«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
I adopt an ethnographic approach in two other important ways. First, mine is a “hypothesisoriented ethnography” (Spradley, 1980, p. 31) in its postulation that colonial power relations are reproduced at/through the solidarity encounter, with the aim of exploring this reproduction as well as its disruption. Second, I am emboldened by Andrea Smith’s (2008a) work on “intellectual ethnographies.” Whereas Smith looks at “the theories and approaches that emerge from Native women’s organizing” and their engagement in “unlikely alliances” with US-based Christian Right activists (p. xxiv), I explore the knowledge arising out of solidarity work between Indigenous women and white women in Canada. I find especially useful Smith’s (2008a) point that activists—and not only academics—“do theory.” I similarly view Indigenous intellectual production as a potential counter to “the ‘ethnographic imperative,’ which would strive to make Native communities more knowable to non-Natives” (p. xxiii). My study stands in contrast to this imperative by seeking Native participant (along with white participant) views on political solidarity24 and also by focusing on white settler women’s subjectivities.
Finally, I approach this study with an autoethnographic sensibility whose broad antecedents include the “reflexive turn” in anthropological ethnographic research noted by Kamala Visweswaran (1994).25 Butz and Besio (2009) define this sensibility as “academics’ systematic efforts to analyze their own biographies as resources for illuminating larger social or cultural phenomena; [and] researchers’ reflective ruminations on their fieldwork encounters” (p. 1660).
An autoethnographic sensibility requires critical self-reflexivity, or “self-critical sympathetic introspection and the self-conscious analytical scrutiny of the self as researcher” (England, 1994, p. 82, emphasis in original), and becomes a useful strategy for making explicit how researcher subjectivity shapes knowledge production. The goal is not simply to tell one’s story, but to do so in a way that sheds light on broader structures of power and meaning making.
Rather than make my life the central focus of investigation, I draw judiciously on my experiences of solidarity work to ask what they might indicate about white settler women’s collective investments in solidarity. In this sense I engage in “narrative ethnography” and not “personal experience narrative”26—the former being “a reflexive effort by field researchers to analyze how they are situated in relation to the people and worlds they are studying” (p. 1666).
For example, I describe a telling moment from my own life to attend to one of the study’s major lines of inquiry—the desire for proximity. By explicitly positioning myself as a solidarity practioner, my intent is to glean insights that might help in “understanding a parallel experience of those studied” (Lofland, Snow, Anderson, & Lofland, 2006, p. 12). Moreover, my study is autoethnographically-informed in a more general sense, as I mentioned at the beginning of the chapter: my lived experiences inevitably infuse the lenses through which I “see” solidarity work.
By bringing the self (however temporarily or occasionally) to the fore, autoethnographic approaches to research are particularly prone to contributing to the “communicative dead-end of solipsism” (Butz & Besio, 2009, p. 1660)—or, in this case, white solipsism (see above). In other words, conveying one’s personal story to understand broader social and political processes “is quite different from analyzing and writing about one’s own experiences when the purpose is only to tell a story that illuminates those experiences. Such stories run the risk of being read as self-indulgent and even narcissistic, or of being dismissed as sociologically uninteresting” (Lofland, et al., 2006, p. 12). One way to counter such “navel-gazing” tendencies is to conceptualize field work as intersubjective and to see “the field as an autoethnographic space” comprised of “research participants, reflexive subjects whose self-narrations and indeed identities are constituted in relation to [the researchers’] own in a field that encompasses and entangles both parties (Butz & Besio, 2009, p. 1668). In this light, the researcher’s story (and subjectivity) is always part of an entangled web of stories (and subjectivities). Such a shift in perspective requires researchers to reflect on the interrelatedness of their voice with others, that is, on the ways that self and other are mutually constitutive. In such a move, a defining feature of all forms of autoethnography becomes readily apparent: “they all strive in some way to collapse the conventional distinction between researchers as agents of signification and a separate category of research subjects as objects of signification” (Butz & Besio, 2009, p. 1671).
Anticolonial feminist approaches to research
The inclusion of my embodied self in this body of writing is not in order to produce an autobiographical account of a particular life... but because the detail of the texts of life as I have lived it as an embodied being provide an immediate and vivid resource for examining the constitutive power of discourse both as I find myself constituted and as I, in turn, constitute the world in my reading and writing of it.
—Bronwyn Davies (2000, p. 10) As Davies (2000) implies, autoethnographic and feminist (poststructuralist) approaches to research share a comparable belief in the usefulness of reflecting on and rendering transparent how discursively produced subjectivities affect (and are affected by) research. Why the need for such a rendering? Feminist methodologies stress the need to problematize assumptions about “scientific” and hence researcher objectivity, i.e., the need to understand knowledges (and knowledge producers) as situated (Haraway, 1991), where knowledge producers are seen as imbricated in the research process, not neutral observers who yield impartial findings. Feminist researcher Helen Johnson (2000) discusses “the difficulties of conceptualizing, let alone, enacting, a dispassionate, impartial research project” (Discourses, dialogues, and research, para.
7; see also Pilcher & Coffey, 1996). In fact, feminist methodologies require researchers to be explicit about how their positionality (in my case as a white, university-educated, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis-gendered woman27), attendant perspectives on the world and life experiences (in short, their subjectivity) have influenced their research concerns, analytical approaches and ultimately, research conclusions. Moreover, feminist researchers are asked to engage in ongoing self-reflexivity to locate themselves in the research over time (Hesse-Biber & Piatelli, 2007).
I have designed and carried out my research in other decidedly feminist ways. As I mention in the introductory chapter, I locate my examination of the solidarity encounter within an extensive feminist scholarship on “work across difference” that recognizes the existence of hierarchical relations between women based on their location in multiple, interlocking systems of oppression including heteropatriarchy, white supremacy and capitalist relations (Davis, 1983, 1989;
Fellows & Razack, 1998; hooks, 2000; Reagon, 1983; Mohanty, 1984, 1991, 2003; Smith, 2010). To work respectively and effectively across difference requires feminist researchers to apply the methodological principle of making visible “untold stories” (Code, 1995), including the knowledges and concerns of, and power relations between differently positioned women; in the words of feminist philosopher Lorraine Code (1995), “such vigilance for traces of the untold story is central to many feminist research and activist methods” (p. 32). In fact, as Sara Ahmed (2012) reminds us, “feminism has generated a body of knowledge of gendering as social process.... In reflecting about gender as a relation, feminist theorists offer critical insight into the mechanisms of power as such and, in particular, how power can be redone at the moment it is imagined as undone” (p. 13). However, as I clarify above, by using the phrase “women/feminists” I mean to highlight two stances. On the one hand, I do not presume that women in the solidarity encounter necessarily self-identify as feminist. On the other, feminist thought and practice has been indispensable to my research methodology as described here, regardless of whether or not a particular participant defines herself as feminist.28 In fact, in line with Ahmed, I would argue that these solidarity encounters are, among other things, spaces of feminist struggle given their concern with how (colonial) power structures materialize in, for instance, the wide array and disproportionate levels of violence facing Indigenous women.
Feminist/antiracist researchers have increasingly incorporated an anticolonial stance29 in their scholarship and research methodologies. In this arena, Smith’s (1999) ground-breaking work Decolonizing Methodologies “has profoundly influenced [a] generation of critical researchers” in providing “an anticolonial lexicon of research, and an ethics of making space and showing face” (Tuck, 2013, p. 365, emphasis in original). A noteworthy addition to this lexicon, Cannella and Manuelito’s (2008) “anticolonial, egalitarian social science” has as its goal “to make visible, center, and privilege those knowledges that have been placed in the margins because they represented threats to power, while avoiding the creation of new power hierarchies or the objectification of those knowledges or people associated with them” (p. 56).30 Importantly—and located in the feminist tradition identified above by Ahmed (2012) that imagines how “power can be redone at the moment it is imagined as undone” (p. 13)—Cannella and Manuelito’s (2008) bid to “generate visions of egalitarianism and social justice” also recognizes “the intersection of new oppressive forms of power created even within attempts to decolonize” (p.
Noteworthy for this study, Cannella and Manuelito’s (2008) proposed feminist anticolonialist social science involves “an alliance of feminist, Native, and womanist worldviews that would provide a radical rethinking of the purposes, methods, and interpretations of research applicable to the construction of social justice in contemporary hypercapitalist patriarchy” (p. 46). Along these lines, “Native feminist theories” as envisioned by Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck and Angie Morril (2013) provide just such an alliance, leading to richer analyses of hierarchical relations between women. Native feminist theories, according to these scholars, challenge the academy’s common modes of disciplinarity [and] exhort ethnic studies and Indigenous studies, as well as gender and women’s studies, to address the erasure of Indigenous women and Native feminist theories in ways that are not simply token inclusion of seemingly secondary (or beyond) issues, but rather shift the entire basis of how disciplines see and understand their proper subjects. (p. 14) A Native feminist research paradigm would require that I apply a decolonizing or anticolonial analysis in my work by centring the voices and scholarship of Indigenous women (Arvin, Tuck & Morril, 2013). Far from being a move to essentialist identity politics, as Smith (2008a) explains, centring Indigenous women’s analyses is a reminder of “the strategic importance of the way groups that are typically marginalized within social movements, such as people with disabilities, interact with social justice struggles beyond a politics of inclusion” (p. 219). I tailor these scholars’ approaches by combining Indigenous/feminist methodological approaches with an autoethnographic sensibility in order to analyze how power gets discursively and hence materially reproduced through solidarity encounters, with the ultimate aim of fostering “transformative solidarities that can generate unthought possibilities for us as human beings who care for each other” (Cannella & Manuelito, 2008, pp. 46–47).
Before turning to the data analysis process, I would like to reiterate that not all of the Indigenous women scholars I reference necessarily locate their work as feminist scholarship.31 Moreover, although I do not undertake Indigenist research per se,32 I share the decolonizing agenda at its core (Bishop, 1998) and at the core of Indigenous women’s scholarship, feminist or not. Finally, by relying on Indigenous women’s/feminist scholarship to frame my research, I am countering the patronizing tendency in some whitestream feminist circles to invite “others” into the movement. As Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua (2005) note with respect to antiracist praxis, “dialogue between antiracism theorists/activists and Indigenous scholars/communities requires talking on Indigenous terms” if the former aim to support Indigenous struggles (p. 137).33 I now describe my approach to reading the data, beginning with a discussion of the conceptual framework of subjectivity that underlies my use of discourse analysis.
On power, discourse and the (liberal) subject As do many scholars, I work with a Foucauldian notion of the subject as socially/discursively constructed and of intersubjective power relations as reproduced through discursive means (Foucault, 1980, 1981). As feminist scholar Susan Strega (2005) nicely summarizes, “The relative power or powerlessness of different subject positions is structured in and through discourse and the social or power relations inherent in it” (p. 225). That is, subjects are “interpellated” (Althusser, 1971), subject to and subjects of social, economic and political forces and power dynamics in society.34 I conceptualize interpellation as always fluid and unfinished, but as an avenue for the consolidation of power among subjects (see Ahmed, 2000, p. 23).