Markets and Bodies: Women, Service Work, and the Making of Inequality in China

By Eileen M. Otis | Go to book overview

Afterword
Embodiment, the Research, and the Researcher

I have not conducted a “carnal” ethnography (Wacquant 2006) in the sense that I did not subject myself directly to the bodily and interactive regimens workers experienced. As a woman socialized in an American middle-class model of femininity, I take for granted much of what was taught at the hotels featured in this study: when to smile, how to smile, how to walk and talk, and so on. Furthermore, having worked in a number of service jobs in the United States (aerobics instructor, retail clerk, waitress in a Chinese restaurant, restaurant hostess, legal secretary, receptionist, fund-raiser), I have already undergone substantial training in the arts of service. Clearly, I could not become an urban or rural migrant Chinese woman, raised in a family that experienced the desperation associated with the Great Leap Forward or the tumult of the Cultural Revolution. My strategy was to watch, listen, and learn as best I could, using my senses to collect data, but never assuming my experience of embodiment was akin to the women who are the subject of this study. Workers’ history and local cultural comprehension mattered deeply for how they construed and managed their work. This I could never access directly.

While the study is not a carnal ethnography, ethnography is always an embodied experience. Recent studies suggest that ethnography can be conducted by way of textual analysis (Farquhar 2002). My own view

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