by Kamala Visweswaran
University of Minnesota Press, 1994
Paper: 978-0-8166-2337-2
Library of Congress Classification GN635.I4V57 1994
Dewey Decimal Classification 305.420954


Although feminist ethnography is an emerging genre, the question of what the term means remains open. Recent texts that fall under this rubric rely on unexamined notions of "sisterhood" and the recovery of "lost" voices. Writing about her work with women in Southern India, Kamala Visweswaran addresses such troubled questions in the essays that make up Fictions of Feminist Ethnography. Blurring distinctions between ethnographic and literary genres, the author employs the narrative strategies of history, fiction, autobiography and biography, deconstruction, and postcolonial discourse to reveal the fictions of ethnography and the ethnography in fiction. In the process of reflecting on the nature of anthropology itself Visweswaran devises an experimental approach to writing feminist ethnography.

What sets this work apart from other self-reflexive feminist ethnographies is its rigorous engagement with the concrete inequalities, refusals, and misunderstandings between the author and the women she worked with in India. In each essay, she takes up the specific ellipses of power differentials in her field research and works out their epistemological consequences. The result is a series of contextualizations of the politics of identity in the field, at "home," and within the lives of women who particpated in the Indian nationalist movement. We learn in lucid detail about the partiality of knowledge and the inevitable difficulties and violations involved in representing the lives of women, both inside and outside the United States. Clearly and forcefully written, this book should be of interest not only to anthropologists but also to cultural theorists and critics, feminist scholars and writers, and other social scientists who grapple with epistemological and political issues in their fields.