Pregnant with Meaning: Teen Mothers and the Politics of Inclusive Schooling

By Deirdre M. Kelly | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

Studying Up, Down, and Across in Schools; Speaking About, For, and With Teen Mothers: Dilemmas of a Critical Feminist Ethnographer

In previous chapters, I discussed how even those adults who identify as feminist or progressive and who intend to help teen mothers sometimes participate in discourses and institutional practices that construct the teen mother as unacceptably different, as the Other. In this chapter, I scrutinize my own practices and explore the dilemmas I encountered in the framing, conduct, analysis, and writing of a critical feminist ethnography.

As a critical feminist ethnographer, I was not just interested in research for its own sake; I sought to challenge and transform unequal relations of power. Researchers can help groups without access to traditional sources of power to articulate their concrete needs, clarify their concerns, and communicate both to broader audiences. They can draw attention to new or marginalized issues and recast old problems. Critical researchers thus attempt to counter or reframe dominant discourses (Kelly & Gaskell, 1996). This partisan approach is at odds with what Rosaldo (1989) calls the “norms of classic ethnography, ” namely value neutrality and emotional detachment.

I thus began my study of school responses to teen pregnancy and parenthood—in particular, the supported integration of pregnant and mothering teens—committed to the idea that “policy design must be examined for its differential effects based on gender, class, race, age, community, and other dimensions, and these effects need to be evaluated and understood from the lived experiences of those groups or communities affected” (Phillips, 1996, p. 243). An understanding of how teen mothers

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