Monday, January 29, 2007

Feminist human rights methodology

This is a paper about my construction of my methodology as a human rights methodology that was also feminist.

It was written as part of my MSc in Social Research Methods. It was me thinking through some things and wasn't final.
Although I hope I have not, I may have made mistakes or misinterpretations. (It's also worth remembering that people are referred to sometimes because they represent the thing being discussed and sometimes because they themselves discussed it.)
I don't want to say it's not for circulation or quotation, but I would appreciate the benefit of the doubt if I've said something that sounds lazy, ignorant or stupid (and if people are going to use others' work that I've discussed, they should read it themselves, as here they're only seeing my understanding of the others' work).

A rights-based ethic, or a feminist ethic of care? Could I, as a heterosexual, middle class, white male, be a feminist and if so, would it complement or contradict my human rights methodology?

I asked myself the question above after a colleague's very constructive criticism of a proposal for a human rights archaeology (1) (Hardy, 2005); it is the alleged incompatibility between feminism and human rights that I wish to interrogate here. I have juxtaposed professionalism and advocacy, reviewed the practice of community archaeology and evaluated key research methods elsewhere; I want to focus on research methodologies now (2).

Feminism, put simply, is the belief in understanding of, solidarity with and equality for all genders; however, opinions on who may be defined as being feminist range across a spectrum from someone who is conscious of their 'member[ship] of an oppressed class (women)' (3) (Cook and Fonow, 1990: 74) to anyone who is aware that 'half of us are female and all of us should be equal' (Guerrilla Girls, 2003; see also Nelson, 2004: 156); similarly, opinions on what may be defined as doing feminism range from 'active participation in actions, movements and struggles' (Mies, 1993: 39) to 'knowledge about... how to understand the nature of "reality"' (Stanley and Wise, 1993: 188).

Due to their universalist ambitions, there are not equivalent disagreements amongst human rights advocates over who may be a member, but because of disagreements amongst members over what a human right that they would advocate for may be, there are equally vehement, if not more vehement, arguments over who is a human rights advocate (Baier, 1984: 71; Engineer, 1990: 81; Galston, 1983: 320; Gewirth, 1978: 32-34; Sanusi, 2003a; 2003b; Sterba, 1984: 98-99; Waldron, 1981: 25).

Definitions of methodologies do resemble each other, although they too vary: methodologies are consistent modes of epistemology and practice, through which human rights advocates and feminists are 'promoting change by reporting the facts' (Keck and Sikkink, 1998: 45; see also Aretxaga, 1997: 17; Buur, 1999; Moghissi, 1999: viii; Nelson, 2004: 14; Sørensen, 2000: 5), but through which feminists are also 'remaking what is seen as "knowledge"' (Stanley and Wise, 1993: 188; see also Cook and Fonow, 1990: 71; Kelly-Gadol, 1987: 16; Lal, 1996: 198; Mies, 1993: 37; Stacey, 1991: 111); within the category of methodology, I will focus upon the epistemological aspects.

I will:
  • first, summarise some major streams of feminist thought and juxtapose arguments for exclusively female and for inclusively gendered feminisms;
  • second, judge whether I, as a heterosexual, middle class, white male, may be feminist and do feminism;
  • third, juxtapose the feminist methodologies that I may employ with the human rights methodology that I do employ; and
  • fourth, judge whether I may be both a feminist and a human rights advocate and decide how to move forward.
Feminist research's first target was research itself: there was a deeply androcentric bias in western society, where oppositions between male and female were inscribed on the person and on the society - reasoning that 'the masculine is hard and logical, the feminine is soft and emotional', androcentric society determined what was known, what could be known and how what could be known was known (Hesse-Biber, Leavy and Yaiser, 2004: 6; see also Bourdieu, 2001: 104-105; Keller, 2004: 8; Martin, 1991: 4489-4490).

Feminist research's first position in response to this androcentrism - and the interrelated racism - was feminist empiricism, where bias was taken to be true ignorance - an inability to know "others"' knowledge - that caused white males to produce white male science and reproduce white male knowledge.
The solution was seen to be ethnic minorities and women producing ethnic minority science and female science and so revising white male knowledge, resulting in true, anti-sexist, anti-racist knowledge; however, this did not take account of the fact that white males frequently knew of their biases and believed in them and the response to this was feminist standpoint (Cook and Fonow, 1990: 72-73; Harding, 2004: 40; 42-43; Hesse-Biber, Leavy and Yaiser, 2004: 12-14; Mies, 1993: 36-37; Spector, 1991: 388-389).

Feminist standpoint asserted that the oppressed had a dual perspective or 'double consciousness', as they were forced both to experience being exploited and to understand being exploiters, so that they could act strategically and wrestle what freedom they could back from their exploiters (Cook and Fonow, 1990: 74; see also Morgan, 2000: 471; Stanley and Wise, 1993: 189).
As each person has multiple, cross-cutting identities of race, class, gender and sexuality to name but a few, anyone oppressed in any of these fields could develop a double, feminist consciousness (or multiple or oppositional, socialist or postcolonialist consciousness) (Duke and Saitta, 1998; hooks, 1990; Moghissi, 1999; Reay, 2004; Rich, 1995; Weston, 2004).
As they were aware of both experiences, women could be feminists and do feminism in the interests of the oppressed by showing a 'conscious partiality' in their work (Mies, 1993: 38; see also Hanisch, 2000: 114; Women: A Journal of Liberation, 2000: 67).

Feminist standpoint and conscious partiality are justified by reference to 'feminist knowledge' or 'strong objectivity' (Harding, 2004: 43; 55; see also Bhavnani, 2004: 67; Haraway, 1988: 581), where, by 'starting off research from women's lives', feminists will 'generate less partial and distorted accounts not only of women's lives, but also of men's lives and of the whole social order' (Harding, 2004: 45).

Feminist standpoint and conscious partiality, then, are themselves underpinned by empiricist epistemology - the ability to access others' knowledges and to know the truth; what is rejected is empiricist objectivism - the necessity to escape from our own knowledges in order to know the truth and the requirement to refrain from political action and social reform that would otherwise detract from that objectivity (Bhavnani, 2004: 68-69; Harding, 2004: 43-46; Sprague and Kobrynowicz, 2004: 80-82).

Postmodern feminists have asserted that, 'claims to have produced universally valid beliefs... are ethnocentric' (Harding, 2004: 48 - emphasis added) and although I accept the point that this does not constitute acceptance of nihilism, relativism or racism, it cannot constitute acceptance - or rejection - of anything else and may only, consistently, state that it "does not reject" what it thinks is probably nearest to the truth and "does not accept" what it thinks is probably farthest from the truth.
Postmodern feminists may, then, only state that they do not reject feminism and do not accept patriarchy or racism; this may appear to be a mere language game, but it is in fact the very opposite - it is fundamental as this logic precludes postmodern feminists from declaring anything - even the patriarchy they rail against - as absolutely wrong. This is one of the underlying justifications for the non-acceptance of a rights-based ethic and human rights advocacy and non-rejection of a feminist ethic of care and feminist activism.

One of the logical faults of this argument is that the statement that "all universal claims are unacceptable" is a universal statement and as such contradicts and cancels itself (Eagleton, 1996: 14; Evans, 1997: 231-232); moreover, it is ethnocentric to claim that human rights are a western notion when they can be seen in, for instance, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam and in African, Asian, Indigenous and Tribal communities' ideologies (Asian Human Rights Commission, 1993; El Sayed Said, 1997: 12; Messer, 1993: 227-232; Nanda, 1997: 41; UN, 1990: 7).

False claims to universal truths, rights and so on have frequently been made and they have frequently been ethnocentric, but some feminisms too, have been ethnocentric, black women having found that their 'social and cultural codes were neither respected nor known in most arenas of feminist movement' (hooks, 1990: 89; see also Hesse-Biber and Yaiser, 2004: 101-103); so, false claims and ethnocentric claims should be criticised, but they should not be taken as characteristic or constitutive of the movements on behalf of which they are made - or indeed are claimed to be made.

Contrary to those postmodern feminisms' epistemologies, there is another standpoint feminism that argues that, 'locatedness gives access to the concrete world' and therefore that knowledge may be, albeit 'partial', truth (Sprague and Kobrynowicz, 2004: 80; see also Eagleton, 1996: 14; Evans, 1997: 231-232).
It would be possible then, to talk of moral and historical truths, accepting that there is a difference between knowledge and experience, but rejecting that knowledge is dependent upon and particular to experience; without ever experiencing it, I would be able to know the historical truth that oppression of women has existed and does exist and the moral truth that it ought not to exist.

In terms of doing feminism, there are three basic positions:
  • first, associated with empiricist feminism, is the opinion that men are not able to do feminism;
  • second, associated with standpoint feminism, is the opinion that men are able to do feminism if they are oppressed; and
  • third, associated with postmodern feminism, is the opinion that men are able to do feminism if they are able to understand being oppressed.
Empiricist feminists believe that, '[they must work] to wrest language back from men, not to hand them the means to speak "as women" as well as "as men" [as]... there are some different experiences that cannot be communicated across gender divisions' (Stanley and Wise, 1993: 199 - emphasis added).
Here, as women developed a feminist consciousness when they experienced being exploited as women, so men may not develop a feminist consciousness because they have not experienced being exploited as women; yet, in a point that I will return to later, in denying men the capacity for feminism, empiricist feminists deny men the capacity for femininity, reifying them as eternally masculine and eternally masculinist, reproducing the essentialism that feminism critiques so powerfully (Hesse-Biber and Yaiser, 2004: 110-111; Nelson, 2004: 24).

Standpoint feminists believe that, 'men in oppressed locations must understand themselves and contribute to our understanding of their experience from a feminist perspective' (Sprague and Kobrynowicz, 2004: 92 - emphasis added). Here, as women needed to have experienced being exploited to choose to develop a double consciousness, so, men need to have experienced being exploited to choose to develop a double consciousness; this mode of thinking does not essentialise gender, but it does essentialise oppression and deny 'privileged men' the ability to understand being exploited - or at the very least deny the value of their contributions (Sprague and Kobrynowicz, 2004: 83).

One of the under-emphasised points in these debates - but one that buoys up standpoint theory - is that it is not necessarily true that women as a sex had a more uniform experience than did women as (members of) the working class or women as (members of) the middle class (4); although it was true of the majority of women, it was not true that all women only understood being exploiters - some women experienced being exploiters:
'upper-class women [were] not simply bedmates of their wealthy husbands... They [were] economic, social and political bedmates, united in defence of private property, profiteering, militarism, racism - and the exploitation of other women' (Reed, 2000: 509; see also Gluck, 1991: 207; Harding, 2004: 53; Hesse-Biber and Yaiser, 2004: 104; hooks, 1990: 53; Weber, 2004: 125).
From this it is clear not only that people who are not women, or whose primary identities are not as women, are able to be feminists, but that people who are women may choose to deny themselves primary identities as women and roles as feminists and instead choose to be active exploiters (5).

Postmodern feminists believe that, '­­men cannot claim that because they are not women, they can not produce feminist analyses and therefore may not be held accountable for sexist work' (Hesse-Biber and Yaiser, 2004: 117 - emphasis added; see also Harding, 2004: 53; hooks, 1990: 189). Here, as women developed a double consciousness when they understood being exploiters, so, men may develop a double consciousness when they understand being exploited.
It is very important to take from postmodern feminisms that identities are actively negotiated and that solidarity across, rather than unity within categories, is the foundation of activism (as no matter how groups are categorised, each group will be a heterogeneous community); however, this blurring of boundaries may help exploiters to deny the need for or value in hearing the voices of the exploited and may even allow them to assume the position and "throw" the voice of the exploited.
What is needed is a mode of thinking that is grounded in concrete existence - and belief in the capacity to access the truths of that existence - but is sensitive to people's practices and performances (Bourdieu, 2001: 103; Butler, 1999: 178; Clarke, 2004: 82; Dowson, 2000: 163; Giffney, 2004: 74; Hird, 2004: 87; Loizos, 1994: 67; Yúdice, 1995: 280).

Archaeologists who queer their subject, employing practice, performance and queer theory, believe that apparently eternal identities are actually the products of a 'historical labour of eternalisation', but that they nonetheless have very real effects that cannot be dispelled by an 'act of performative magic' (Bourdieu, 2001: 82; 103; see also Butler, 1999: 178).
They acknowledge that whilst people may act up and act 'outside the restricting frames of masculinist domination and compulsory heterosexuality' (Butler, 1999: 180), acting up, by cross-dressing, for example, only becomes 'possible... as there is "something" to cross over' and may incur severe punishments for that violation of social conventions (Sørensen, 2000: 129).

In this analysis, the capacity for understanding is opened up to all and, moreover, subtler forms of oppression, exploitation and exclusion are teased out; now, aspects of the lives of the dominant in which they experience oppression are revealed and used to give an experiential basis for their empathy with the oppressed (Giffney, 2004: 75).
This is not in any way to suggest that men as a sex are as oppressed as women or that straight men as a community are as oppressed as gay men (Yúdice, 1995: 267-268), but it is to assert that men are oppressed as objects of masculinist thought and that men like myself, feminist or feminine men are oppressed by masculine men or masculinism (Loizos, 1994: 72).
So, I could not be an empiricist feminist, though I would not choose to be one, anyway, as it essentialises gender; I could be a standpoint feminist, but I would not as it essentialises oppression; and I could be a postmodern feminist, but I would not choose to be, because it is illogical, paralysing itself playing games with style, unable (consistently) to reject patriarchy outright. Rather, I would be a queer feminist; now, I must turn to my human rights epistemology and its juxtaposition with feminism.

The human rights morality that I subscribe to is at once an epistemology and an ontology: 'giving a [robust] justification of rights is the same thing as demonstrating that there are justified claims which is the same thing as showing that there are rights [to which justified claims may be made]' (Green, 2003; see also Gewirth, 1978: 52-59; 1988: 289; 1991: 79).
I believe that human rights exist, that they may be known to exist and that how they may be known to exist is through reflection upon the essential features of human action; by contrast, empiricist and standpoint feminisms believe that the rights (or care) ethic is deduced from experience.

Certain conditions must exist for any person to be able to act - to do anything with intent and by choice - and by acting, every person inherently, if implicitly, claims them as rights for themselves. As they are claimed merely by acting, every person claims them as a person, rather than as a male or female, white or black, middle class or working class, heterosexual or homosexual person (6), so these rights are human rights; consequently, they must logically accept that all other persons too have these rights - they are universal human rights (Gewirth, 1991: 74-77; 79; 1996: 278-288).

These rights are inherently claimed as they are necessary for action: even if a person acted to deny they were claiming the right at all or to deny that they were claiming the right as a person, rather than as a heterosexual, middle class, white and/or male person, etc., they would be acting and therefore claiming the right.
A person would only be able to claim a right as particular to them or their group by implicitly claiming a range of universal rights (and having them respected), from the right to life to the right to freedom from discrimination and the right to freedom of expression, without all of which they would be unable to make the claim contradicting them in the first place (Gewirth, 1978: 44; 48; 1982: 351-352; 1986: 282).

Illustrated simply, life is a condition necessary for action and the right to it is implicitly claimed by acting; if a person acts to remove another person's life, they claim their right to life, as a person, by acting and by trying to kill another, contradict themselves and violate that right (7) (Gewirth, 1978: 1; 12; 26-29; 213; see also Baier, 1995: 40; Beyleveld, 1991: 163-241; de Cisneros, 1983: 575-576).

Human rights methodologies, then, agree with empiricist and standpoint feminist methodologies about what may be known, but challenge their essentialist constructions of how truths may come to be known; and human rights methodologies agree too, with the postmodern feminist methodologies’ universalist constructions of how truths may come to be known, but challenge their irretrievable uncertainty over moral and historical truths.

I have reviewed feminist and human rights methodologies, revealed my opportunities to engage in them and exposed their potential to complement or contradict each other; I have also decided how to move forward. I will draw on queer feminist and human rights methodologies; yet, though I could label this queer feminist human rights methodology, it would then be logical to term it socialist queer feminist human rights methodology and then postcolonialist socialist queer feminist human rights methodology and so on; although I will be feminist and will do feminism, I will be feminist and do feminism as a human rights advocate and through a human rights methodology.

From this human rights methodology, I will have not only Gewirth's (1978) universalist human rights framework by which to judge people's political actions, but also Sørensen's (2000) queer feminist archaeological perspective from which to begin my interpretations of those actions.
Furthermore, translating Aretxaga's (1997) queer feminist anthropological perspective on the conflict in Northern Ireland to the conflict in Kosovo will help me to produce and present the narrative in a way that is respectful to and representative of present and past people and that is meaningful to and beneficial for the local communities with whom I will be working and collaborating.

This human rights methodology will support a human rights archaeology, the practice of which is modelled on community archaeology practice (itself feminist-inspired (Baadsgaard, 2005; Geller, 2005)) (Cressey, Reeder and Bryson, 2003; Marshall, 2002; Moser et al, 2002).
Community archaeology is a project that 'starts with public dialogue' and ends with 'public products that [the] community needs as defined by its members', where archaeology is the means to the ends of the community and its members (Cressey, Reeder and Bryson, 2003: 3); community archaeologists summarise their methodology as 'communication and collaboration [and]... public presentation' (Moser et al, 2002: 229).
Working towards both feminist and human rights ideals and engaging in both feminist and human rights methodologies, I will define my human rights archaeology project in dialogue with the community - or rather, communities - of the town I reside in and throughout the project I will communicate and collaborate with them to produce knowledge and change commonly desired.

(1) As I am doing anthropological archaeology, I will draw on both anthropological and archaeological resources.

(2) There is insufficient space to do the peripheral debates - or the histories of the central debates - justice, so I have tried to achieve approximations of empiricist, standpoint and postmodern feminisms and universalist human rights theory (although each feminism draws upon each other and feminist and human rights methodologies did and do inform each other).
Further, although I note the exclusion of minority feminisms, such as religious, lesbian, working class and ethnicised feminisms, from dominant feminist discourses, I do not myself have the scope to redress the balance; still, I do acknowledge their contributions and the fact that I have benefited from them (hooks, 1990; Moghissi, 1999; Reay, 2004; Rich, 1995; Weston, 2004).

(3) The attribution of caste or class status to those who identify themselves or who are categorised as women (or men) is inaccurate - women are an 'oppressed sex' (Reed, 2000: 508-510; see also Kelly-Gadol, 1987: 18-19); that sex could be conceived of as a 'community' oppressed by 'male society' (Das, 1990: 361).

(4) It is worth noting that the notion of a working or middle class is itself reductive and that working classes and middle classes would be more accurate terms of address.

(5) I use the term "active exploiters" to distinguish those who choose to exploit others from those who do so of necessity - it would be perverse to write off western working class women as "simply" exploiters because they consume unfairly traded goods, for instance, given it is their very position as exploited people that denies them the capital necessary to access to fairly traded goods.

(6) As noted with before, each is a reduction that is not taken to exist in any essential or natural sense (and the relevance of each to morality, even if they were to exist, is clearly refuted in the argument).

(7) This argument is massively simplified here; suffice it to say, it does not condemn suicide, assisted suicide or euthanasia as immoral.


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