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Feminist Knowledge and Social–Cultural Research
Ethnomimesis, feminist praxis and the visual turn
Maggie O’Neill

This chapter explores cultural sociology in practice by focusing upon the author’s participatory action research with female sex workers. An interpretive feminist account of women’s life histories, rooted in immersion in the feeling worlds of participants is represented through fragments of women’s narratives, live art and photography. This approach is defined as ‘ethno-mimesis’, and is rooted in four key concepts: (1) the interrelation between feminist thought and practice/praxis involving a methodological process of immersion, interpretation, commentary and criticism; (2) the importance of critical feminist theory; (3) interpretive ethnography as a way of understanding women’s lived experiences, especially the development of critical standpoint epistemologies; and (4) cultural sociology as praxis – as transformative. Through cultural sociology in practice (as praxis) sociologists can better understand the socio-cultural-political (macro) relations and inter-relations, and the multiple (micro) ‘realities’ we might want to transform. Accessing and documenting lived experiences in a reflexive, critically aware way can lead us to a better understanding of psychic processes and socio-cultural structures and processes. This knowledge in turn can help us to develop transformative possibilities through conducting participatory action research (PAR). The author’s concept of ‘ethno-mimesis’ is defined in this chapter through a combination of participatory action research and participatory arts informed by the work of Adorno and Benjamin. Ethno-mimesis draws upon ‘feeling forms’ such as photographic • 211 •

First. and as securing the means of the present’ (2003: 11). through concerns with racial or sexual exclusion and emergent theories of power. and engages dialectically with lived experience through critical interpretation. watching or making films matter? Second. the emergence of postmodernism and the cultural turn • 212 • . and multiple voices. vanguard parties. we can instead embrace the possibilities of multiple and contradictory aspects of our individual and collective identities. For me.Edwards-3516-Ch-11.Van Loon identifies a set of historical trajectories through which ‘cultural studies’ has evolved in the UK. Cultural Sociology and Prostitution Western feminisms can be charted through a trajectory that begins with concerns about sex and gender. difference. Feminism. In the Chapter. the origins of cultural studies and the importance of Marxism is rooted in the work of Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart in the 1950s. ‘Cultural studies designates a wide-ranging and expanding domain of researchquestions concerning processes and structures of sense-making and. ‘In this historiographic approach we join other writers in thus understanding the past as imaginatively taking place in the present. nature and culture. the importance of the ‘linguistic turn’ (Alasuutari. 1995: 24) in cultural studies. Although there is an explicit interest and focus on the transformative possibilities of feminism and cultural studies. Third. 1982) that was to be conceptually foundational for the emergent cultural studies. 2000). The feminist trajectory can be compared with the emergence of cultural studies. Taking a historiographic approach. Freed from the need to root feminist politics in identification. Finally. plurality. purity or mothering. performance art and life story narratives. and gender in constituting the subject (Hemmings and Brain 2003: 21). Their work gave rise to such questions as – under what conditions did reading or making books.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 212 • • • Maggie O’Neill • • • art. towards social change.. ethnography has emerged as an effective and popular approach to researching cultural processes. 1997). the way in which “sense” becomes “lived” in practices of everyday life’ (van Loon. Hemmings and Brain in a most interesting article reflect on the idea that the feminist 1970s shaped the feminist present. very few texts identify PAR as a method/methodology. two examples of ethno-mimesis are introduced and discussed as cultural sociology in practice. this ‘has produced a sensitivity to culture as an ensemble of sense-making practices that demand a dialogic and reflexive engagement’. Cultural studies is eclectic in its use of various theoretical infrastructures. an important distinction between culturalism and structuralism was made by Stuart Hall (found in Bennet et al. The intersection between feminism and postmodernism developed out of critiques of Enlightenment and modernism. and the everyday lived experiences and meaning – making practices we engage in. North America and Australia. Feminisms and cultural studies share a methodological and epistemological focus upon a primarily phenomenological approach to understanding the processes and practices of our socio-cultural worlds. signified by diversity. For Van Loon (2000). more specifically. research questions and methodologies (McGuigan. Linda Nicholsen (1990) states that the postmodern turn has been an important one for feminist scholars. structuralism and psychoanalysis.

PAR is a social research methodology. the importance of working with people as subjects through PAR. knowledge. Contemporary literature on prostitution can be interpreted as following the conceptual trajectory of feminist thought and analysis linked to modernity. Examples of empirical feminist research that have been major influences are the work by Maria Mies with women in Cologne. 1998. 2000). My paper at the conference focused upon two years of fieldwork with sex workers. 1999. 1979. 1990. Participatory Action Research: Critical Theory in Praxis At an international conference.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. both empirically/methodologically and theoretically. the importance of alternative ways of re-presenting these stories in visual/artistic form. 1998) add important challenges to debates that have focused on binary distinctions between good and bad girls in the literature and public imagination (Nagle. Academic Knowledge and Political Power. Walkowitz. which includes the stereotypical subjects of research as co-creators of the research. other than in the literature on development. First. and it is most • 213 • . Phoenix. epistemologically underpinned by my sociological approach – critical theory as feminist praxis. the law. consumption and feminist debates on power. prostitutes’ rights and activism (McLeod. communities affected by prostitution and asylum seekers and refugees. My earlier work on feminist aesthetics looked to develop an understanding of the foundations in social life for a feminist aesthetics of modernism rooted in an analysis of the transformative. 1997). Bishop and Robinson. Kempadoo and Doezema. Department of Sociology. Feminist research is inherently linked to action. Rarely will it get a mention in research methods texts. rights and knowledge (Truong. 1987. race. India and Holland. It creates a space for the voices of the marginalized to become involved actively in change or transformation. O’Connell-Davidson. sexuality. working-class communities and the regulation of the body (Finnegan. and social structures. Second. and Jalna Hanmer and Sheila Saunders’ community action work in Leeds on violence against women and the photo therapy work of Jo Spence and Rosy Martin. 1992). 1980. the importance of stories and storytelling. Corbin. I was introduced to the work of Orlando Fals Borda and William F Whyte as Richard saw parallels in my paper with participatory action research. Sex tourism. Following this introduction to PAR. 1982. Feminist theorists have engaged with discourses on prostitution and health.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 213 • • • Feminist Knowledge and Social–cultural Research • • • in sociology was pivotal and best expresses my engagement with issues of gender. 1997. Third. Historical analyses focus upon the relationships between women working as prostitutes and the state. I am interested in the ethno-mimetic re-presentations and in exploring the language like quality of art. power. liberating potential of women’s art. West. Participatory action research is little used in the UK. postmodernity and the shifts and transformations taking place in the 1960s but rooted in much earlier social and cultural changes. 20–22 November 1992. Roberts. I embarked upon a process of assimilating and using the methodology in my work with marginalized groups – sex workers.1 This research and accompanying publications stress three major themes in my empirical work. class. organized by Richard Harvey Brown at the University of Maryland.

it is interventionist.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 214 • • • Maggie O’Neill • • • prevalent in countries of the South. as in the theatre work of Boal (1979) and Mienczakowski (1995).. Fals Borda (University of Columbia. dialogical texts that can make visible emotional structures and inner experiences which may ‘move’ the audience through what can be described as ‘sensuous knowing’ or mimesis (Taussig. includes all those involved where possible. and classical theories of participation. North and South America. Ugwu. 1991. Bogotá) and William Foote Whyte (USA) are key proponents of PAR. 2002). I argued that alternative re-presentations of ethnographic work can create multivocal. Fals Borda defines PAR as vivencia (life experience akin to Husserl’s Erfahrung) ‘necessary for the achievement of progress and democracy and as a complex of attitudes and values to give meaning to our praxis in the field’ (Fals Borda. action-oriented and interpretive. PAR involves a commitment to research that develops partnership responses to developing purposeful knowledge (praxis). Given the relative demise of action and activism over the past two decades and the closing down of spaces for public resistance under the auspices of Thatcher. process and outcomes). this research method provides a potentially powerful tool for resistance and a platform for civic participation – a critical theory in practice. participation. 2003). the socio-cultural research of Fals Borda (1988). Drawing upon the work of Adorno and Benjamin. PAR is a process and a practice directed towards social change with the participants. 1998: 6). 1999: 17). What emerges is the possibility of a project of radical and plural democracy’ (Smith. Ethno-mimesis as critical feminist praxis2 is reflexive and phenomenological but it is also critical and looks to praxis. 1993). Major and Blair governments. This is akin to Smith’s thesis (drawing upon Laclau and Mouffe) that ‘radical democracy is the best route towards social change for the Left Today’ (Smith. and India (see Laws et al. Fals Borda defines PAR (it emerged in the 1970s) as anticipating postmodernism for PAR drew on a range of conceptual elements to guide fieldwork ‘Marxism.. and community-driven sustainable outcomes. PAR is rooted in principles of inclusion (engaging people in the research design. alongside the crisis in ethnography and the ‘linguistic’ and ‘cultural turn’ in socio-cultural theory has led to demands for experimentation in the representation of ethnographic data. valuing all local voices. and fosters ‘a democratic politics that aims at the articulation of the various different struggles against oppression. uses innovative ways of consulting and working with local people and facilitates change with communities and groups.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. phenomenology. including action’ (1999: 1) and yet went beyond them. especially in relation to gender and race (see Trinh. 1986: 328). I argued that the self-reflexivity inherent in the ethnographic process. or the filmic • 214 • . 1995). Interpretive Ethnography and Standpoint Epistemologies In a recent paper (O’Neill et al. thus facilitating shared ownership of the development and outcomes of the research.

Dorothy Smith (1989). and transformation. these are outcomes of research that engage with alternative forms of representation. A key aspect is praxis as purposeful knowledge involving interpretation. standpoint feminism is ‘a moral and political act of commitment to understand the world from the position of the socially subjugated’ (1986: 149). artistic form and a focus upon the transformative. What Denzin (1997) and Alasuutari. and the re-presentation of ethnographic work through photographic work and live art/performance. In this chapter. remind. change causing gesture involved in participatory action research. At every phase of the PAR model there is the possibility for change. Fals Borda quotes what Agnes Heller termed ‘symmetric reciprocity’ as a key tension in PAR. performative. educate. It involves a process of developing better knowledge of the social. This necessarily involves reporting or communicating results/findings in ways that are understandable to the participants. be it visual. Participatory action research seeks to understand the world from the perspective of the participants. she seeks to show that there is no single overriding vision of the world but rather multiple realities. Alasuutari. 1999: 13). challenge and empower both • 215 • . Such reflexivity led to the acknowledgement that the ‘real’ world can still be recovered through ethnographic work. from direct engagement with people. The re-presentation of the author’s ethnographic work through live art/performance was undertaken with Sara Giddens. and multiple meanings. especially when we consider the ways in which such hybrid research can ‘understand culture as a process of meaning making. or literary/poetic.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 215 • • • Feminist Knowledge and Social–cultural Research • • • work of Trinh (1989. multicultural gaze that probes. Outcomes of participatory research can inform. Additionally. through a postmodern ‘multinational. Gray and Hermes tell us that hybrid theorizing and reflexivity are crucial to better understand contemporary culture and society. in order to arrive at a ‘subject–subject horizontal or symmetric relationship’ (Fals Borda. action. in undoing the realist ethnography project. et al. hybrid methodologies are illustrated in the author’s ethnnographic. recognizing this symmetry involves developing what Gramsci called ‘good sense’ and. and to give attention to the power relations that set boundaries to those processes’ (1998: 9). communities and young people was undertaken in collaboration with Rosie Campbell. Indeed. Patricia Hill-Collins (1990). and Hilary Rose (1983) pose a challenge to and resist orthodox scientific empiricist ways of practising research. In the process of involving participants as co-researchers. The work with sex workers. 1997: 19). Standpoint epistemologies as articulated by early proponents such as Sandra Harding (1991). participatory action research work with women working in the sex industry and communities affected by prostitution. The work of Trinh (1991) further developed this process for. for Harding. this validation is transformed into constructive and creative responses for them and their communities. The mimetic re-telling of life stories in visual. PAR can validate the experiences of the participants and also of grassroots knowledge.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. and of culture as a process of meaning making. (1998) call ‘hybrid texts’ are emerging. achieving authentic ‘participation’. This hybrid form is defined as ethnomimesis. 1991). multiple standpoints. yet goes beyond local markets while it remains anchored in the interactional experiences of the reflexive ethnographer’ (Denzin.

1997. The work of Adorno and Benjamin are inextricable connected (Weber-Nicholsen. 1999). The inter-relationship between research and praxis is fraught with tensions. In the words of Buck-Morss. The usefulness of Adorno’s oeuvre is that his work gives voice to the critical. Robert Witkin concludes his book on Adorno and Music as follows: ‘No one has done more to persuade us of the moral dimension of all cultural construction and of the sociality that is the basis of anything truly creative and liberative’ (1998: 200). Kulturkritik. J. Weber-Nicholsen. Braidotti. especially Theodor Adorno4 and Walter Benjamin. ‘The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass’ (1978: 50) and for Walter Benjamin. Renewed methodologies which incorporate the voices of citizens through scholarly/ civic research as participatory research not only can serve to enlighten and raise our awareness of certain issues but can also produce critical reflexive texts which may help to mobilize social change. plus people’s wisdom. Ethno-mimesis as critical praxis seeks to speak in empathic ways with the participants in the research. re-presented through the performance text in ways that counter valorizing discourses. O’Neill. Adorno was an outstanding social and cultural theorist. 1993. Thinking against the grain through what he termed ‘micrology’ using ‘non-identity thinking’ and ‘Kulture kritik’. 1999.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. 1994. the importance of Adorno’s usefulness for us today is his focus on the role of the subject and subjective experience. creative potential of non-identity thinking. I have argued elsewhere that Adorno has proved useful to feminists because he illuminated the contradictory nature of sexual and social oppression (see Benjamin. or art/exhibition based. and Professor of Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt. 2002). For Shierry Weber-Nicholsen (1997). within the context of a social world marked by identity thinking and instrumental reason. particularly the imaginary and imagination. ‘His was a negative anthropology. 1999. His work is notoriously difficult to understand. and its knowledge was to keep criticism alive’ (1977: 186). Battersby. O’Neill. 1997. 1998. and the reduction of the Other to a cipher of the oppressed/marginalized/exploited. • 216 • . moral. Adorno’s critical theory inspired my critical feminist theory and ethnographic work with sex workers and other marginalized groups. Adorno famously said. Academic accumulation. Adorno refused to simplify his ideas into the conversational form of everyday language and ‘demanded of the listener not mere contemplation but praxis’ (see Jay 1984: 11). The combination of popular knowledge and academic knowledge can create change. a fragment of a story of a life can tell us so much more than one hundred pages of information about a life. Fals Borda tells us that ‘popular knowledge has always been a source of formal learning. Outcomes can be print based or performance based.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 216 • • • Maggie O’Neill • • • those involved and the audiences of the research outcomes. member of the Frankfurt School. and the social role of art in dialectical tension with the role of subjective experience. became an important rule for our movement’ (1999: 7). Critical Feminist Theory and Ethnomimesis ‘Critical theory’ emerged from Western Marxism and its most famous proponents were the Frankfurt School.

6 • 217 • . but rather feeling. the minutiae of life can often surprise.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. inspire and throw light on broader social structures and processes. queer theory. facilitating understanding/interpretation and. Such work can also reach a wider population. on the other hand. a second (and final) live performance was later developed and photographs from this performance were later exhibited. or mimicry. spirit – a sensuous knowing. A trilogy of work was eventually developed. (1992: 151). choreographed by Sara Giddens. then a live performance emerged using the video as a prop. reason. sensuousness. action/praxis in relation to certain social issues. maybe. with soundscape by Darren Bourne and video produced by Tony Judge. challenges from postcolonial and Third World feminisms. sound and video. The concept of mimesis (as sensuous knowing) must be understood in tension with what Adorno calls ‘constructive rationality’.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 217 • • • Feminist Knowledge and Social–cultural Research • • • Focusing upon the small scale. Interpretive Ethnography and Women’s Lives: Visualizing Feminist Praxis Hillis Millar draws upon Walter Benjamin’s work to illustrate how works of art bring something new into the world rather than reflecting something already there. Not all the time … but mostly … was developed by the team and performed by Patricia Breatnach. Following Adorno. This something new is constitutive rather than being merely representational or.5 The multiplicity of oppression and fractured notion of ‘woman’. The video/live art performance was a response to transcripts of interviews with women working in prostitution and fuses dance. ‘mimesis’ does not simply mean naïve imitation. the ‘out there’ sense of our being in the world. Works of art make culture. Taussig understands mimesis as ‘both the faculty of imitation and the deployment of that faculty in sensuous knowing’ (1993: 68). reveals something already there but hidden. Each work makes different the culture it enters. instrumental rationality. A video/live art performance. Sara and Patricia interpreted and created a live art performance that was captured first on video with Darren’s soundscape. beyond academic communities. Exemplar 1: Not all the time … but mostly … This example involved collaborating across disciplines and genres drawing upon ethnographic research with sex workers and performance art/live art. By re-presenting ethnographic data (life story interviews) in artistic form (via ethno-mimesis) we can access a richer understanding of the complexities of lived experience which can throw light on broader social structures and processes. Experimentation in the handling and disseminating knowledge production has led to a range of possible ways of visualizing feminist praxis. and the performative nature of sexual identity help to map out the ongoing production of feminist theory and practice. text.

photography – we are able to get in touch with our ‘realities’. hermeneutic mode of exploring. and finally critical reflection. (3) the analysis of practices of visualization (using diagrams. its potential to move and. sketches in research and dissemination). Methodologically. in ways which demand critical reflection. they argue. our social worlds and the lived experiences of others.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 218 • • • Maggie O’Neill • • • The research team involved two sociologists. The live art performance of Not all the time … but mostly … as ethno-mimetic text engages with people as human beings. is largely due to the fact that sociology as a discipline has not encouraged visual exploration of society and. more methodologically skilled within it. archival. identification and subsequent distancing. I have argued that through art works – performing arts/live arts. via a process of immersion in the performance. What I define as ethno-mimesis is a phenomenological. I am most interested in their focus upon phenomenological analyses and use of the visual. they do not just receive information but have to actively engage in meaning making through the process Adorno identifies as: coming to know a work of art. 2000: 13). a video maker. and in so • 218 • .Edwards-3516-Ch-11. This is an active process involving immersion.: 25). that this should enhance the quality of our research’ (ibid. Such an approach takes us beyond the four major methodological frameworks outlined by Emmison and Smith. They argue that ‘we live in a massively visual society. a dancer/live artists and a performing arts lecturer and choreographer. and (4) video recordings of ‘naturally occurring social interaction’ (ibid. The work was shown to a sex worker project for responses and feedback. Emmison and Smith’s aim in the book is to propose analytical frameworks for investigating visual data that include: (1) the generation of photographic stills through ethnographic work. its ‘resistance to categorisation and containment. makes live art’s impact so far-reaching’ (1995: 9). The audiences are able to re-engage in interpretation at every performance. This. 1984). so too went the eye (Emmison and Smith.: x). The immediacy and directness of live art. painting. analysing and seeking to transform social and sexual inequalities through artistic re-presentations of ethnographic research. rather than giving them a more analytical treatment. commentary and criticism. with the removal of the body in social theory (see Turner. not as ‘stand-in political subjects’. the team organized public performances and the exhibition. In a recent book. Following this. a sound artist. Performance art could be described as an exemplar of antiidentitarian thinking. the intention was to run a pilot project in order to explore the possibilities for developing alternative re-presentations of ethnographic data as ‘ethno-mimesis’. Emmison and Smith (2000) suggest that the problems in connecting visual research to social scientific enquiry lie in the tendency to use visual materials as merely illustrative. in the words of Catherine Ugwu. poetry. along with its ability to surprise and unnerve. literature.: 2). They claim that social science has privileged verbal forms of communication over visual communication. interpretation. and researchers should become more reflexive about the visual. despite the fact that the ‘visual’ is ‘a pervasive feature not only of social life but of many aspects of social enquiry as well’ (ibid. (2) the analysis of media products. and indeed. In earlier work. Ethnomimesis as performative praxis is reflexive and phenomenological but it is also critical and looks to praxis.

Edwards-3516-Ch-11. especially after dark. • 219 • . and fear of crime linked to drug cultures. experience the traces of the ‘prostitutes’ ‘work’ within the context of a life. and women working on street. 2001. experiences and ideas for addressing the complex issues of prostitution in residential areas. and young people resident in the ‘red light’ area. verbal abuse and in some cases murder (see O’Neill. In the process of conducting consultation research. Sex workers are very vulnerable to violence. assault. Moreover. This work was funded by Walsall South Health Action Zone and facilitated by Walsall Community Arts and Walsall Youth Arts. An evocative tension is created between what is played out on screen (or live) and the relationship the viewer or audience has with the ‘performance’. 10 and ‘Participatory Arts’ (PA) was used to consult sex workers and communities affected by prostitution and included the following three groups: sex workers. Alongside the usual ethnographic work and focus group interviews. the research team organized art workshops with residents in the red light area. All produced artforms to express their views. Kinnell (2006) 2001). young people who are resident in the ‘red light’ area. the researchers became aware very quickly that ‘safety’ was a pressing issue for all three groups. albeit for some a damaged life. lack of safety on streets. The main themes emerging from the workshops were: the development of participatory action research and processes of community development and governance. Young people and older residents expressed their fears and insecurities about: harassment from kerbcrawlers. develop artistic forms for representing their experiences. create a space for the voices of those living in the ‘red light area’. Exemplar 2: Safety soapbox This second example emerged from research (with Rosie Campbell) in the West Midlands in 2000–2002. The three groups attended arts workshops facilitated by Kate Green (freelance arts worker with Walsall Youth Arts) and produced visual re-presentations through a combination of PA and PAR. the ‘outside of language’ and undercut identity/identitarian thinking creating potentially space for genuine ‘felt’ involvement which demands critical reflection. and the situation of the women involved. with a view to developing strategic local responses to prostitution. our potential ‘feeling involvement’ in the ethno-mimetic text erupts from the tension between the mimetic (sensuous knowing) and the rational/constructive moments in the interplay between movement/performance/motifs and narrative voice. In this sense the ethno-mimetic text is able to ‘say’ the ‘unsayable’. The research team was made up of the researchers from Staffordshire and Liverpool Hope University and co-researchers from the community of residents.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 219 • • • Feminist Knowledge and Social–cultural Research • • • doing re-presents the ambivalence of prostitution. The collaboration across the groups aimed to: challenge stereotypes. ‘feel’ emotional structures and inner experiences. but in others able to grasp reality in its ‘otherness’. and facilitate ideas for change. One is left feeling in some cases ‘stunned’. residents. located as they are between and within discourses of good and bad women. and drug dealing.8 A combination of ‘Participatory Action Research’ (PAR) 9.

an understanding of the role of the arts in research (cultural sociology) with communities. policy and practice. 2001) In 1995. Prostitution affects my life and my children. The main outcomes of the collaboration were: an exhibition launched at The New Art Gallery in Walsall and the Big Issue ran an article on the exhibition and research project. The researchers took the view that residents and sex workers are the ‘experts’ in the local area. I go home and there it is.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 220 • • • Maggie O’Neill • • • the vital role of the arts in processes of social regeneration and inclusion (sex workers are not usually consulted about safety in the areas they live and work in. especially in relation to cultural diversity and the generation of praxis as purposeful knowledge.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. (A resident in O’Neill and Campbell. and through processes of consultation and inclusion of residents and sex worker voices we can work in partnership with statutory and voluntary agencies and dedicated sex work projects to reach a pragmatic strategic response to better ‘manage’ prostitution in the Walsall South HAZ area. They found that: Vice units explained that the main complaints from the public were general problems of noise and disturbance associated with street prostitution. all weekend. and creative ways of working with people to consult and make visible their concerns and ideas for change. Dialogic texts can help the de-construction of stereotypes of ‘otherness’ thus challenging the stereotype of the ‘prostitute’ (we prefer the term sex worker) in the public imagination. there were moral issues related to the fact that the working women were • 220 • . Purposeful knowledge can also alter attitudes. Benson and Matthews completed a survey of vice squad activity in the England. and the role of creative inclusion in facilitating spaces for the voices of local people. Purposeful knowledge as praxis emerged from a combination of PAR and PA (as ethno-mimesis) and focused attention upon the standpoints of the people concerned promoting ‘thick’ descriptions of lived cultures and helping audiences to better understand complex issues and lived experiences. no rest. despite the endemic levels of violence against them). In this section the findings from our work with residents and sex workers are identified and re-presented through visual ethno-mimetic texts. and also conducted interviews and ethnographic outreach with women and young women working both on and off street in Walsall. Cultural Sociology as Praxis: Creative Inclusion and Cultural Change Over a period of ten months the research team met and interviewed agencies and residents. In some areas. there is no escape.

litter such as condoms and discarded syringes. and robbery. … They watch you. but for the most part residents were concerned primarily with noise. I’ve lived here eight months now and I am used to it … it doesn’t bother me … but prostitutes have to work somewhere … they are always going to be there. you don’t know who’s approaching them. I wouldn’t like my daughter or my sister or my wife to walk round this area after the dark because. increase in criminal activities such as drug dealing. 2002: 152) • 221 • .. It isn’t their fault and it’s up to them what they do. They also expressed awareness and understanding of the situation for women working on street. Are you in business?’. and the slamming of car doors. et al. you know. ‘they protect them … they watch out for them … for the pimps it’s an easy way to get money’ (O’Neill et al. They should be safe … there should be support and somewhere to go. Fast food eateries and Balti restaurants stretch up … Road. such as noise from kerbcrawlers.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. I feel shame for us when this happens. The speed bumps – Sleeping policemen – ensure that essentially all drivers become kerb crawlers. Groups of men hurry home from the mosque. (Resident at Focus Group 1) The majority were also concerned about how the women and young women involved are personally affected and this included routes in to prostitution and the impact of pimping. disregard for private or communal property. intimidation of residents and fear of reprisals and victimization..qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 221 • • • Feminist Knowledge and Social–cultural Research • • • openly selling sexual services. increases in traffic. 2002: 152). Women standing on corners peer questioningly into the windows of cars cruising through or ask male pedestrians if they want ‘Business’. (O’Neill. The young people at the workshops showed a great deal of understanding about the complexity of the issues.. litter and the activities of kerb crawlers particularly in relation to the harassment of local female residents. The pimps were described as a hidden mafia. Responses of residents fit broader concerns documented nationally. 2003) The big problem for our community is that soon after the dark our sister and daughter wouldn’t go and walk on the road because the people passing are shouting. and the humps raise the eye line of inadvertent drivers so that they have to meet the gaze of the women eye to eye. they said: ‘the pimps are disrespectful … they disrespect women and take their money’. the dirty perverts. but it isn’t very nice when we get seen as a prostitute. (in O’Neill et al. On the subject of pimps. pimping. and male residents solicited by sex workers Webster provides a vivid account of the area where he lives: At night the Green takes on an altogether different character.

and the endemic levels of violence against them. not ordinary people … I think they think we’ve got two heads and are all nymphomaniacs. (ibid. she’s dead – she is a woman too. problematic punters. The main themes emerged as a wish to be seen as ordinary and avoid derogatory stereotypes. In the papers.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. They did not want their children to know what they do and so lead double lives. health issues. but what would they think if they knew? … I’m a mum. Attempts at change for some women were also frustrated by lack of selfesteem. I worry about them all the time. Does it matter that she’s a prostitute. protection of their families was key. drug use. and the effect of fines. and the fact that as a ‘common prostitute’ you have a criminal record. the pivotal issue emerging in our research (and in my previous research over the past 13 years) is how susceptible sex workers are to violence from clients/punters/customers as well as passers-by. it will say ‘a prostitute’ has been murdered. dangers of street work.: 154) • 222 • . and how few rights they have as a ‘common prostitute’: They think you’ve got no rights. and homelessness caused by fleeing violence at home. perverse.: 153) The problems of leading double lives and experiencing prejudice from others is also relevant here: People see women involved in prostitution as weird. (ibid. attempts to escape. (ibid.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 222 • • • Maggie O’Neill • • • Sex workers The key issue that emerged with the work with women working on and off street focused upon safety. I’m just an ordinary mum now when I go to the school. economic necessity.: 153) Overwhelmingly. One bloke tried to ammonia me … he was telling me I was going to give him a blow job for a fiver … he drove past and squirted ammonia at me … it went in my hair and down my coat luckily. This is experienced as very stressful. (ibid. fear of violence. For other women. I’m just like everybody else … I’m really paranoid about the kids. A local woman was very anxious not to be identified because of her desire to protect her children from the knowledge of what she does.: 152) For many women. attempts to do something else were frustrated by people’s attitudes towards them.

Is that bit extra worth your life? Always wear condoms. ‘She might as well have said to the whole room. and also inform and educate young people about the dangers of prostitution. The team agreed that there is a need for agencies and funders to support community arts initiatives which continue to give voice to local concerns regarding safety and consult people about solutions. One woman’s ‘tips of the trade’ artwork is a particularly striking image that would be useful for women and safe sexual health/peer education projects. ‘It’s hard to get out.: 154) Research Recommendations from the Collaboration of PA and PAR The research that took place through the arts workshops and combining PAR and PA let to a range of recommendations. and work generally from home and the rest of life.: 154) The group felt that some of the images that emerged could be used as public health leaflets promoting safety and sexual health.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. One woman went for careers advice mentioning her criminal record – the woman advising her was very unprofessional and insensitive. (ibid.: 153) Another key issue that emerged was the importance given to condom use: At the end of the day you’ve got to go home and kiss your kids – no sex without condoms. and therefore it makes sense to commission more arts projects which offer opportunities to all young people to develop their creative • 223 • . some of which have been carried through. (ibid. many of whom ask for unprotected sex. explore issues. I’ve done nothing else really’ (ibid. Nine out of 10 times you can always sus them out … ‘dodgy punters’ … you might have seen them before in the area. You just get fed up with it when your older. you just don’t want it.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 223 • • • Feminist Knowledge and Social–cultural Research • • • Women felt also that it was much safer to work indoors than outdoors and that there were greater risks and dangers with street prostitution: You don’t see the dangers on the street until something happens. The Arts can be shown to build self-esteem. It was also agreed that a combination of socio-cultural research and community arts can be used to evaluate change and a long-term arts consultation/evaluation project could be developed. This is also a way of educating clients. Some women also talked about other ‘options’ and exiting sex work. It was also felt that research should continue to support initiatives that challenge stereotypes.’ This woman talked about splitting off sex in work. she’s been a prostitute. She wants to move out in two years but wants to start thinking about what she wants to do and undertake some training for another job.

lived experience (life stories). Together the three groups wanted to see the following recommendations actioned: Stop kerbcrawlers harassing women and young people. but also with images.’ Improve support for drug and alcohol problems. Renewed methodologies which incorporate the voices of citizens through scholarly/civic research as participatory research not only can serve to enlighten and raise our awareness of certain issues. Change the law. Address prostitution and kerb crawling so children can ‘retain innocence and be safe’. We can do this not only with words. This would give the two groups marketable arts skills and be integrated into a programme of alternative options – initiatives developed from a grass roots drop-in in collaboration with sex worker projects. local colleges and community arts. • 224 • . ‘The police can’t physically do any more. Cultural opportunities and cultural industries. Work together to create change! Conclusion Through a combination of socio-cultural research (cultural sociology).qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 224 • • • Maggie O’Neill • • • potential and enable them to make positive choices. Create a tolerance zone and allow women to work off street. but can also produce critical reflexive texts that may help to mobilize social change. through cultural sociology in practice. Address the issue of pimps and pimping. Improve safety on street: street lighting and more police in evidence. arts-based training could also be tailored to the needs of sex workers. The emphasis is upon methodologically and theoretically extending the legacy of phenomenology through a hermeneutic. by addressing and challenging sexual and social inequalities with the ‘stereotypical subjects’ of research. visual re-presentations. Address violence against women. with ethno-mimetic texts. Acknowledge women working as prostitutes as ordinary women – as human beings – as mothers and daughters. This renewed methodology is embedded within critical theory as feminist praxis – for our task is not just to understand the world but also to seek to change it.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. and in the process developing hybrid texts generated from ethnographic research (fieldwork/life history interviews/in co-operation with community development) and re-told through artistic re-presentations. Provide support and options to women working on street. this chapter has explored (with a view to developing better understanding across the widest possible audience – lay and academic) some of the key themes and issues evolving from feminist research with sex workers and communities affected by prostitution. and practice/praxis (live art and photographic forms) defined as ethno-mimesis. reflexive understanding in co-operation with the stereotypical subjects of research working together across genres (socio-cultural research/arts/community development).

social services. The latter served to re-present the Bosnian community in ways that challenged negative stereotypes of ‘refugees’ and presented their stories of resistance. 11]. ‘longing’ and re-settlement in the UK which is part of the experience of being in exile.Edwards-3516-Ch-11. Thanks go to Mark Webster. His work is notoriously difficult to understand. October 2000. we developed consultation research on prostitution in the West Midlands. City Arts Nottingham and the City Council Community Development. ‘Global Refugees: the Bosnians in Nottingham – past. Adorno refused to simplify his ideas into the conversational form of everyday language and ‘demanded of the listener not mere contemplation but praxis’ [Jay 1984. USA. The community arts team (represented on the steering group for the research) raised funding to enable the arts aspect of the research to be developed. thus validating their voices and creative reconstructions/re-presentations of their lives before the war. loss. in November and December 2002. Justice. and also discussed in local newspaper articles. Cheng (ed. Oregon. 2 See Hillis Millar’s excellent book Illustration (1992) for a thorough account of the development and role of cultural studies as ‘performative praxis’. informative ways. an asylum seeker. S. Hinchcliffe (eds) (2002) Divers (C)ities: Recoveries and Reclamations. Rugg.qxd 12/28/2006 8:08 PM Page 225 • • • Feminist Knowledge and Social–cultural Research • • • Notes 1 See ‘Global refugees: ethno-mimesis as performative praxis’. Spring 2003. Nottingham.Walsall Community Arts. High St. 3 4 According to O’Neil: Adorno was an outstanding social and cultural theorist. for following this up and being such a staunch supporter of the work and to Walsall Youth Arts and Kate Green. Seedfunding was included in the tender bid for arts-based gathering of data and inclusion of residents and more marginalized groups. a refugee. loss and exile in creative. a larger group acted as a steering group (agency representatives. and together with community arts and community development we facilitated the re-presentation of life history narratives in photographic form (by the people themselves as co-creators of the research) for exhibition in 1999–2001. present and future’ was accessed by a relatively wide audience in the Bonnington Gallery. in J. sex work projects and various voluntary and statutory support agencies). funded by the AHRB the author conducted PAR with ‘refugees’ from BosniaHerzegovina. (O’Neill. Intellect Press: Bristol and Portland. ‘Global refugees: citizenship.safetysoapbox. 2002) 5 For example. power and the law’ in Law. Brentford. This work was able to help a wider population than might ordinarily access the ethnographic research data to see and better understand the experiences of displacement. and Power: An Impossible but Necessary Relationship. The latest work including PAR with an Afghan community in London was exhibited with the Bosnian work at Watermans Multi-media Centre. health 9 A small group of community co-researchers (local residents) came forward to work on the project and were trained in focus groups methods and participated in the ethnographic work too. 6 This was presented at the BSA in Edinburgh 1998 and published as a visual essay in Feminist Review’s special edition Sex Work-Reassed. Nottingham. including police. The ethnographic research was developed in collaboration with the Bosnian Association. displacement and belonging’. See also the special section in Sociology.) University of California at Irvine: Univesity of California Press. through the war and now living in the UK. p. 7 8 Funded by Walsall South HAZ. • 225 • . 37. and D. 2003. ‘Global refugees: towards a sociology of exile. and Professor of Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt. with Bea Tobolewska. member of the Frankfurt School. local councillors. See www.

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