Examines the study of others' lives by feminist researchers using ethnography, oral history, biography, photography, and documentary film. Explores the craft, goals, and ethics involved in these forms of representation. Includes workshop critique of research project in development.
Feminist research, when it uses the methods of ethnography, oral history, biography, photography, or documentary film, often involves the representation of people’s lives, as a way of giving voice to or making visible those on the underside of power, and of intervening in dominant paradigms of representation. Yet, even and arguably especially scholarship done in the name of social justice involves intertwined interpretive and ethical questions: who has the right to represent whom, using what representational strategies, and for what purposes and audiences? This graduate-level course examines the study of others’ (and sometimes the researcher’s own) lives through narrative and visual forms of representation that feminist researchers and cultural producers have used in their work. We will explore the craft, goals, and ethics involved this work: what does it mean to represent someone’s life as part of a feminist research project; and how does one do it effectively and responsibly? Students should come to class with a research project in development; part of the class will involve a workshop critique of students’ own work-in-progress. This course asks students to analyze and critique feminist texts, films, and visual materials, not as an end in itself, but as a preliminary to their own attempt at “telling a life” as part of their ongoing or proposed research.
Student learning goals
To examine how feminist scholars, writers, and artists have researched and represented lives in their work to challenge dominant paradigms of representation; and to analyze the politics of representation involved in their efforts to capture another person’s (or one’s own) life for intellectual or activist purposes.
To understand debates about life histories—written, oral, and visual—within Women Studies and related disciplines in which this qualitative method has been used by researchers, often as a way of shifting previous modes of knowledge production.
To explore the relationship between narrative and visual forms of representation, as well as the different ways in which they communicate and circulate.
To hone your own research methodology: how and why will the study of lives, through narrative and/or visual methods, be part of your research.
To reflect on all of the above through practice in “telling a life,” the craft and technique of writing, image-making (still or video), and editing this process entails.
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading