Silvia Wojczewski, Cultivating Caring Relationships in Feminist Research Practice

Les mariées, Oxana Chi and Layla Zami, 2019 © Christophe Schwartz

The drawing “Les mariées” from Christophe Schwartz allows me to reflect about care on different scales. While writing my PhD thesis, I asked my partner if he would draw my research interlocutors. Drawings have the advantage of being more anonymous than photography (in drawings you can play more with the features of a person to make them a bit less recognizable), yet they are at the same time very intimate as the person who draws is trying to capture a unique facial expression and hint of personality. The drawings I asked my partner to do are also meant as homage to the women and as a sign of respect and gratitude for their collaboration. Mostly they underline that this work is based on intimate relations that I was able to rely on as well as to build further during the PhD process. The people you see are two interlocutors of my research, Oxana Chi and Layla Zami, a Black Queer married couple, Oxana is a dancer, choreographer and performer and Layla is a Gender studies scholar, artist and musician. Both have taught me a lot about care: They embody Black feminist ideals. Caring for each other and building ‘chosen families’ (Weston 1997) of Black sisterhoods worldwide.

Care has an important place in my research practice and I approach it in the sense of “relations of interdependence” (Care collective 2020) between my interlocutors and myself. We should care for our research interlocutors but let us also consider and make transparent the many ways our interlocutors care for us. Especially as anthropologists we so often give ourselves into the care of others. We stay in guest families who often cook for us and welcome us into their family homes, so called key informers who more often than not become close friends and people we talk to when we don’t understand things and who comfort us when we feel alone in the field. In my case it was friends whom I worked with who supported me emotionally and intellectually. And for this care we receive, we have to think of how to reciprocate that, is how I like to think about ethics of care in research. We as researchers have to think of the responsibility we have for our interlocutors during the fieldwork and beyond into the writing process. As an author and researcher I constantly deal with how I represent people I work with and how I should include my own role in the research process and in writing? In my case it turned a lot about questions of me as a white female researcher trying to represent Black women’s lives and to talk about the differences between our lives and experiences. The recognition of (structural) difference is for me essential to forming a relationship of care. Working with Black women and friends gave me clues about how collaborative research could look like also by “cultivating relationships of discomfort” (Boudreau 2017), by acknowledging difference and the unease it sometimes brings with it. The recognition of difference (based on class, race, gender and more) is the basis for developing caring relationships. It should not stop there for sure but it should be the basis for developing strategies and actions, for example of self-care, caring for the other and community care, which is very much what Audre Lorde, Sara Ahmed and other Black feminists claim for all kinds of coalitions of solidarity. 

Boudreau Morris, Katie. 2017. “Decolonizing solidarity: cultivating relationships of discomfort.”  Settler colonial studies 7 (4):456-473.

Weston, Kath. 1997. Families we choose: Lesbians, gays, kinship: Columbia University Press.

Care Collective. 2020. Care Manifesto. The Politics of Interdependence. Verso Pamphlets series

Silvia Wojczewski  is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Geography and Sustainability at the University of Lausanne and is finishing her PhD thesis “Relating Afrodiasporic Identities in Germany: Life-stories of Millennial Women”. She is interested in the construction of diasporic identities and kinship, the intersection of middle class, race and gender. She uses feminist anthropology as analytical lens.