«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
—Andrea Smith (2008a, p. xx) As previously noted, this study combines standard ethnographic methods of data gathering (i.e., participant observation, interviews, field notes and journaling) with an autoethnographic sensibility, which enjoins academics to “perceive themselves inevitably... as part of what they are researching and signifying” (Butz & Besio, 2009, p. 1671). In what follows, I discuss my approach to interpreting the interviews, field notes and journaling that comprise the data. The bulk of the analysis involved a careful reading of interview transcripts juxtaposed with field observations. Following Smith’s (2008a) injunction to focus on how power works at “the microlevel of everyday life” (p. xx), I applied a Foucauldian-inspired approach to discourse analysis with its underlying, characteristic “epistemology of critique” (Hook, 2005, pp. 6ff). My reading of the data, to reiterate, is infused with an understanding of the subject as constituted in discourse. In noting how “discourse structures our understanding” (Mills, 2003, p. 56), I seek to render power relations in the solidarity encounter more visible and to open up the possibility of new modes of thinking about solidarity.
As feminist scholars such as Carol Bacchi (2005) point out, “available theory on the various traditions of discourse is immense” (p. 199) and discourse analysis is practiced in any number of ways and across many disciplines.43 Thus, to clarify, in this study I rely on (Foucauldianinspired) feminist poststructural approaches to discourse analysis, in particular the work of Gavey (1989). Her formulation of discourse analysis is concerned with the gendered power relations that are enacted through the discursive reproduction of subjectivities. For Gavey (1989) this “involves identifying the social discourses available to women and men in a given culture and society at a given time. These discourses provide subject positions, constituting our subjectivities, and reproducing or challenging existing gender relations” (p. 466). While some scholars tie discourse analysis to a more precise notion of discourse-as-text and stress semiotic evaluations of textual features (Blommaert & Bulcaen, 2000, p. 448),44 I use discourse analysis in a broader sense, as “a theoretical framework concerning the nature of discourse and its role in social life” (Potter & Wetherell, 1987, p. 175). That said, following Gavey (1989), I also aim to identify “discursive patterns of meaning, contradictions, and inconsistencies” (p. 467) in the data. Or, as Sara Mills (2003) explains, a Foucauldian-inspired discourse analysis requires tracing the operation of certain “discursive formations... which are often associated with particular institutions or sites of power and which have effects on individuals and their thinking” (p. 64). Schick (1998) takes a similar approach to study the performances of whiteness among white-identified pre-service teachers; their interviews “can be read through a discourse analysis which traces the functional aspect of language to perform subject identifications,” given that participants “rely upon normative constructs of their social, economic, historic locations” (p.
19). In my analysis, I undertake a similarly careful reading of texts (primarily interviews followed by scholarly literature, field notes and journal entries) to detect discursive patterns related to solidarity practices.
I also take a broadly Foucauldian genealogical approach45 to discourse analysis as discussed by Maria Tamboukou and Stephen Ball (2003): “Genealogy refers to subjectivities rather than subjects and conceives of human reality not as an originary force, but as an effect of the interweaving of certain historical and cultural practices which it sets out to trace and explore” (p. 10). My analytical focus is thus on the discursive “realization-point” of white settler woman ally subjectivity in the solidarity encounter (Hook, 2001, p. 353). At the same time, a genealogical approach to discourse analysis requires me to contextualize the production of ally subjectivity in the solidarity encounter within Canada’s colonial history.
I also adhere to the Foucauldian insistence on “discourse-as-event,” which implores researchers to “tie discourse to the motives and operations of a variety of power-interests beyond the level of the individual text” (Hook, 2005, p. 9). I attempt this by identifying recurring discursive practices and discourses as defined by Bacchi (2005): “institutionally supported and culturally influenced interpretive and conceptual schemas... that produce particular understandings of issues and events” (p. 199). Bacchi’s (2005) definition dovetails with the Foucauldian notion of “discourse-as-knowledge,” that is, “a matter of the social, historical and political conditions under which statements come to count as true or false” (Hook, 2005, p. 9).
Finally, Smith’s (2008a) work on “prolineal genealogy” (p. xxvii) has also been instructive. For her, a prolineal genealogy is a method of theorizing that would provide glimpses into what a set of discursive practices—Native studies, to cite her example—could do, as opposed to what it has done or is doing. This method involves “generative narratology,” a process in which, as Smith (2008a) explains by citing Audra Simpson’s (2004) work on Mohawk nationalism, the “text does not simply describe Mohawk nationalism; rather, the narration itself becomes a moment of nation building. It is a text that invites a collective participation in what could be rather than a description of what is” (p. xxvii). In my concluding chapter in particular, I propose a framework for imagining what solidarity practices could be and do. Rephrased through the lens of genealogy as method, my analysis explores some of “the [discursive] processes, procedures, and apparatuses whereby truth and knowledge are produced” in the solidarity encounter (Tamboukou & Ball, 2003, p. 4). More tangibly, I explore the discursive practices that constitute (reproduce or contest) subjects and power relations in the solidarity encounter.
The coding process
In broad terms, I took a non-positivistic and qualitative approach to data analysis, using a software program (NVivo) to facilitate an inductive reading of “higher order” themes. Lynn Lavallée (2009) accurately describes the software’s function and benefits: “[It] allows the researcher to select blocks of text and name them based on what is described by the participants.
These blocks of text are described as units of meaning and are called nodes” (p. 34). The researcher then formulates sub-nodes as desired. Reading the data in this way, I identified a number of nodes and sub-nodes, including a mass of interrelated points I would subsume under the umbrella of a desire for proximity—a major strand of ideas that traversed participant narratives.
I adopted what could be considered a less regimented reading of the data. Instead of grouping and analyzing together all the answers to a particular interview question, I coded for themes regardless of the question being asked. (I coded journal entries and other relevant texts similarly). This method allowed for themes and issues to emerge that exceeded my framing of the study as reflected in the interview schedule. At the same time, my reading of the data was also deductive and in this way evocative of my subject position and lived experiences. Recall, for instance, that this study was inspired in large part by the questions generated by the NMS pilot study (D’Arcangelis & Huntley, 2012). I had clear suppositions about which discursive formations were likely to be prominent in the solidarity encounter—e.g., those relating to colonialism, solidarity, (white women/feminist) ally, work across difference and anticolonial, feminist practices—and had written the interview questions accordingly. Like Schick (1998, p.
21), I attended to the construction and mobilization of these (and other) discursive formations.
One particularly important discursive formation I did not anticipate prior to analyzing the data relates to what I call the white desire for proximity to the Indigenous Other (see Chapter 4). 46 Had I coded only according to question, this particular discourse might not have crystallized for me as it did. In fact, none of my questions were about proximity nor did it emerge as a topic per se in my discussions with the interviewees. Rather, the notion of proximity emerged as constitutive of participant responses to primarily two sets of questions: what brought them to engage in solidarity (which I coded as “motivations/investments”)47 and what were their experiences of the major tensions and challenges of solidarity work (which I coded under several nodes including “white or colonial inter-subjectivity” and “challenges”). As I explain further in Chapter 4, I contend that discourses of proximity saturate white participant narratives.48 I also did not anticipate the particular ways in which Indigenous women would describe their experience of the solidarity encounter as invasive (read: colonial). I was able to “map” the parameters of this invasiveness, however, not by comparing and contrasting participant responses to the same questions, but rather by juxtaposing Indigenous women’s descriptions of the tensions and challenges of the encounter with the motivations provided by white women for their own engagement in solidarity. What struck me was the extent to which white women did not perceive their own investments in solidarity work as problematic in contrast to Indigenous women’s often vivid depictions of these investments in negative terms.
This brings me to issue two caveats. First, in identifying discursive formations and practices in participant narratives, I do not make claims about the subjectivity of a particular participant, but rather point to discursive patterns across participant narratives as do Schick (1998) and Heron (1999, 2007) in their respective studies.
On this matter, I quote Schick (1998) at length:
In this research I am looking at how discursive practices are used to organize and inscribe subject positionalities; I am not interested in making definitional claims regarding the participants’ individual identities. Although subjects are created in discourse, I am less interested in examining the specific subjective positions of the interviewees than in the organization, construction and uses of their discourses.... How do discourses construct subject positions which are not equally open to everyone? How are subjects invested in racialized discourses within a racist society? (pp. 16–17) At the same time, I also do not want to suggest a false homogeneity for either group (white women or Indigenous women). In Schick’s words (1998), “I am very concerned to represent the words of the participants in a way which neither values nor valourizes them, nor treats their words as if they are all the same and speak with one voice” (p. 30). In other words, even as I highlight the discursive construction of subject positions as opposed to individual identities, I retain the theoretical plausibility of subject agency: the making of the self as a contingent process of grappling that occurs within certain discursive constraints. Mahmood (2004) reminds us of the Foucauldian notion that subjectivity should not be seen “as a private space of selfcultivation, but as an effect of a modality of power operationalized through a set of moral codes that summon a subject to constitute herself in accord with its precepts” (p. 28).
This brings me to the second, related caveat, which concerns the oversimplification of the data.
For example, in discussing proximity as a discursive pattern across white participant narratives, I artificially disentangle white women’s complex motivations and investments for engaging in solidarity work. Such motivations are rarely described (or lived) in discrete terms; they co-exist with or are constitutive of other motivations that do not necessarily involve or infer a desire for proximity. In actuality, each woman describes a complex, interrelated bundle of reasons for doing solidarity work. For example, the white desire for proximity might coexist with a sense of responsibility or accountability to Indigenous peoples as well as a desire for social justice. Or, the white desire to be included in a Native community might be linked to a desire to gain a sense of purpose in one’s life. Likewise, the white attraction to Native culture, tradition or spirituality is often linked to a desire for acceptance. (That being said, a hierarchy of motivations often seems to exist, meaning that certain individuals describe some reasons for engagement as more relevant or primary than others.) I do not speculate on the particular connections between the desires of any one participant with the exception of myself.
This account of the more (or less) straightforward aspects of the data analysis process omits the more fraught and vexing parts of the process. In what follows, I discuss some of these critical moments and self-reflexively explore what I think they convey about the ways in which my subject position shaped the study in general and the data analysis portion in particular. But first, I present a cautionary note on (white) self-reflexivity.
A cautionary note on white/settler self-reflexivity
As noted, my methodological approach demands explicitness about the co-constitutive relationship between my social location and this study. It is also commonplace in social justice circles (in and beyond the academy) to call on those with privilege—along race, class, and gender, but increasingly other axes of social differentiation—to acknowledge it (Smith, 2013a).
Self-reflexivity is often explicitly named or implicitly assumed to be the methodological guarantor of these processes.