Prof Aimee Meredith Cox (Fordham University)
Background: Over the period of roughly a decade, I conducted ethnographic research in a homeless shelter for young women in Detroit, Michigan. Initially, this research investigation was envisioned as one that would center primarily on the shelter as a social institution and the creative and strategic ways young Black women navigated this one of many institutions that marked their daily routines in post-industrial Detroit. After a few months, it became exceedingly clear to me that in order to write a fully embodied, fleshy, and aesthetically honest account of these young women’s experiences, I would have to see their interactions in the shelter as just one component of their lived worlds that included time spent in multiple family homes across the city; in part-time service sector jobs; and moving through the actual streets of the city. In all of these social and geographic locations, these young women often acted as the central figures of peacemakers and caregivers despite their homelessness. This longitudinal, multi-local sited ethnography raises several questions beyond the insider/outsider conundrum or overly determined assumptions about objectivity and immersion given the fact that I am a Black woman conducting research on and with Black women and girls.
What I would like us to now consider are the physical, visceral, and effective processes of writing for and about communities that explicitly recognize you as “one of their own.” Including but expanding on notions of cultural understanding or vernacular (spoken and performed) alignment, I am interested in how we might identify the aesthetic stakes in producing research that is not only honest or accurate but also reflects, in the actual structure of the text and spirit of the writing, the embodied and sensory realities of the community and the researcher. I would like to begin to define ethnographic writing that is an act of bodily reclamation and creative ownership specifically within the colonial context of the academy and the social sciences, as well as the U.S. nation state more broadly. How might we think of ethnography, particularly for Black anthropologists, as a coming home that is intentionally distinct from the privileges of and inevitable blindness within auto ethnography?