Jennifer R. Wies & Hillary J. Haldane, eds.
Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015, 214 pp.
Reviewed by Rama Srinivasan
This book brings together an important discussion on ethnographic research, methods and ethics through a study of global patterns in gender-based violence. Noting a vacuum in applied anthropology literature where gender-based violence, they state, has rarely been the starting point of enquiry (though violence has been), the book aims to interrogate the topic as a social problem with specific local and global structural factors behind it. The contributors write through their experience with or interventions on the issue, believing that anthropological work can provide solutions, though every anthropologist in the volume approaches the question of social change or solution differently.
The editors particularly engage with two feminist questions that underscore the evidence presented by most of the individual chapters. Firstly, the authors are acutely aware of the contentious link between the global and local and the positionality of an ethnographer who encounters and/or studies violence against women in the ethnographic field. As anthropologists they recognize the specificity of the ethnographic context and the limited role these examples may play in understanding the global patterns in discrimination these examples represent. Secondly, as scholars they also perceive and articulate their role as researchers who are committed to addressing the problem and the ethical challenges any potential intervention presents.
In their introduction, Wies and Haldane write about the difficulty of maintaining “the delicate balance between interfering and providing useful assistance, and identify ways for anthropology to partner with others to make the world a safer place (8).” The chapters presented in this volume present a model for applied anthropology that does not dilute the richness of ethnographic research but in fact benefits from it. While scholarly feminist writing on gender-based violence and interventions have remained at odds or have taken a critical view of activist methods or orientations in many parts of the world, this edited volume hopes for a potential companionability. As someone who is committed to conducting research on the question of “sexual consent,” the chapters and the impulses that drive the project are energizing. I similarly expect professors and researchers/investigators, both within academia and outside, who are engaged with feminist theory and practice to benefit from these self-reflective pieces. The advantages go beyond renewing feminist scholarly commitment towards social action, but it definitely has this impact.
The book is divided into three sections that individually focus on knowledge production, modes of intervention and potential for change. Suitably titled, Ethnographic Intimacies, the first section brings to fore a key dilemma for any feminist anthropologist: to preserve the integrity of the ethnographic voice while staying faithful to the idea of change. Both chapters in the section contend with the centrality of family and kinship in identity formation and the intimate violence that is endemic to these institutions. If Elizabeth Wirtz reflects on the difficulty of divesting the individual from intimate relationships due to the bureaucratic rigidity (in a refugee settlement), Lynn Kwiatkowski addresses the challenges to the same in social sphere. The chapters in second section titled Multi-Scalar Responses to Gender-Based Violence deal with the nature and limitations of state intervention in both crafting the crime of violence and in its responses. The authors approach these questions through very divergent ethnographic contexts. The role played by state apparatus in both ordinary and exceptional situations offers a fascinating overview. The third section comprises of chapters that detail messy and/or intractable forms of violence where part of the failure to intervene successfully also lies in how these are conceived and articulated. The volume ends on a more positive note with chapters on scholar-activist efforts at countering intimate partner violence through crafting ethnographically-informed campaigns.
One key example of anthropological knowledge on gender-based violence can transfer with the scholars to create meaningful dialogue away from its context is the chapter on campus violence. In carrying out ethnographic research on the global south, Jennifer Wies points out the dangers of leaving one’s own location unexamined. In tracing the background of the Title IX intervention, Wies makes an important contribution in that she historicizes trends within American universities, which are generally seen as episodic or event-based. Anthropological tools serve well here as she is points to the hierarchies and legal apparatus that are perceived as external to the campus context. This chapter in particular is a great resource for professors and students as well as university administrators (Title IX officer bearers and committees) to enter a dialogue without the baggage of individual cases.
Rama Srinivasan received her Ph.D. from Brown University in May 2017 and is currently a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. She is a feminist and legal anthropologist with research interests in phenomenology and kinship. As a scholar-activist and public intellectual, she hopes to intervene on questions of gender justice and sexual consent.