Feminist Anthropology Is Teamwork

As the launch of Feminist Anthropology was becoming visible in 2019, I found myself working on its editorial board with colleagues with whom I had collaborated over the past decade. Reflecting on our shared activist work in the American Anthropological Association and Society for Applied Anthropology, I realized that collaboration is not just important to our work transforming institutional settings but also key to fostering a feminist academic community that values relationships designed to challenge patriarchal models of labor and authorship. Collaboration in authorship has been part of feminist anthropology from its beginnings (Rosaldo et al. 1974, Visweswaran 1997).

For me, collaborative authorship offers a pathway to enable dialogue.

As a feminist scholar, a commitment to challenging the power inequities that bind us has always sat uneasily with single authorship. I learned anthropology in a Quito classroom with classmates who had practiced anthropology for decades all over South America. They showed me that knowledge about culture is acquired through teamwork. Many had done fieldwork in teams, wrote their ethnographic texts in teams and—as my colleagues from the Taller de Historia Oral Andina/Andean Oral History Workshop (THOA)  taught me—crafted conceptual frameworks together.

When I worked with colleagues from THOA, it was led by feminist Aymara scholar Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui. Her work strongly critiques the tendency of colonial scholarship to create empires within empires that work by appropriating the knowledge of the Global South. Cusicanqui’s critique, which she extends to Western decolonial efforts, is on single authorship as a vector through which knowledge is individually parsed, accumulated, and acquired (Rivera Cusicanqui, 2012). Dialogue between multiple and differently situated knowledge producers is secondary at best. It may have been this particularly Latin American entry point into the discipline that pointed me to the clear constraints single authorship has for the development of conceptual rigor and for a feminist project.

For me, collaborative authorship offers a pathway to enable dialogue; its shared authorship challenges patriarchal forms authority (Moore 1988). The very notion of single authored scholarship—sometimes seen as the gold standard of academic achievement—presupposes certain forms of knowledge acquisition, and rests on power imbalances and entitlements of privilege that I find are seldom interrogated. This can be seen in the way that power imbalances in knowledge production are unrecognized in peer review. It is a practice enmeshed in our own prestige economy, our assumptions about what constitutes communicable language, market demands inherent to publication, and presumed access to resources that too often rest behind paywalls.

In feminism and beyond, our reliance on peer review should constitute the shared acknowledgement that we think better with others. We know that when it is done in a supportive way, peer review can reposition our singular perspective and provide new ways for understanding our work. It might even offer new dialogues. Nevertheless, the judgments that take place in peer review processes today are fraught and its regular practice does not proactively enable dialogue and difference in the creation of knowledge. 

Since I began writing anthropology, I have collaborated and co-authored publications with eight different scholars, primarily those whose disciplinary training differs from my own. In all cases, we pursued understanding through a feminist lens. Working toward the shared end of disentangling patriarchy in its myriad of expressions in the company of sociologists, historians, and social workers (as well as anthropologists) is enriching. Working with others broadens my conceptual frameworks, expands the breadth of knowledge that circulates in my scholarship, and most importantly reorients my writing practice from individual work toward a social project centered on building meaningful relationships.

As we think through the futures of feminist anthropology, continued attention and critique to how authorship and patriarchal forms of authority shape us is essential.

My ten-year collaboration with sociologist Kersti Yllö is perhaps the best example of how scholarship focused on relationships can build a productive and fulfilling feminist practice. Together we have edited Marital Rape: Consent, Marriage and Social Change in Global Context and two special issues of the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma on sexual violence as well as a forthcoming volume entitled Conceptualizing Sexual Violence in Marriage. We began by asking about the assumptions that our disciplines and our own scholarship had made about sexual violence in intimate relationships.

We understood early on that given the breadth of human experience on sexual violence, it was foolish to gain insight on our own and embarked on purposeful community building. To support the deliberate work of community building that we believe builds a supportive and possibly more inclusive feminist practice, we hosted a Wenner Gren Foundation Workshop (2012) and a School for Advanced Research Campbell Women and Development in the Global South Seminar (2017). Our work has brought together scholars from across the world to change how we (Kersti and I included) understand sexual violence as a lived experience. This work has oriented us away from single authorship toward a practice that privileges conceptual nuance, dialogue as the ground on which collective insight is built, and over time the appreciation of a plurality of terminology for concepts that defy universal abstraction.

As we think through the futures of feminist anthropology, continued attention and critique to how authorship and patriarchal forms of authority shape us is essential. Much hope can be placed on the power of collaboration to build community, change how we dialogue, and support social change that challenges the power inequities upon which scholarship and the academy rests.

M. Gabriela Torres is Professor of Anthropology and Co-Coordinator of Public Health at Wheaton College. She studies violence– particularly gender based violence– and state formation. Most recently she has co-edited two issues on Latin American Feminisms in JIWS, and the forthcoming volume Conceptualizing Sexual Violence in Marriage (Routledge).

Cite as: Torres, M. Gabriela. 2019. “Feminist Anthropology Is Teamwork.” Anthropology News website, November 7, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1305

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