Geography Lessons for Researchers: A Look into the Research Space for Humanity Lost or Gained

by Kaitlin Briggs
Geography Lessons for Researchers: A Look into the Research Space for Humanity Lost or Gained
Kaitlin Briggs
Anthropology & Education Quarterly
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License


Geography Lessons for Researchers: A Look into the Research Space for Humanity Lost or Gained 1. 


University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Hannah Arendt has stated that humanity is gained when the differences of power that constitute the public realm are acknowledged in relational interac- tions. It is the argument of this article that research relationships are not private relationships but are part of the public realm. Relations of power may be unacknowledged, but where knowledge is being generated, they are especially operative. Research relationships are reconceptualizeddynamically as a research space in which two subjectivities, differently situated in terms of power, interact like two borders intersecting. Via a review of some classic research literature, including work by Rosaldo, Behar, Patai, Oakley, Heath, and Peshkin, this article goes on to explore how these researchers attend and do not attend to differences of power between themselves and their participants.

In her address "On Humanity in Dark Times," Hannah Arendt tells the story of a hypothetical relationship in Nazi Germany between two friends, one a German, the other a Jew (1968:23).She makes the point that it would not have been a sign of humanness if the two friends had attempted to locate their friendship in the strength of a common human- ity ("Are we not both human beings?"). Such a location would have been an evasion of the realities and power of their common political world. Instead, Arendt suggests that for humanness to have been maintained in such a friendship, the two friends would have had to allow the realities of their common world into the frame of their friendship, political realities in which contact between Germans and Jews was forbidden by law. If the two friends, in the face of such realities, could have looked at one another and said, "A German and a Jew, and friends," then "a bit of humanness in a world become inhuman had been achieved."

Arendt's story is about friendship, whereas the intent of this article is to explore the research relationship. What strikes me about her story is the connection it makes between relationship-in this instance a rela- tionship that we have come to think of as a private one-and the world. Arendt says that the world lies between people. Her implication is that the world, the public realm, is not outside of a relationship, whether a relationship of friendship or one involving research, but is instead part

Anthropology 6 Education Quarterly 27(1):5-19. Copyright O 1996, American Anthropological Association.

of its configuration. Humanity is gained as the world, in the spaces between people, is acknowledged rather than denied or pushed away. When there are attempts to push away or ignore the world, the realities of power difference that constitute the public realm still influence rela- tional interactions but do so underground. Thus, for Arendt, humanity is lost in such relationshps.

Research as an enterprise is what Foucault describes as a power/knowledge system (1984). This conceptualization is difficult to grasp in part because we have been conditioned to consider knowledge and its production separately from power, as though they existed purely and apolitically in an isolated domain. Foucault has suggested the necessity of abandoning this assumption. Instead, he conceives of power not as a possession but as something that is exercised relationally and that informs and generates knowledge. Power and knowledge thus function in a dialectic, one always pushing the other into existence: "There is no power relationwithout the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and consti- tute at the same time power relations" (Foucault 1984:175). Foucault's reframing seems particularly relevant in our own dark times and points the way to the necessity of discussing how power circulates withn research relationships.

In the "field of knowledge" research is carried out by and with individuals who are what Renato Rosaldo terms "positioned subjects" (1989). The researcher as a positioned subject observes from a particular angle of vision and invariably grasps certain human behaviors and patterns better than others. It is these positions, constituted themselves by a crisscross of social group memberships and a multiplicity of life experiences, that are saturated with varying degrees of power or lack of power. Rosaldo suggests that researchers need to ask of both themselves and their informants such questions as: 'What are the complexities of the speaker's social identity? What life experiences have shaped it? Does the person speak from a position of relative dominance or relative subordination?" (1989:169). But even if researchers are unconscious of the imbalances of power that inevitably exist between themselves and their research subjects, or choose to ignore them, as with the case of Arendt's two friends, those imbalances are still operative. How do researchers, in their presentations, critiques, and reflections, attend to issues of power difference between themselves and their research sub- jects? And, as they do so or fail to do so, where and how is humanity gained in the process of their work?

I have followed a trail that includes six researchers and covers a range of disciplines: anthropology, education, women's studies, and sociol- ogy. In three of these studies the researcher is far from home, a stranger in a strange land, either geographcally and culturally (Behar 1993; Patai 1988) or situationally (Peshkin 1986). In two of these studies, the re- searcher is on very familiar ground (Heath 1983; Oakley 1979). Rosaldo (1989) changes camps: he begins as a stranger in a strange land, living with a group of headhunters in the Phillipines, but is finally able to understand the kind of grief that drives a headhunter to hunt heads when he experiences his own grief-the unexpected death (from a hiking accident) of his wife, a fellow researcher.

Rosaldo and Behar use the metaphor of the border and border cross- ings to think about relationship in context. Rosaldo writes:

Borderlands surface not only at the boundaries of officially recognized cul- tural units, but also at less formal intersections.. . . We all cross such social boundaries in our daily lives. Even the unity of that so-called building block, the nuclear family, is cross-cut by differences of gender, generation and age. Consider the disparate worlds one passes through in daily life, a round that includes home, eating out, working hours, adventures in consumerland, and a range of relationships, from intimacy to collegiality and friendship to enmity. Encounters with cultural and related differences belong to all of us in our most mundane experiences. [1989:29]

He thinks of borders as sites where identities and cultures intersect (Rosaldo 1989:149). Both Rosaldo and Behar refer to Gloria Anzaldfia's poetical and political autobiographical work BorderlandslLa Frontera (1987). Anzaldfia, who grew up along the United States border with Mexico, defines a border as a dividing line, one that separates "us" from "them," but where two worlds merge. In her text she travels the border in language, shifting back and forth between derivatives of Spanish and English (what is known as Spanglish or TexMex) in the same sentence, sometimes in the same word. Anzaldfia describes mestiza consciousness as an awareness, both flexible and constantly shfting, that works toward breaking down subject-object dualities. In her view, 'The answer to the problem between the white race and the colored, between male and female, lies in healing the split that orignates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our language, our thoughts" (Anzaldfia 1987:80). Trinh T. Minh-ha suggests that healing this split will partially occur through the "articulation of difference" (1994). Miller makes the point that in most instances of difference, there is also a factor of inequality, most often in the form of status and power (1976). Patai also states that difference "comes packaged in socially constructed disparities" (1991:149). In terms of understanding this split withn the research relationship, Seidman acknowledges that it is "fraught with issues of power" but that researchers must strive for an "I-Thou" relationshp, one that acknowledges the separateness, but also the humanity, of the researched and resists hs or her objectification (1991:76; see also Schutz 1967 and Buber 1970). Ths relationship should come close to a "We" relationship but still maintain some distance. The geographical meta- phor of the borderlands and border crossings could be used as a way to articulate difference in the research space and to track the jagged inter- sections and separations that occur between researcher and researched and the process of their interactions.

Ekhar uses ths approach in Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story, her book-length ethnographic account of a Mexican female street peddler's life (1993). The research space is a Mexican kitchen with mint-green walls where Ekhar and Esperanza sit at a table across from one another over a period of years as Esperanza tells Behar her historias late into the night. Arendt would view their relationship as one in which humanity is gained because Behar does not stop with positioning herself at the beginning of her study but also tracks and thnks through the complications of difference between Esperanza and herself, as the world would define that difference, all the way through her presentation.

This ethnography could have been a compelling account of one woman, a Mexican street peddler, telling a series of stories about her life to another woman, a North American academic/anthropologst, in and of itself. But that is only one of the stories Behar conveys. Layered around that relationshp is their relationship as comadres, a formal Mexican relationship of patronage, similar to that of godparents, between a child and another adult, who usually has a better class position in terms of status and wealth than the chld's own family. Behar agrees to be comadreswith Esperanza, malung her a spiritual coparent of Esperanza's daughter. Part of the understanding betweencomadres is that financial or other assistance will be offered, or can be asked for, if needed. Behar negotiates with Esperanza about the book that she will write about her back in the United States; Esperanza sends Behar letters in the States asking at various times for a radio cassette player, a television, and a motor to irrigate her field. Behar's inclusion of the complications of this relationship bring in a social context to her account, but woven around Behar's and Esperanza's relationship as comadres Behar also includes her reflections on the larger economics and politics of their respective situ- ations on opposite sides of the US-Mexican border. Behar can enter Mexico freely as a tourist, but Esperanza can only enter the United States as an employee or as an "illegal alien."

In Patai's oral history collection Brazilian Women Speak, both Patai's and her interviewees' various and shifhng positions in terms of the world are also present and explored (1988). Patai refers to the "frame- work of the interview situation." Because each account was constructed by two individuals (researcher and researched) within that framework (the research space), Patai wants her readers to know "how my inter- views came to be conducted, the circumstances and constraints that shaped them and my own role in what was, after all, a dialogue not a monologue" (1988:2; emphasis added). Patai emphasizes the interactivity within the research space. She views the stories that emerged as "a point of intersection between two subjectivities-theirs and mine, their cul- tural assumptions and mine, their memories and my questions, their hesitations and my encouraging words or gestures (or sometimes vice versa), and much, much more" (1988:2).

The "ordinary" and "invisible" women Patai interviewed would often ask her questions in an attempt to discover any points of commonality or gaps of difference between them. From her answers these women seemed to construct a picture of who she then was in relationship to themselves. In this way, Patai found herself cast in various roles. De- pending upon her counterpart, she became an "older woman, young woman, friend, authority figure, peer, White woman, exotic visitor, professional woman, Jewish woman, political ally, childless woman, privileged woman" (Patai 1988:6).

Patai speculates about the presence of class differences in the research space. Among her 60 interviewees were poor uneducated women, wealthy women, and professional and middle-class women from all ages, races, and walks of life. The differences between her upper- and middle-class interviewees and her lower-class interviewees were marked. Wealthier women's food, clothing, and shelter sometimes bor- dered on the opulent. Because of education, they also had developed larger vocabularies. These women also had the time to tell their stories. With the poor and uneducated women it was often difficult even to locate a private and undisturbed place to conduct the interview. How- ever, Patai explains, all were equally eloquent.

Particularly moving is the story of Teresa, both Teresa's account and Patai's later reflections about their relationship in her essay "U.S. Aca- demics and Third World Women: Is Ethical Research Possible?" (1991). Teresa was a black laundress who lived in a slum. Patai describes her as about 45 years old but appearing much older, under five feet tall, weighing about 80 pounds, thin and frail, and with few teeth. During the interview Teresa insists on serving Patai a piece of cake, the only piece left on the plate sitting on an empty counter. Several months later Patai discovers that Teresa had died of a heart attack two months after their interview. Patai uses this story of Teresa to question the ethics of researchers using others in their research. She describes the uneasiness she felt, "being a well-fed woman briefly crossing paths with an ill-fed and generous poor woman whose life I was doing nothing to improve" (1991:141).

Years late Patai wonders, as she thinks and writes about Teresa, just what Teresa might think about and question in Patai's presentation of her. Patai poses questions such as: Would Teresa have been surprised at the kind of details conveyed? Would Teresa have approved of Patai's description of her appearance and impoverished surroundings? Would Teresa ever have guessed that the piece of cake would have made it into the account? How would Teresa have felt about these kinds of descrip- tions? Would Teresa's self-description have matched Patai's description of her? Would she have felt satisfied? Deceived? Objectified? Patai uses this story of her encounter with Teresa to question the right of re- searchers to enter other people's lives in this way. In addition she suggests that to claim oneself as a feminist (a woman interviewing other women) and to have appropriate permission are only attempts to escape this kind of question.

With these remarks, Patai particularly addresses Ann Oakley's semi- nal essay "Interviewing Women: A Contradiction in Terms" (1981). In her essay Oakley challenges previous definitions of interviewing as well as interviewing practices in light of her own experience as a feminist interviewing other women about their transition to motherhood (Oak- ley 1979). Oakley critiques traditional (male) interviewing not only for its claims of neutrality and its attempts to create distance between interviewer and interviewee in the research space but also for its one- sidedness. The traditional interviewer's goal is to elicit and gather information but not to provide any. Oakley's perspective developed in part because of the questions that her participants asked her and that she felt compelled to answer. For Oakley, as a feminist, finding out about others via interviewing is best achieved when the relationship between interviewer and interviewee is "nonhierarchcal" and when the inter- viewer is willing to invest him or herself personally into the research relationship. I will use Patai to discuss how Oakley's assumptions about what constitutes a nonhierarchical relationship are problematic.

Patai also sees her interviewing relationships as dialogues, but simul- taneously she brings into the research space an awareness of the exist- ence of the privileges that allow research to be undertaken in the first place. These privileges are both material, and include salaries, access to grants and the means of production through publication and the result- ing royalities, and those of status, and include doctorates and positions on boards and committees. Oakley does not discuss such privileges. Nor does she discuss any class differences between her and her participants. In fact, there is no discussion of difference of any kind. For Oakley ethcal dilemmas in the research process are minimalized when the researcher and researched share the same gender socialization and critical life experiences. Her focus is on the common, shared experience-as women, as mothers or expecting mothers, in sisterhood-between her and her participants. But Patai argues that women are not a "monolithc block (1991:138) and that feminist principles and methodologies are no guarantee against exploitation. According to Patai, as feminist re- searchers such as Oakley have kept their attention focused on the common ground between themselves and their research subjects, they have substituted a model of sisterhood for that of the removed neutral interviewer. In some ways Patai's critique seems contradictory to an earlier reflection of hers in which she suggests that a central feature that made her Brazilian project was "a recognition by most of the women I interviewed of some sort of bond with other women, the potential readers of their stories, despite differences in race, class, nationality, and much else" (1988:4).

As Arendt saw an attempt to locate a friendship (politically defined as unequal) in the strength of a common humanity as an evasion of reality (and, therefore, not an instance of humanness), so Patai points out that the tendency to emphasize human qualities in the research space creates a "bracketed moment" (1991:144) that attempts to push away the world, in particular the inequalities that constitute it. Seidman also warns interviewers that they can attempt to construct relationships with their participants "like islands of interchange separate from the world's definitions, classificationsand tensions" and inake it unique to these two individuals, but that the social and political forces of class, race, and gender, among others, will continue to operate covertly (1991:72). Ab- stracting the interview out of a broader social and political context (an attempt to separate knowledge production from power and its manifes- tations) paradoxically brings it back toward traditional models that also attempt to locate the research relationship outside reality. For Arendt this would be an instance of humanity lost, not gained.

Patai sees research as a "messy business" (1991:150). She seems angry at a system that she describes as offering "manipulative distance" on the one hand and "spurious identification" on the other (1991:145). Behar has a less polarized view (1993:301-302). She sees feminist ethnography as work that takes place on the borderlands. On one border is the tendency to see women all too similarly, and on the other, all too differently. Staying in the borderlands prevents research relationships from going too far in either direction. Behar warns that either extreme movement could end up in indifference to the lives of other women. The bottom line, however, from Patai's point of view is that it is impossible to do etlucal research in an unethical world; researchers can be acutely conscious in their work, but it is the political world that needs changing. The problem with Patai's analysis is that it leaves no room for research. Arendt would see the research space as part of the political world. As the power/knowledge nexus in the research space is addressed, ex- plored, and possibly transformed, researchers are in fact worhng to- ward changing the political world.

Both Behar and Patai position themselves as border crossers in their studies and, therefore, acknowledge and bring in their outsider status to their research relationships. Patai describes how with her fluent, but not native, Portuguese, she had to sometimes "grope" for the right words and needed to ask her interviewees to explain simple thngs. Behar juxtaposes her experience buying books on Mexican history for about 40 dollars at a luxury department store one day and going on rounds peddling produce with Esperanza, earning about two dollars, the next day, both in the name of anthropology. Oakley, on the other hand, positions herself as an insider. Her research relationships are organized around points of commonality with her participants, but she smooths over her own economic position relative to the nonworking mothers in her study as well as her and their own respective positions within educational discourse, not as teacher and students, but as re- searcher and participants. These lunds of differences come across as neutralized or not relevant. Students and by extension research partici- pants are limited to the topical choices that teachers and researchers do and do not articulate (Brodkey 1989). Thus suppressed differences in Oakley's study between herself and her participants may have limited the kinds of questions posed, determined the kinds of stories disclosed, and kept interpretations within certain codes.

In Ways with Words (1983), Shirley Brice Heath also positions herself as an insider: as a fellow native of the rural Piedmont. This positioning takes place in a series of statements at the beginning of this study. Heath informs us that she grew up in an integrated neighborhood and is a part-time instructor at a state university. In an attempt not to be intru- sive, Heath also explains how she decided to learn the local practices of the Roadville and Trackton families. DeCastell and Walker (1991) sug- gest that in her desire to avoid intrusiveness, Heath's identity gets tudden.

I want to argue that Heath set out to write a classic ethnography. At the beginning of Ways with Words, Heath explains that she intended to record and interpret children's language learning in the communities of Roadville and Trackton. Operating under the assumption that children learn to be literate according to the ways of those around them, Heath's consistent focus throughout this study is on localized practices and attitudes.

In a reference to educational discourse, Heath writes, "As one teacher put it, students had to 'learn school,' meaning its rules and expectations, just as they had to learn readin', writin', and 'rithrnetic" (1983:281, emphasis added). I immediately had several questions upon reading this bit of text. Where do the rules and expectations of school come from? And more importantly, whose interests do they serve and promote? These questions place me among the radical critics whom Heath briefly mentions as calling for a "radical restructuring" of schools and who see the rules and expectations of school as a middle-class ideology support- ing middle-class students (1983:398). I did not continue with this line of questioning, however, because I decided that Heath's study had to be viewed in light of her intentions.

But didn't the friends in Arendt's story intend to remain friends (first) in spite of their situation? Heath's research relationships are hidden in her text. When they are presented, they are presented in a social context but are never politicized. To politicize means "not to bring politics in where there are none, but to make overt how power permeates the construction and legitimation of knowledges" (Lather 1991:xvii). So although Ways with Words is a study deeply embedded in a naturalistic context, it is a depoliticized context. The presence of the world, in the spaces between Roadville, Trackton, and the townspeople, between Heath and each of her participants, is for the most part unacknowledged.

It is important to note that one of the challenges with a social but depoliticized context is that both problems and solutions tend to hover around individuals and never address the larger forces shaping those individual lives. Thus as readers, our attention is drawn to teachers and their "persistent" efforts and to Heath's presence, then her departure, but never to a consideration, for example, of the more complex inter- workings of background/ethnicity, life trajectories, classroom practices, and institutional power.

Rosaldo makes a distinction between ethnographies oriented toward "cultural patterning" and those oriented toward "cultural borderlands." The former posits culture "as aself-contained whole made up of coherent patterns" (1989:20, emphasis added). The latter suggests that culture is "a more porous array of intersections where distinct processes crisscross from within and beyond its borders. [And that] such heterogeneous processes often derive from differences of age, gender, class, race, and sexual orientation" (1989:20). Classic ethnographies are organized around cultural patterning. One of the challenges of such ethnographies is that they tend to present an "unchanging world where people are caught in a web of eternal recurrence" (Rosaldo 1989:42). This kind of presentation is constructed by the use of the uninterrupted third-person voice speaking in the present tense. Through such a device, the reader unconsciously assumes that, for example, Ways with Words is the story of Roadville and Trackton and forgets that it is first of all "the ethnogra- pher's own story" (deCastell and Walker 1991:3). We lose sight of the fact that this is a constructed narrative, told to us by a positioned subject. Instead, we assume this narrator to be a neutral eyewitness, the "instru- ment rather than the agent of the narrative" (Brodkey 1987:72). The result of this approach is that it "naturalizes, dehistoricizes, and renders seemingly unalterable the situation that the ethnographer reports" (de- Castell and Walker 1991:18) and that, therefore, humanity is inadver- tently lost.

For change to enter the "web of eternal recurrence," decastell and Walker have suggested that the "enchantment" of such a text needs to be broken, that the narrative needs to be "dis-spelled" (1991:19). Brod- key (1987) has proposed that this "dis-spelling" could be achieved through a series of textual interruptions in which Heath self-reflects and reminds us of her presence. Similarly, Rosaldo suggests that an ethnog- rapher's presentation needs "double vision," an oscillation between two viewpoints: that of the ethnographer and that of the participant (1989:127-128). In a more general way, movement toward dis-spelling the narrative could begin with more articulation and inclusion of the differences, contradictions, and complexities that occurred within the research space.

As I have said, Ways with Words was conceived of as an ethnography in the classical sense. Brodkey and decastell and Walker, however, have attempted to conceive of it as a critical ethnography. How has Heath responded to these re-visions of her text? Is there any evidence in her current thinking of any movement to include contradictions, complexi- ties, or discussions around difference? Is the world more present in her current thinking? And is any humanity gained?

In "The Madnesdes) of Reading and Writing Ethnography," Heath discusses the way that "several subjectivities come into play" (1993:258) in the research situation. Patai sees her own interviews as a "point of intersection between two subjectivities" (1988:2). In Heath's account the subjectivities that begin to come into play are her own: ethnogra- pher/academic, teacher's aide, parent. She begins to recognize her own borders, but not the borders of her participants nor the interactions on those respective borders. Heath reminds us that because the researcher is the instrument that she brings to the field her "age, sex, and physical limitations and capabilities, as well as her mental strengths and weak- nesses" (1993:259). Noticeably absent from this list (reminiscent of Oak- ley) are references in terms of identity around class, status, and race. Echoed in these exclusions is the lack of analysis in this article around the very different outcomes for the grown children of Roadville and Trackton which Heath reports. How does Heath explain these different outcomes? She does not ask. She does not explain. Inclusion of Heath's full positionality might have also explained the difference between Heath's perception of her role in the schools of the study as minimal versus the teachers' perception of Heath as a major figure. An explora- tion of the differences in Heath's and the teachers' respective positions within the hierarchies of educational discourse (Heath as a university instructor, a teacher of teachers, and a researcher and the teachers as classroom teachers and graduate students) might have offered insight into this significant discrepancy in perception. Heath also writes of offering her participants "colleagueship," based on commonality around her roles as a (southern) teacher, a mother, and a churchgoer. But the presence of the world, which would bring in aspects of difference and, therefore, the interplay of power, is ignored in her vision of col- leagueship.

Heath reflects that she would have liked to have included more of herself as a speaker in the conversations presented in Ways with Words. Heath is fluent in Vernacular Black English, Standard Southern English, and the vernacular dialect spoken by uneducated Southern whtes. Here she discloses that in every conversation in her study she "slipped back and forth from millisecond to millisecond," between these languages, according to the situation and her respective role in it (1993:265). In other words, like Anzaldua, she traveled the border in language. Heath thinks that such inclusions might have revealed patterns of language adapta- tion. I think that such inclusions might also have been a possible opening to a discussion of power in her research relationships.

The major change proposed by Heath for Ways with Words is the inclusion of an appendix. (In fact, the next edition will have one.) This appendix will include her data collection methods, her juggling of roles, an expanded description of Heath's upbringing and its influences on the study; certain critical incidents, and the ups and downs of her life in the communities of Roadville and Trackton (Heath 1993:264). But the articu- lation of differences between researcher and researched is not the same as these kinds of descriptions. Heath suggests that these knds of inclu- sions would have "demystified" her work. Patai would disagree. A failure to recognize difference, even close to home, leads to what Patai terms "mystification" (1991:144). The changes Heath proposes, how- ever, do indicate movement in a direction toward an ethnography of cultural borderlands and increased humanity in Arendt's sense.

Peshkin's study God's Choice: The Total World ofa Fundamentalist Chris- tian School is at first glance similar to Heath's Ways with Words. Peshkin's intentions are to describe "what a year of schooling encompasses" (1986:13) at Bethany Baptist Academy, with its absolutist and separatist doctrine. Peshlun's study differs from Heath's, first of all, in the way Peshkin positions himself very much as an outsider, as a border crosser. Peshkin savors his outsider status, being where he would not normally be, at the same time that he is committed to understanding people in their own terms. The most important aspect of Peshkin's outsider iden- tity, however, as articulated by him, was the fact that he was a Jewish researcher conducting his research in a totalitarian Christian commu- nity. Peshkin explains that he was "very conscious of [his] identity throughout [his] association with Bethany" (1986:19).

Peshkin's study also differs from Heath's in the double vision of its presentation. We do not lose sight of Peshkinin this study. Unlike Heath, he is well aware of of the two stories he is telling: that of Bethany and his own. He asks, "Is it possible to write a book about beings in their social capacities without that book also being about its author?" (Peshkin 1986:19). The tension between these two stories becomes a dominant subtext of this study. And as a result of this subtext, much humanity is gained. On the one hand, Peshkin tells the story of coming back to his rooms annoyed, after a day in which he was (unexpectedly) prosely- tized, and reading Dimont's The indestructibleJews.On the other hand, he explains how he later came to understand that these efforts to convert him were done for him and that the obedient Chnstian sees all nonbe- lievers as candidates for salvation (1986:21). As he discovered himself to be a lost soul among the saved, Peshkin shifted from the question "Who are these people and what are they doing?" to the question "Who are these people and what are they doing to me?" (198622). We learn indirectly from the opening profile of Pastor Muller that Peshkin is a Jew, and directly from Peshkin, a few pages late, when he announces, "I am a Jew." I wondered what it was like for Peshkin to have interviews open with Christian prayers and to never know when he would be "witnessed." His two research assistants were also condemned to eter- nal damnation within the belief system of Christian fundamentalism, but they were Christians. Only Peshkin, a Jew, was a member of a targeted social group. Although fundamentalists categorize all nonbe- lievers together, the larger social collective does not. Peshkin explores the ways that these Christians made hm aware of both his existence and his potential nonexistence: "When anyone believes that Jews are doomed, imperfect, incomplete, their prayers not heard by God, I hear the whispers of disappearance in these arrogant perceptions" (1986:287).

Peshkin's study raises many critical questions about the research relationship. What happens when either researcher or researched is a member of a socially targeted group? How does that dynamic shape especially the establishing of trustworthiness, the actual interview pro- cess, and the content that emerges? How does it shape the way that the material which is generated is interpreted and analyzed?

But it was only when he sat down to write up this study that Peshkin discovered the negative feelings he held about hs experience doing research at Bethany Baptist Academy. In his later article "In Search of Subjectivity-One's Own" (1988), Peshkin suggests that researchers track their subjectivities in a systematic manner during the research process. He proposes a methodology called a "subjectivity audit," in which the researcher monitors himself or herself for strong feelings. In a more recent study of a multiethnic high school (Riverview), Peshkin explains how he knew when his subjectivity was engaged: "I looked for the warm and the cool spots, the emergence of positive and negative feelings, the experiences I wanted more of or wanted to avoid, and when I felt moved to act in roles beyond those necessary to fulfill my research needs" (1988:18). Following Peshkin's methodology, these feelings are then recorded on note cards, as the researcher experiences them. The researcher's attention is drawn to the places, the borderlands, where "self and subject are intertwined" (1988:20). But strong feelings are the key to locating the borderlands. In this way, Peshkin discovered: his "distress" at Riverview's denigration, his "captivation" with its multi- ethnic/racial student body, his "warm feelings" at gatherings of ethnic groups, his "engagement" at Mario's Snack Shop, where old-time regu- lars gather and as a result maintain their community, and hs "arousal" at the imagined suffering of students later in life because of the poor teaching he observed.

In the research discussed here, strong feelings are a key to important insights. Erickson states that rage, for example, can be used "as a barometer to indicate high salience" (1984:61). Behar discusses the rage, the coraje, that she felt and that Esperanza, her comadre, expressed "about being a woman, about anthropology, about United States policy toward undocumented Mexicans; some of the coraje is my comadre's, some of it is mine, and some of it belongs to both of us" (1993:xii). Patai describes the uneasiness that she experienced interviewing Teresa, the black laundress (1991); Rosaldo, hs extreme grief in confronting his wife's death (1989). Heath describes her feelings of greater comfort inTrackton (1993);and Peshkin, his annoyance at being proselytized (1986).

Increasingly, challenges to the scientific method and the objectivism that characterizes it have created a place for feeling reality and ethical concerns in work that was once considered neutral and value-free (Rosaldo 1989) and in which knowledge construction was understood as separate from power. Some feminist researchers, such as Oakley, have responded to these challenges to objectivism ina polarized fashon. They have structured their research relationshps around points of identifica- tion, such as a common oppression in sisterhood or a shared, critical life experience, such as child bearing. Writing a classic ethnography, Heath also built her research relationships through identification with her participants in a common geographical heritage. The problem with research relationships built only around a common humanity, like Arendt's story of the two friends, is that otherness gets lost. And the power that positions both researcher and researched differently remains invisible and unacknowledged but operative.

The choices are not between "spurious identification" or "manipulative distance" as Patai marks them. There are those researchers--such as Behar, Peshkin, and also Patai-who work as border crossers. The border, however, is a slippery landscape; the terrain shifts and changes. Much depends on the consciousness of these border-crosser researchers, their ability to consider and to empathize with their border crosser participants, and their commitment not to dismiss difficulties.

Reframing the research relationship in terms of border crossers and the research space in terms of borderlands allows for a shift away from "what was said," the data, to "who was speaking to whom under what circumstances" (Rosaldo 1989:214). This reframing opens up the posi- tionality of both researcher and researched and how the world defines each "who" differently in terms of power. What is revealed is the inextricability of power and knowledge from one another. It is by bringing in the presence of the world, the power or lack of power of various positions, and by recognizing and articulating contradictions, complexities, and differences that humanity is gained in the research endeavor.

Kaitlin Briggs is a doctoral candidate and teacher at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, in the Human Development/Creativity Program in the Schoolof Education (51 Coyle Street, Portland, ME 04101;


Acknowledgmts. Portions of this article were presented at the Seventh An- nual Conference on Ethnographic and Qualitative Research in Education at the University ofMassachusets at Amherst, on June 3,1995. I would like to thank

Anne Herrington in particular for her helpful and encouraging responses to earlier drafts of this essay.

References Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria 1987 Borderlandslh Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spin- sters/aunt lute. Arendt, Hannah 1968 On Humanity in Dark Times. In Men in Dark Times. Pp. 3-31. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Behar, Ruth 1993 Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story. Bos- ton: Beacon Press. Brodkey, Linda 1987 Writing Critical Ethnographic Narratives. Anthropology and Educa- tion Quarterly 18(2):67-76. 1989 On the Subjects of Class and Gender in "The Literacy Letters." College English 51:125-141. Buber, Martin 1970 I and Thou. W. Kaufman, trans. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. decastell, Suzanne, and Tom Walker 1991 Identity, Metaphor, and Ethnographic Research: What Kind of Story Is Ways with Words? Anthropology and Education Quarterly 22(1):3-20. Erickson, Frederick 1984 What Makes School Ethnography "Ethnographic"? Anthropology and Education Quarterly 15(1):51-66. Foucault, Michel 1984 The Body of the Condemned.In The Foucault Reader. P. Rabinow, ed. Pp. 170-178. New York: Pantheon Books. Heath, Shirley Brice 1983 Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1993 The Madness(es) of Reading and Writing Ethnography. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 24(3):256-268. Lather, Patti 1991 Getting Smart: Feminist Research and Pedagogy with/in the Postrnod- ern. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall. Miller, Jean Baker 1976 Toward a New Psychology of Women. Boston: Beacon Press. Minh-ha, Trinh T. 1994 Critical Rhythms of Borderlands and Permitted Boundaries. Paper presented at Smith College, Northampton, MA, April 5.

Oakley, Ann 1979 Becoming a Mother. New York: Schocken Books. 1981 Interviewing Women: A Contradiction in Terms. In Doing Feminist

Research. Helen Roberts, ed. Pp.30-61. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Patai, Daphne 1988 Brazilian Women Speak: Contemporary Life Stories. New Bmnswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

1991 U.S. Academics and Third World Women: Is Ethical Research Possible? In Women's Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History. S. B. Cluck and

D. Patai, eds. Pp. 137-153. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall. Peshkin, Alan 1986 God's Choice: The Total World of a Christian Fundamentalist School. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1988 In Search of Subjectivity--One's Own. Educational Researcher 17(7): 17-22. Rosaldo, Renato 1989 Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston: Beacon Press. Schutz, Alfred 1967 The Phenomenology of the Social World. G. Walshand F. Lenhet, trans. Chicago: Northwestern University Press. Seidman, Irving E.

1991 Interviewing as Qualitative Research: A Guide for Researchers in Edu- cation and the Social Sciences. New York: Teacher's College Press.

  • Recommend Us