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A foreign woman researcher in a Purdah society: opportunities and challenges for knowledge production in the 2000s


Grünenfelder, Julia (2014). A foreign woman researcher in a Purdah society: opportunities and challenges for knowledge production in the 2000s. Human Organization, 73(3):214-223.

Abstract

This paper aims to further discussions on access to “foreign” worlds, limits in knowledge production, and the role of gender relations in field research. What follows is an engagement with arguments developed by Hanna Papanek and Carroll Pastner in this journal some decades ago. They both drew on fieldwork experiences in Pakistan to argue that foreign women fieldworkers can (sometimes) take advantage of ambiguities in the social structures of Purdah societies, that is, societies characterized by “sexual segregation and the seclusion of women” (Pastner 1982:262), to flexibly position themselves and to be able to interact with both men and women. This paper rethinks their arguments and evaluates the current situation on the basis of fieldwork experience as a foreign woman in Pakistan in the late 2000s. It argues that possibilities for foreign women to get physical access to men’s worlds, although still available, remain limited and in some ways have become more restricted (including access to women’s worlds) due to political developments in recent decades. The paper also argues that, irrespective of the feasibility of physical access to other gender’s worlds, it is necessary to reflect on subjectivities through which access to “foreign” worlds is mediated and knowledge is produced.

This paper aims to further discussions on access to “foreign” worlds, limits in knowledge production, and the role of gender relations in field research. What follows is an engagement with arguments developed by Hanna Papanek and Carroll Pastner in this journal some decades ago. They both drew on fieldwork experiences in Pakistan to argue that foreign women fieldworkers can (sometimes) take advantage of ambiguities in the social structures of Purdah societies, that is, societies characterized by “sexual segregation and the seclusion of women” (Pastner 1982:262), to flexibly position themselves and to be able to interact with both men and women. This paper rethinks their arguments and evaluates the current situation on the basis of fieldwork experience as a foreign woman in Pakistan in the late 2000s. It argues that possibilities for foreign women to get physical access to men’s worlds, although still available, remain limited and in some ways have become more restricted (including access to women’s worlds) due to political developments in recent decades. The paper also argues that, irrespective of the feasibility of physical access to other gender’s worlds, it is necessary to reflect on subjectivities through which access to “foreign” worlds is mediated and knowledge is produced.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2014
Deposited On:23 Sep 2014 16:02
Last Modified:29 May 2016 02:49
Publisher:Society for Applied Anthropology
ISSN:0018-7259
Free access at:Official URL. An embargo period may apply.
Official URL:http://sfaa.metapress.com/content/m11l7j58w0w7x173/fulltext.pdf
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-98740

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