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  • Gender Field Experience, Method and Theory
  • Ifi Amadiume (bio)

Male Daughters, Female Husbands1 grew out of an ethnographic research that was conducted within the discipline of social anthropology. All disciplines have their methodologies and theories, which are, however, hardly unanimously agreed on, or there would not be any advance and growth of knowledge. Differences in perspectives add to the diversity and complexity, and therefore the challenges, posed by any discipline. Social anthropology posed and still poses even more challenges, because of its history, subject matter, and practitioners. It is a discipline that most embodies the big historical questions of race, gender, class, and issues of recent interest. Anthropology grew out of colonialism and it identified native peoples and indigenous societies as its subject matter. It has inevitably faced serious challenges about racism and subjective impositions due to the dominance of Eurocentric biases and associated patriarchy in its methods, theories, and experts. Male Daughters, Female Husbands was written to present an interdisciplinary and gender-focused alternative approach.

A Gendered Fieldwork

Today, an argument for gender recognition seems obvious, but this was not always the case. It was mostly men who conducted fieldwork for ethnographic research and wrote the associated monographs, and women served as secretarial assistants [End Page 131] and supporting wives. Some of the fathers of anthropology, with the support of their major national research institutions or governments, came to the field with a contingent of experts, not just to study a place, but to also map out and annotate an entire region, even claiming to be the discoverers. Later challenges and criticisms coming from women argued that the research field was gendered, and that gender differences had and still have an impact on the very processes of ethnographic empirical research, the collection of data, and related theories. In the marginalization of women, any theory that is based on the research on or experiences with only one half of society is flawed. Similarly, one can make the same argument about the marginalization of indigenous people being studied in terms of gender and race, the field being dominated by Western perspectives. Giving voice became an issue.

I share here some relevant experiences doing fieldwork for this book that I hope will demonstrate the dynamics of gender experiences that also relate to questions of theory.2 The resources available to an ethnographic researcher in the field matter. The famous anthropologists entered the field with a comprehensive and sophisticated supporting research troop. In 1980, I came to Nnobi from London to do fieldwork a few months after the death of my mother (who was only 55 years old) with a baby, my daughter Kemdi. The Igbo say, "onye nwelu nmadu ka onye nwelu ego." What I lacked in financial and institutional resources, I had in people: loving and enthusiastic relatives because I had come home to do work in my father's hometown. Honest anthropologists often describe the process of empirical ethnographic research as sociocultural rites of passage. This is because they come as strangers into the society and people of their study, needing to learn the language, perhaps find a family and like a child begin to learn kinship relations, protocol, and social expectations. It is a slow process of incorporation, followed by rapid learning and later reflection. For these reasons, social participation was key to fieldwork qualification if one was to become an anthropologist of worth with a monograph. Everything else comes after these initial experiences, including the advancing of theory.

In more recent works, I have argued about the problems of postcolonialism from the idea of empty spaces. This is the argument that colonialist interruptions and disruptions created gaps in the knowledge systems about the traditional histories and cultures of colonized African societies. Going into the field would be a different experience for me because I had some local knowledge and memory, but I still had gaps to fill. I was not starting from the scratch as would a stranger, but I had also been taught falsehoods and misinformation about the people and their culture that would need unlearning in the process of relevant knowledge construction. All local voices and genders were needed if I was to move toward...


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pp. 131-138
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