediscovery
accountsremindswomenthattheymustsee menas theOtherinrelationto
themselves.Creatinga space forwomenbecomescreatinga space forthe
forknowingthe self.Necesself,and experiencebecomes an instrument
ofthefeminist
Other.28
self,then,is a nonfeminist
saryto theconstruction
theinstitutions
and
The Otheris mostgenerallyconceivedas "patriarchy,"
persons who representmale domination,oftensimplyconcretizedas
a selfdominatedbythe
"men." Because thegoalis torestoretosubjectivity
Other,therecan be no sharedexperiencewithpersonswho standforthe
Other.
the ethnographer's
Withinanthropology,
focuson experiencesignals
an effortto remainopen to people's emotionaland personallives. The
mustfirst
problemis thatin writinghis or her account,the ethnographer
translateanother'sexperiencethroughhis or her own and then render
with
experience in the writtenword. Contemporaryexperimentation
novel
an
and
constitutes
to
this.29
narrative,
explicitresponse
biography,
includesrecentself-conscious
attemptsto lettheanthroExperimentation
As
for
themselves.
a
historian
of anthropology,
pologists'subjectsspeak
describes
a
new
works
Clifford
of
genre
designed to reproduce
James
Paul
the
Rabinow
typifies genreas poststructuralist,
multipleauthorship.
an "intercalation
of mixedgenresof textsand voices."30In allowingthe
tospeakinhisorherownvoice,theresulting
so-calledinformant
ethnograthe
whichalwaysrestson
processoffieldwork,
phyreplicates interlocutory
and informant.
and
collaborationbetweenanthropologist
Anthropologists
theirreactionsare thus part of the data, ratherthanbeing mysterious
ownexperiencesare thelens through
hiddenhands.The anthropologist's
whichothersofhis or her own societymayachievea likeunderstanding.
28See Haraway(n. 13 above); and Genevieve Lloyd, "Historyof Philosophyand the
CritiqueofReason," CriticalPhilosophy1 (1984): 5-23, esp. 14. However,Keohane et al.,
eds. (n. 8 above), delimitvarietiesofconsciousness,ofwhichconsciousnessofoneselfas the
object ofanother'sattentionis onlyone.
29Michael Jackson,Allegoriesof the Wilderness:Ethics and Ambiguityin Kuranko
Narratives(Bloomington:Indiana UniversityPress, 1982); Michael Young, Magicians of
ofCalifornia
Manumanua:LivingMythin Kalauna (Berkeleyand Los Angeles:University
Press, 1983).
30Paul Rabinow,"'Facts Area WordofGod': An EssayReviewofJamesClifford's
Person
and Myth:MauriceLeenhardtin theMelanesianWorld,"in ObserversObserved:Historyof
ed. G. Stocking(Madison:University
ofWisconsinPress,1983),196-207,esp.
Anthropology,
"On EthnographicAuthority,"
1 (1983): 118-46.
196; also JamesClifford,
Representations

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These experiencesconsequentlybecome a vehicleforcross-cultural


commentary,as when Rabinow'spersonalreactionsin the fieldreveala "culturalself."31
here constitutesitselfin relationto an Other,vis-a-vis
Anthropology
the alien culture/society
under study. Its distanceand foreignnessare
deliberatelysustained.ButtheOtheris notunderattack.On thecontrary,
the effortis to create a relationwiththe Other, as in the search fora
mediumofexpressionthatwilloffer
mutualinterpretation,
perhapsvisualized as a commontext,or a dialogue. Clifforddevelops the conceptof
"discourse"to evoke the structureofa dialoguethatretainsthe distinct
multiplevoices of its authorsyet yieldsa productthattheyall to some
extentshare.Underattack,bycontrast,is thatpartofoneselfembodiedin
the traditionto whichone is heir.It is claimedthatthepretensionsofthe
old anthropology
obliteratedthemultipleauthorship
offieldwork
dataand
did notacknowledgetheinputeitheroftheinformant
or oftheanthropologist'sparticularexperience.
Feministinquirysuggeststhatit is possible to discoverthe selfby
becomingconsciousofoppressionfromthe Other.Thus one mayseek to
regaina commonpast whichis also one's own. Anthropological
inquiry
suggeststhatthe selfcan be consciouslyused as a vehicleforrepresenting
an Other.Butthisis onlypossibleiftheselfbreakswithitsownpast.These
thus emerge as two verydifferent
radicalisms.For all theirparallelinstructured
in thewaytheyorgaterests,the twopracticesare differently
nize knowledgeand draw boundaries,in short,in termsof the social
relationsthatdefinetheirscholarlycommunities.
Perhaps the differencescould be turned into a dialogue between
feministscholarshipand anthropology.
But it would be an awkwarddiaas
a
insofar
each
has
for
the other.For both
logue
potential undermining
are vulnerableon the ethical groundstheyhold to be so important.I
constructa hypothetical
encounterto make the point.

Mockery between neighbors


How can feminism
be said to mockthisstyleofanthropology?
The anthrois
to
establish
him
or
herself
as
an
of experipologist trying
interpreter
ences. Yet obviouslythe anthropologist
would also admit to being in
controlof the finaltext.However muchmultipleauthorshipis acknowledged, using people's experiencesto make statementsabout mattersof
interestin the end subordinatesthemto the uses of the
anthropological
discipline. But that does not mean it is a worthlessexercise. On the
31 See,
on Fieldworkin Morocco(Berkeley:University
e.g., Paul Rabinow,Reflections
of
CaliforniaPress, 1977).

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and thereasontheissue ofethicsis raised,theplea thatmultiple


contrary,
withinformants.
The
authorshipis desirablespeakstoan ideal relationship
is anxiousnotsimplytorendertheexperienceofothersinhis
ethnographer
or her own terms,but to preservetheirseparatedignity.To presenta
monographas a collaborativeproduction,then,is a metaphorforan ideal
ethicalsituationin whichneithervoice is submergedby the Other.32
Froma feminist
perspective,ofcourse,therecan be no collaboration
withthe Other. This anthropological
ideal is a delusion,overlookingthe
social interests.There can be no parity
crucial dimensionof different
and the informant;
between the authorshipof the anthropologist
the
Whethertheprimefactorsare the
dialoguemustalwaysbe asymmetrical.
colonialrelationsbetweenthe societiesfromwhichbothanthropologists
and informants
come or the use to whichthe textwill be put, the social
and informant
are different.
worldsof anthropologist
They have no interestsin commonto be servedby thispurportedly
commonproduct.
ofexperiAlthoughI have used thecase oftheinnovativeethnography
ence, ethnographyin general draws on values widespreadwithinthe
discipline.Anthropological
practicewouldcease ifitcould notimplement
in some way or anothera workingethic of humanism.33
The feminist
critique comes fromdifferent
premises,but that does not preventits
pokingfunat anthropological
pretensionsat theirmostvulnerable.Indeed, mockeryalwayscomes froma different
vantagepoint,so the blow
strikesinfuriatingly
at a tangent.Butfeminists
come close to displayingan
alternativerouteto whatanthropologists
hope to achievein collaborative
enterprises.Feministscholarscan claimsubstantialinterestsin common
withthe people theystudy.They maybe speakingwomanto woman,or
else have a commongroundin understanding
systemsof domination.
The radical
How, then,could anthropology
possiblymockfeminism?
feminist
approachemphasizesthe consciouscreationofthe selfby seeing
its difference
fromthe Other. Womenhave to knowthe extentto which
their lives are molded by patriarchalvalues. It is an achievementto
perceivethegulf,and in turn,an ethicalposition,forthisis whatvalidates
to one another.Now, ifsuch feminismmocksthe
women'scommitment
anthropologicalpretensionof creatinga productin some ways jointly
mocksthepretensionthatfeminists
can ever
authored,thenanthropology
Otherwhichtheydesire.
reallyachievethatseparationfroman antithetical
see that
From a vantagepointoutsidetheirown culture,anthropologists
32 Rabinow
thatLeenhardt'scoauthoredtextsclaimbut
suggeststhatitis notauthenticity
"an ethicallysuperiorproductofjointwork"(myitalics),204; see JamesClifford,
"Fieldwork,
Reciprocityand the Makingof EthnographicTexts:The Exampleof Maurice Leenhardt,"
Man, n.s., 15 (1980): 518-32; and Young (n. 29 above), 34-35.
33RobertBellah, "Foreword"to Rabinow(n. 31 above), esp. xii.

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the verybasis forthe separationrestson commonculturalsuppositions


about the natureofpersonhoodand ofrelationships.Ifwomenconstruct
subjectivityforthemselves,theydo so strictlywithinthe sociocultural
ofselfmustendorsea
oftheirown society.The establishment
constraints
worldviewsharedequally by the Other.
Again, these constituteethical issues over which feministthinkers
inoppresconcernthemselves:silentspeech;connivanceandparticipation
discoursethatrejectsdominasion; how we set about creatinga feminist
ofdomination.34
tion,when languageitselfis conceivedas an instrument
inorder
Feminismrequiresa dogmaofseparatismas a politicalinstrument
mockfeminists
to constitutea commoncause. Anthropologists
by almost
effortlessly
achievingthatdistancefromtheirownsocietywhichfeminists
createwithsuchanguish.Yet,again,themockeryalso glancesoff,because
in factfeministsinhabittheirown society,and the discoverythattheir
values are culturebound is irrelevant.Feministscan onlyoperationalize
theirperspectivesiftheseare held to have some congruencewithreality.
Thus they do not need to know that "really"they cannot distinguish
whattheyneed to
themselvesfromtheoppressiveOther;on thecontrary,
knoware all the waysin which"really"theycan and must.
Ifwe were to seek in thesocialsciencesideas comparableto the status
thatparadigmshold in naturalscience, it mightbe helpfulto recallthat
paradigmsin Kuhn'saccountare sharedworldviewsthatcome fromdoing
science ratherthanfromacquiringrulesfordoingit.
In the naturalsciences such worldviewsnecessarilytake the formof
intellectualparadigms,thatis, modelsfororganizing
knowledgeaboutthe
world. I have suggestedthatthe conscioustheorizingsabout knowledge
and feministthoughtare not best
thatcharacterizeboth anthropological
Yet
there
is a set of views analogous to
as
paradigms.
conceptualized
feminists
and
alike as so funby anthropologists
paradigmsregardedby
damentalthatneithercouldproceedwithoutthem.Buttheseviewscannot
be open to consciouschallenge,because theydefinethe verypracticeby
whicheach acts. They thusdo notappear as "views"at all, but as knowlrelaedge of the world. It is a social world and involvesthe differing
and
that
feminists
have
constructed
toward
the
anthropologists
tionships
Other.
AlthoughI dwelton particularapproaches,theconstrualsoftheOther
brieflydescribedhere can be generalizedto feminismand anthropology
arefundamental.
Whenbroughtintotheopen
overall.These constructions
and compared,theirproponentscannotpossiblychallengeeach other,for
theone is no substitutefortheother.As Kuhnwritesoftheproponentsof
34See JeanBethkeElshtain,"FeministDiscourseand Its Discontents:Language,Power
and Meaning,"in Keohane et al., eds. (n. 8 above), 145.

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competingscientificparadigms,they practicetheirtrades in different


statusofthesetwopracticesis
worlds.Indeed, theproperlyparadigmatic
revealedin the extentto whichtheyappear irrelevantto each otherand
thusoffernot challengebut whatI have called mockery.
Departmentof Social Anthropology
University
of Manchester

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