«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
I developed interview schedules to elicit responses that would shed light on these lines of inquiry, drawing on the one used for the NMS pilot study. In analyzing the interview transcripts, I draw on a Foucauldian approach to discourse analysis (see below), paying special attention to the “discursive formations” that emerged in the interviews, including around participant understandings of colonialism as related to solidarity tensions or challenges. In this way, I attempt to map the discursive practices of the solidarity encounter through which intersubjective relations are reconstituted. In Chapter 4, for example, I evaluate participant responses to questions about their definitions of political activism/solidarity; reasons for engaging in political activism/solidarity; and understandings and examples of solidarity tensions or challenges. I consider women’s self-presentations of their solidarity trajectories as well as their perceptions of other women’s motivations for engaging in the work. Borrowing from Moreton-Robinson (2000), I use the term “self-presentation” to refer to “how one represents oneself through interpretation as opposed to how one is presented by another” (p. xxii). In sum, I ground my analysis in participant depictions of the solidarity encounter, that is, participants’ selfpresentations alongside their analyses of what is at stake for other women.
The risk of re-centring whiteness Reversing the gaze to rest on the white (settler woman) subject is not without peril, most significantly that of re-centring whiteness and erasing other racialized positionalities. Engaging in white solipsism, what feminist scholar Adrienne Rich (1979) describes as “the tendency to think, imagine and speak as if whiteness described the world” (p. 299), remains an important caveat for any researcher interested in critiquing white privilege.18 As Scott Morgensen (2011) explains, this tendency is also operative in the logic of white settler colonialism, where a white
settler Indigenous binary effectively erases non-Indigenous people of colour from the equation:
This context suggests that the relationality of “settler” to “Native” in a white settler society has the effect of excluding non-Native people of color from the civilizational modernity that white settlers seek when they appear to eliminate Native peoples only to elide the subjugation of non-Native people of color on stolen land. (p. 18) To risk re-centring whiteness in this particular project, therefore, is to risk perpetuating white settler colonial logic. Heron (2007) aptly depicts the paradox facing (particularly white) researchers of whiteness and of dominance more generally: “This [disappearance of the Other] is a hazard of deconstructing dominance: at the moment it is challenged, it reclaims centre stage and makes its issues the ones that count. Yet if not challenged, relations of domination will continue” (p. 20). But, is it counterproductive to focus on white settler women’s subjectivities for insights into the subversion of Indigenous/non-Indigenous colonial relations?
I look to Indigenous, antiracist and postcolonial feminist scholarship for answers. There are useful parallels between my study and Ruth Frankenberg’s (1993) ground-breaking work on white women and race. Just as she saw white women’s lives as “sites both for the reproduction of racism and for challenges to it” (p. 1), I see white settler women’s lives as sites for the reproduction and possible contestation of colonialism and colonizing forms of solidarity. Like Frankenberg (1993), I agree with the now widespread indictment of Western scholarship as a site for “the production of an unmarked, apparently autonomous white/Western self, in contrast with the marked, Other racial and cultural categories with which the racially and culturally dominant category is coconstructed” (p. 17).19 Frankenberg’s (1993) choice to study white women responds to the tendency of Western scholarship to turn “Other, marked subjects” into objects of study, and to the fact that “whiteness and Westerness have not, for the most part, been conceived as ‘the problem’ in the eyes of white/Western people, whether in research or elsewhere” (p. 18). It is also problematic, as Morgensen (2011) notes, to assume that all settlers
share the same experience, a move that effectively universalizes white settler experience:
White radicals often fail to note the racial specificity of their settler colonial inheritance.
If they project their experience into theorizing the responsibility of non-Natives to demonstrate Indigenous solidarity, they may reproduce white supremacy by not considering how people of color negotiate settler colonialism—perhaps within Indigenous solidarity that white people will not share. (p. 20, emphasis in original) In short, it is also risky not to focus on the specificities of white privilege in a colonial context.20 Lest we think this argument passé given the proliferation of literature on whiteness in the ensuing years, we need only look to Moreton-Robinson (2000), Belinda Borell (2009) and Grande (2004), all Indigenous scholars who suggest that whiteness and white privilege, either in the context of colonial relations or more generally, remain under-examined—particularly by white people themselves.21 Moreover, as Denzin and Lincoln (2008b) note, much qualitative research remains colonizing in its effects: qualitative research “in many, if not all, of its forms (observation, participation, interviewing, ethnography) serves as a metaphor for colonial knowledge, for power and for truth.... In colonial contexts, research becomes an objective way of representing the dark-skinned other to the White world” (p. 4). I therefore adapt Frankenberg’s methodological starting point by intentionally carrying out “an investigation of self rather than of other(s)... a study of whiteness and women [and colonial subjectivity] undertaken by a woman who is white [and a settler]” (p. 18). Like Heron (2007), I see interrogating whiteness as part of “my ethical responsibility as a white person” (p. 20).
My decision to focus on the subject position “white settler woman” also finds echo in the work of Moreton-Robinson (2000), who explores the ways in which white privilege is reproduced in mainstream (white) Australian feminist scholarship and practice through attempts to include the cultural difference of non-white Others. White feminists, she claims, continue to “seek Indigenous women’s ideological reconstruction as middle-class white woman feminist, despite their theorising of difference and incommensurability” (p. xxiv) and consequently, the dominance of whiteness as a subject position remains under-theorized. To remedy this, Moreton-Robinson (2000) compares and contrasts “the self-presentation and representation of the subject positions ‘middle-class white woman’ and ‘Indigenous woman’... [to] provide a context for different bodies of knowledge to meet and disrupt each other” (p. xxii-xxiii).
Distinguishing between self-presentation and representation is crucial to her methodology, which is grounded in the assumption that “Indigenous women’s life writings unmask the complicity of white women in gendered racial oppression” (p. xxiii). I apply a similar approach in a different context: I put white women’s self-presentations into conversation with Indigenous women’s representations of white women’s comportment in the solidarity encounter.
Although not the emphasis of my study, Indigenous women’s self-presentations (and hence, a recognition of their subject status) figure into my methodological approach in important ways, most notably in relation to how they position themselves as actors in the solidarity encounter. In shining the theoretical spotlight on dominant subjectivity, I do not intend to disregard the agency of Indigenous women—nor “leave the impression that subordinate groups are simply erased by the violence of the white gaze” (Razack, 1998, p. 16)—but rather to uncover the colonial scaffolding that upholds contemporary relations between Indigenous women and white settler women.22 To reveal the extent of this scaffolding, again following Moreton-Robinson’s (2000) lead, I feature Indigenous women’s scholarship and participant narratives on solidarity encounters with white women/feminist allies. Moreton-Robinson (2000) asserts that little or no “engagement with an Indigenous critical gaze” would be tantamount to “methodological erasure” (p. xxiii-xxiv). Mohanty (2003) similarly sees the necessity of “analytically inclusive methodologies,” arguing that “beginning from the lives and interests of marginalized communities of women, I am able to access and make the workings of power visible—to read up the ladder of privilege” (p. 231).23 A focus on the workings of white settler woman/feminist subjectivity, then, requires that I centre my research in Indigenous participant narratives and Indigenous/feminist scholarship. Nestel’s (2006) reasoning resembles my own; she explains her
decision to draw heavily on racialized women’s narratives in her study of midwifery in Ontario:
Official norms of antidiscrimination and multiculturalism guarantee that whites do not normally admit to discriminatory practices.... These practices must instead be accessed through the accounts of the racialized minority people who have experienced their impact.... If, as Aida Hurtado and Abigail J. Stewart (1997, 308) have observed, “People of Color are experts about whiteness, which we have learned most whites are emphatically not,” then these peoples’ testimonies are critical to any attempt to describe how white domination works. (p. 9) In relation to my study, Indigenous women would be the experts on white settler colonial domination, as among those subjects who most keenly feel its effects. By privileging Indigenous women’s voices and (feminist) scholarship in my analysis, I am adhering to a central directive of Native feminist research (Arvin, Tuck & Morril, 2013) as discussed below.
Methodological Matters To undertake this study of the solidarity encounter between Indigenous women and white women in the GTA, I drew on a combination of Indigenous/feminist and auto/ethnographic methodological approaches. These approaches all highlight the value of acknowledging, and mitigating to the extent possible, power relations between researcher and researched. The related principle of decolonizing research is central to Indigenous feminist methodologies. Feminist researchers Cannella and Manuelito (2008) explicitly combine these two goals in offering up an “anticolonialist feminist social science,” which “requires an orientation that is radically activist and does not support a false separation between academic research and transformative actions in the contemporary world” (p. 49). This brings me to a third common tenet: these methodological traditions allow for research that is transparently political. The logic behind adopting this particular blend of research methodologies was to enable strategies for identifying and thereby potentially curbing (although not erasing) power relations among women in not only the solidarity encounter (what I investigated) but also the research process itself (how I investigated). I begin with what I call “auto/ethnography.”
An auto/ethnographic approach to solidarity encounters
My methodological approach merges elements of classic ethnography and autoethnography. In classic terms, I seek to describe “the distinctive social life and activities” of a “bounded group of people” (Emerson, 1983, p. 19): Indigenous women and white women engaged in solidarity. As a methodology whose focus is “to present or represent the local meanings and contexts of complex human actions” (Emerson, 1983, p. 26), ethnography is well suited to the task. Also describing her dissertation as ethnographically-informed and using narrative analysis to make sense of interviews she conducted with women development workers, Heron (1999) states that “ethnography is the study of lived experience and hence examines how we come to construct and organize what has already been experienced” (p. 42). I focus on how Indigenous women and white women respectively “come to construct and organize” their experiences of solidarity.
My research unfolds from one end of James P. Spradley’s (1980) ethnographic spectrum in that it illuminates “a single social institution,” solidarity, by examining “single social situations,” instances of Indigenous women and white women actually doing solidarity work. However, for Thomas H. Schram (2006), a primary challenge of any ethnographic study is to contextualize or “bring into focus the encompassing milieu” (p. 97) of a particular set of social relations. In relation to my research, this means interpreting solidarity encounters through a theoretical lens that sees colonialism as a structure and not an event (Simpson, 2009; Wolfe, 2006; see Chapter 3). As discussed below, it also means “identifying and analysing discourses within texts” (Bacchi, 2005, p. 199). Thus, rather than view instances of solidarity as merely “single social situations” or a series of discrete interactions, I view them instead as constituting a relationship over time—the solidarity encounter. To accurately relay this perspective, I attempt to engage in “thick description” (Geertz, 1983) where “actions are not stripped of locally relevant context and interconnectedness, but are tied together in textured and holistic accounts of social life,” and where context is “not an obstacle to understanding but a resource for it” (Emerson, 1983, p. 25).
In her work on racism and diversity in institutions, Sarah Ahmed (2012) applies Gilbert Ryle’s (1971) related idea of “thicker descriptions” in a way that is perhaps even more apropos to my methodology. For Ahmed (2012), to engage in thicker descriptions would “require more than describing an action; it would locate an individual action in terms of its wider meaning or accomplishment” (p. 8). Thus, I adopt the consequent method of appraising the literature on historical encounters between Indigenous women and white settler women to contextualize the contemporary power relations between them (see Chapters 1 and 3).