Self-defense blog against sexual and gender-based violence in social science research

(Blog d’Auto-Défense contre les Agressions Sexistes et Sexuelles dans l’Enquête en Sciences sociales)

“Anthropologists don’t get harassed or raped. Women do*”

Moreno, 1995

So wrote Eva Moreno in an article testifying to the rape she had suffered during fieldwork twenty years earlier. Let’s not kid ourselves: the date explains nothing. Sexism and sexual violence still permeate research relations today.

Not surprisingly, being a researcher does not protect us. It is because we are women or gender minorities that we are harassed, assaulted and raped; and it is as researchers and in our workspace that it happens.

Far from being anecdotal, sexual and gender-based violence in fieldwork, as well as in universities and research institutions, is nonetheless invisible: at the university, silence reigns. Feminist theories and gender studies have dealt extensively with sexual and gender-based violence; the social sciences are full of tools for analysing relations of domination. Reflexivity in research now prevails in the social sciences. However, we can only note the absence of this violence in our training. Apart from a few personal initiatives, often in the form of seminars or informal advice to young researchers, there are very few methodological tutorial groups where these issues are discussed. There is a lack of spaces and moments where students could use the resources available to better reflect on their research methods, to protect themselves in the field and to acquire the tools necessary to analyse and make sense of this violence.

This observation is the result of a clear lack of attention to the gendered dimension of fieldwork. Teaching of qualitative methods reproduces the androcentric approach. It takes he male condition  and gaze as its reflective starting point. As a result, the duty to be reflexive is imposed only on women and gender minorities – as illustrated by the importance given to reflexivity in gender and sexuality studies. As it is taught today, the pedagogy of fieldwork tends to value risk-taking. In the name of an entrenched imaginary of the adventurous researcher, of outdoing oneself, and of the call for spectacular fieldwork, women and gender minority researchers may be urged to put themselves in harm’s way, more so than in their everyday lives. We are encouraged to privilege a form of intimacy with our respondents, to multiply relationships and informal spaces of observation. In short, to “take everything” in order to collect “better” data, without necessarily having the indispensable training in ethnographic practices. In general, the fear of “wasting one’s field” or of “closing doors” increases the risks taken. Perhaps we should remember that self-sacrifice is not good fieldwork. It is imperative to deconstruct these myths which, as always, put women and gender minorities at greater risk. Moreover, the systemic precariousness of academia – of which young researchers are the first victims – accentuates and even encourages risk-taking (including housing conditions, transport…).

We believe that university, as an institution, has a duty to shed light onto sexual and gender-based violence in fieldwork and to make it a real issue. It is therefore necessary to give (back) universities the means to do so, as the drastic reduction in funding and recruitment is preventing the implementation of real methodological training – which we believe is a tool in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence, but also more generally against any form of violence. Beyond funding, academics must also take these issues to heart (and body) and end the taboo surrounding sexist and gender-based violence in fieldwork. However, if they were to be taken up by institutions alone, their political and epistemological significance would be weakened. It would also deprive us of autonomous spaces in which we can train, exchange, build knowledge together and create solidarities in an academic field. As the latter is becoming increasingly competitive and precarious, it hinders the creation of collective initiatives. With this blog, we wish to complement spaces already existing in certain universities or research groups. We intend to create a dematerialised space to bind people and resources, to make and retain discussions and tools circulate toward as many people as possible. Even if the gender approach is at the core of this blog, it also aims to make racist, classist and validist violence visible, and to see, from an intersectional perspective, how they relate to gender-based and sexual violence.

*While the author’s quote is limited to women, our work and reflections also include gender minorities.

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