Interactive Oral History Interviewing

By Eva M. McMahan; Kim Lacy Rogers | Go to book overview

5
Interpreting the Complexity
of Women's Subjectivity

Susan E. Chase

University of Tulsa

Colleen S. Bell

Hamline University

In discussions of how feminist principles influence conventional social science methodology, it has become axiomatic to assert that the subject-object dichotomy between researcher and researched should be challenged. Feminist researchers work at treating others not as objects of research but as subjects of their own experiences. In this chapter we explore one problem that arises in the course of practicing this commitment. We have discovered that what it means to treat interviewees as subjects becomes unclear and problematic when we ask about their experiences of being subject to various forms of inequality.1 How are we to invite women to speak as subjects when we ask questions that evoke narratives about discrimination, isolation, and exclusion? Drawing examples from our in-depth

____________________
1
A note on terminology. Althusser ( 1972) pointed out that even the everyday use of the term subject is ambiguous: It refers at once to "a free subjectivity, a centre of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions"; and to "a subjected being, who submits to a higher authority, and is therefore stripped of all freedom except that of freely accepting this submission "(p. 182). In the social sciences, however, the word is more often used to refer to an actor's agency (the first meaning) than to an actor's subjection. Throughout the chapter we speak of women as subject and subject to, or as active subjects and subjected in order to make clear that we are pointing to the multiple meanings of the word. However, what we mean by subject to (or subjected or subjection) is different from the meaning outlined by Althusser. Rather than submission to a higher authority, the phenomenon to which we refer is the experience of subjection to inequality embedded in social structure and culture.

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