ASA Conference 2004, Durham - Locating the field

Mobilities in question: new sites/sights of feminist ethnography?

Panel convenor: Frohlick & Luce

Panel abstract

Employing rich ethnographic examples, the papers in this panel explore new feminist anthropological engagements with the politics, and multiplicities, of contemporary (gendering) mobilities. The papers explore both theoretical and methodological issues, which underscore current modes of doing multi and differently sited ethnographic research in an increasingly globalizing world. What happens within the ‘field’ of anthropology as the sites/sights of feminist ethnography become the global circuits of meaning, representation and being, and the ways in which women take part in trans/inter/national border crossings in new ways? Connecting a cyber ethnography of the virtual domain of the First International Women’s University 2000 (ifu) to analyses of the rendering and gendering of global mountaineering subjects to the trackings of the regulation of donor sperm mobility are critical questionings of key cultural-theoretical concepts such as ‘travel’, ‘belonging,’ ‘mobility’, ‘home’, ‘citizenship’, and ‘bodies’.

Rendering and gendering mobile subjects in a globalised world of mountaineering

Susan Frohlick, Department of Anthropology, University of Manitoba, Canada

In 2000, a state-sponsored organization in Nepal made use of a local women’s mountain climbing expedition to Mount Everest to promote Nepalese women’s entry into an emergent global economy. In view of mountaineering history as a male-dominated practice, especially within Nepal where very few women are involved in small- or large scale, local or international mountaineering, this particular use of a Nepali female mountaineering subject raises questions about culturally-specific gendered mobilities in an era of globalization. For instance, within the context of global tourism, what kind of new mobility does a Nepali woman mountaineer represent? How is this notion of mobility embedded in specific histories of gendered and localized travel and notions of women as national subjects? How is this celebratory representation of a gendered mobility, otherwise a dangerous and risky sport, read by different communities?

In this paper, I address these questions drawing on recent feminist critiques of globalization, which argue against conceptualizations of globalization as a penetrable and large-scale force upon passive local victims who ought to be protected by the nation-state. Carla Freeman suggests that, “local processes and small-scale actors might [instead] be seen as the very fabric of globalization.” Drawing on ethnographic research in Nepal and Canada, I trace various ways in which a specific Nepali woman, and her climb to the top of Mount Everest, can be seen to embody both new and older modes of mobility. Through my own location as a multi-sited researcher, I also show how the Nepali state-sanctioned global mountaineering subject is contested outside of Nepal, and discuss what the implications of these conflicting readings might be for culturally-specific understandings of “mobility,” “travel,” and “globalization.”

Touching base and writing home: Feminist on-line networks and the politics of belonging

Michaela Fay, Institute for Women’s Studies, Lancaster University, UK

Some would argue that we live in a Cyberworld. Much of Western life, including or perhaps especially, Western academic life takes place on the screen. Life on the screen is both a requirement for and an outcome of increased mobility. The “nomadic subjects” (Braidotti 1994) inhabiting intellectual discourses as well as global networks of international travel have been widely discussed by scholars of feminist and postcolonial theory as well as sociology (e.g. Ahmed 2000; Braidotti 2003; Urry 2000). New ways of mobility require, however, new ways of belonging. Furthermore, one could argue that they are the very product of changing conditions of possibility to belong.

This rings true and is specifically important for international feminist networks. Listservs and Email as means of communications allows “us” to shape and sustain “communities” over time and space. It is about more than just logging on. These technologies are mobility and dwelling at the same time.

In this paper, I want to argue that life ‘on screen’ functions as a particular form of dwelling in mobility and being ‘on the move’ – simultaneously signifying loss of permanence in the “real world” and a sense of home in the “virtual world”. The paper is based on empirical data which I acquired during a cyber ethnography of the virtual domain of the International Women’s University “Technology and Culture” (ifu) 2000 – www.vifu.de.

My research – participant observation and email interviews – highlights the contingent issues of home and belonging, with which the participants of the ifu, a highly educated, academically mobile ‘elite’ struggle and shows how these are negotiated both online and ‘real’.

Between people and places: regulating gamete mobility

Jacquelyne Luce, Department of Sociology/Institute for Women’s Studies, Lancaster University, UK

In this paper, I will examine the regulation of donor sperm mobility during a period in which the use of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) increasingly involves the transregional and transnational meeting of technical knowledge, cryopreservation and in/fertility cultures, differential legislation, and actual gametes. I will draw on two examples from my on-going research in Canada and the UK, which focuses on queer women and assisted conception. In Canada, the implementation of regulations governing the importation of donor semen in 2000 significantly altered the choices available for queer women trying to conceive using sperm from a sperm bank. In the UK, the launch of ManNotIncluded™.com, a sperm donation service, was represented in the media as creating new options for lesbians wanting to get pregnant. Recent ethnographic and social research explores the disembodied ‘gamete traffic’ (Farquhar 1999) which has come to typify the contemporary era of assisted reproductive practice. In light of these recent amendments and challenges to the regulations, if not legislation, governing assisted reproductive technologies in Canada and the UK, in this paper I will direct my attention away from the gametes that travel and toward the particular embodiments of the people and places they travel between. How is the mobility of donor gametes, and its governance, impacted by the identifications of donors and recipients? What are the implications and effects of regulating and contesting the regulation of gamete mobility on various levels? How do notions of relatedness and cultural imaginings of genealogies contribute to images of appropriately bodied donors and recipients and ‘safe’ sites of importation and exportation?