Impartial Observation and Partial Participation

Feminist Ethnography in Politically Charged Japan

Author: Tomomi Yamaguchi


Using reflexive accounts from her own research, the author of this article discusses her struggles as a Japanese feminist anthropologist with what “contribution” actually means in different research contexts. The author compares her dissertation research on a feminist group with her ongoing research project on right-wing opponents of feminism. As a feminist, the author found it relatively easy to practice the idea of contribution with feminists as her research subjects. The situation was much more complex, however, when studying conservative opponents of feminism, whose views were directly oppositional to the author's views and to the human rights principles supported by the American Anthropological Association. By examining her fieldwork experiences on these two types of activists, the author discusses the possibilities and constraints of ethnographic practices such as participant observation, archival research, and contribution to the people anthropologists study and to feminism. The author also discusses the role that the internet is playing in current research contexts, and argues that the distinction between home and field is increasingly blurred. This study complicates the notion of “native anthropology,” contending that as the anthropologist engages deeply in politically charged situations in the field, the distinction of native versus other may no longer be accurate. By illustrating complexities surrounding the practice of fieldwork, the author complicates the notion of contribution, and shows that one possible way to grapple with the difficult question of what and to whom to contribute is to listen to diverse, complex voices, not only of feminists but also of their political opponents, antifeminist conservatives.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan

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December 2007
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano