Roberta Perkins and Gary Bennett’s Being a Prostitute: Prostitute Women and Prostitute Men (1985) focuses on male and female prostitution in a specific Australian area, and is part of a wider Australian social project aiming at giving prostitutes a voice through which they can express their reality. Perkins and Bennett gathered interviews conducted with sex workers, and included many surveys and statistics to both better describe the daily existence of sex workers and present to the public what the prostitutes want them to know through their narratives. The first-hand data makes up for the non-theoretical approach, which gives the book a more accessible tone. However, the lack of critical, more analytical content also makes it rather dry, for it becomes difficult to move beyond the local limitations of the interviews and statistics that are not more widely contextualized and incorporated in the extended movement against the oppression of prostitutes. The title is clear: the project is centred on the living conditions of sex workers. It does not explore the clients’ world nor does it ask for experts’ explanations. It simply gives the female and male sex workers a place to express what they believe the public needs to know about their lived experiences of prostitution.
By Dominique Hétu
In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (1999) Linda Tuhiwai Smith examines the term “research” from a colonized and indigenous position as a Maori researcher working as “the outsider within” (5). More specifically, she writes from the position of an indigenous Maori woman from New Zealand (i.e. from the context of the First World). For indigenous peoples, research is intricately tied to European imperialism and Western researchers and intellectuals. According to the author, research is “implicated in the worst excesses of colonialism … a powerful remembered history for many of the world’s colonized peoples” (1). This collective remembered history of colonization is shared by many indigenous communities in both First World nations and developing countries. Significantly, indigenous peoples have alternative stories of resistance, or counter-stories, to tell about the history of Western research from the positioning of the colonized. Although local and global stories may represent spaces of marginalization, these have also become spaces of resistance, survival, recovery, healing, and hope for indigenous communities and increasing numbers of indigenous academics and researchers who are now addressing all-important issues such as indigenous research, indigenous research protocols or policies ,and indigenous methodologies, in addition to self-determination, decolonization, and social justice.
Decolonizing Methodologies can be divided into two major sections. The first section discusses subjects linked to imperialism, research, and knowledge, while the second section explores different approaches and methodologies to ensure that research with indigenous peoples remains “respectful, ethical, sympathetic, and useful” (9) because all too often it has resulted in the objectification and dehumanization of the Other (39). Moreover, Tuhiwai Smith discusses various related topics to colonized and indigenous peoples, including contested histories of imperialism and colonialism, Western research and colonizing knowledges, community and tribal research, ethical research practices, and insider/outsider research and indigenous researchers. The author also presents numerous indigenous projects that focus on the all-encompassing role of story-telling, remembering, testifying, indigenizing, restoring, and negotiating, spaces that essentially inform indigenous knowledges. While the first five chapters attempt to explain the reason for indigenous peoples’ distrust of research on account of the burden of history, the last five chapters indicate a growing dialogue, despite the problematic positioning of indigenous researchers, between indigenous peoples working as researchers and indigenous communities.
The outsider within positioning of research refers to indigenous researchers whose training is within the Western academy and specific disciplinary methodologies. It also underscores the tightrope positioning of indigenous researchers with a primarily Western education, which poses certain difficulties to critics who allude to indigenous researchers’ resulting “unauthentic” position to “research back” (in the same tradition as to “write or talk back”) (7). Consequently, indigenous researchers find themselves working as both insiders and outsiders in their own communities as they attempt to demystify discourses of research among the economically oppressed, ethnic minorities, and indigenous peoples; to re-present, articulate and share indigenous knowledges as a long-term commitment to decolonization; and to develop indigenous peoples as researchers. Furthermore, Decolonizing Methodologies endeavours to provide knowledge, due to the lack of literature, about the particular issues faced by indigenous researchers. What remains clear in any discussion of indigenous cultural politics and contexts, as well as indigenous “insider” dynamics, is the necessity to take into account critical questions during research practices: Whose knowledge is it? Whose research is it? Who will benefit from this research and who will carry it out? In effect, Linda Tuhiwai Smith argues for “decolonizing” the ways in which indigenous researchers relate inside and outside their own indigenous communities and the academe, and for framing research as a site of struggle for indigenous peoples in recovering their own stories of the past.
By Natasha Dagenais
In his review for Amazon.ca of Terry Cochran’s book entitled Twilight of the Literary: Figures of Thought in the Age of Print (2001), Paul Bové writes that “this is a book about our world and how we might be said to have come to be who and where we are, and why, in large part, we now have so much trouble thinking about our situation.” The ubiquity of first-person plural pronouns with which the reviewer, whether consciously or unconsciously, constructs his comment conveniently illustrates the focus of Cochran’s book, i.e. the way in which the idea of a common human spirit, the “we,” “us,” and “our” as used here by Bové, became the trusted and unshakeable anchor of the Western world’s study, understanding, and appreciation of the human sciences.
Cochran, a professor of Comparative Literature at the Université de Montréal, and evidently a scholar steeped in Dante and in the works of early 20th century German and Italian political philosophers, particularly Gramsci, Benjamin, and Adorno, writes that “this book— the presuppositions underlying it, the questions it addresses, and the analyses it advances—resides at a specific historical juncture that enables a new critical perspective on the material bases of modernity” (2). That specific historical juncture is simply the here, the now. The human sciences, history, and literature in particular, as they have been studied and taught in the past, are, according to Cochran, if not dead, then certainly well into their “twilight” years. And, as with life in general, the twilight years bring with them a sharper perception of life’s defining moments, and a modicum of prescience of what is in store for those who follow.
Cochran is, throughout the book, mulling over modernity. He examines the components of modernity, particularly the “modern literary tradition” (29), in shaping Western thought since “the West’s (and, ultimately, the globe’s) relative disengagement from a theologically grounded view of human history” (1). Such a scrutiny of secular modernity serves the human sciences because, he says, “The current multiplicity of media seems to call for other models of consciousness that give a greater place to images and permit other notions of collective belonging not cordoned off in a territorial and linguistic imaginary” (30). The author suggests, in other words, that having an understanding of the background, evolution, and nature of our current modes of thinking (“modernity’s intellectual configuration”) centred as they are on human agency, will help us to respond to the call for new ways of analyzing, theorizing, and assessing future cultural products and their impact on the individual and the collective. In what he calls “the whirlwind of contemporary transformation” (30), relying on modernity’s human-centred modes of thinking in today’s technologically driven societies inevitably results in “necessary” anachronisms (30) – “necessary” because they are the natural outcome of such thinking. “Anachronism has become the condition of twenty-first-century modernity,” he writes (30). In other words, the terms and paradigms we have been using for centuries to theorize products of human thought, literature for one, when applied to current cultural products, provide results that are, as the dictionary’s definition of anachronism suggests, “out of harmony,” with the period in which they are being proposed.
In Chapter 7, Cochran’s intent is to think about the “material underpinnings of culture” by “examining it in relationship to the web of interests that constitute and police it” (189). Such an examination is integral to being able to “envision an understanding of culture that does not rest squarely on the supremacy of print,” an understanding which, it seems, will be essential if we want to survive intellectually in our “media-based global society” (189).
Just as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz’s prodigious 17th century bureaucratic texts act as an effective foil upon which Cochran, in his introduction, lays out and examines the push for the institutionalization of print media, the political philosopher Antonio Gramsci provides the author in Chapter 7 with a “comprehensive theory of culture” from which to offer an analysis of the power, particularly the socio-political power, of print culture. Cochran finds “On the Margins of History (The History of Subaltern Social Groups),” one of Gramsci’s prison notebooks, to be particularly pertinent. This is because, in its concern with how one documents the history of subaltern groups, it “immediately demonstrates both the explanatory power of Gramsci’s analyses and the assumptions that produce his interpretations” (190). Cochran quotes Gramsci’s description of the way in which, “with the advent of the modern state,” communities and social groups lost their autonomy over cultural and political affairs:
The modern state replaces the mechanical bloc of social groups by subordinating them to the active hegemony of the ruling and dominant group, thus abolishing some autonomies that however are reborn in another form, as parties, unions, associations of culture. (“Quaderno 25,” 2287) (192)
“From this description,” writes Cochran, “it is not difficult to understand why the transformation of the so-called modern state is accompanied by the emergence of codified languages, by enormous efforts to renew and expand social institutions such as universities, and by controlled support for print technology and all its material and immaterial products” (192).
Cochran also explains Gramsci’s “take” on Machiavelli’s notion of “the Prince.” According to Gramsci, Machiavelli describes the “transformed nature of state power” by embodying it in the figure of the Prince. In his writings, says Cochran, Gramsci proposes that the Prince embodies the “symbol of the collective will” (193). He writes that the Prince “could also be a political leader who wants to conquer a state or establish a new type of state; in this sense, ‘Prince’ could be translated in modern terms as ‘political party’” (193).
Cochran’s close reading of Gramsci’s notebooks enables him to describe and analyze the impact that print has had on the development of modern humanist thinking. He then takes a similar approach to Walter Benjamin’s seminal text, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility.” He compares and contrasts the ideas put forward by the two philosophers, and uses the results to show how tightly modern thought is tied to print, print journalism, and particularly literature.
By Michelle Ariss
Perfectly fitted for the analysis of prostitution in the globalization era, Transnational Prostitution: Changing Patterns in a Global Context (2002), edited by Susanne Thorbek and Bandana Pattanaik, explores all aspects of the sex workers’ world. From the terminology used by prostitutes to theoretical and critical articles on both sex workers and clients, it seeks to take into account the purposes and consequences of prostitutes’ migration around the world. The book discusses female sex workers’ objective of becoming entrepreneurs and others’ predicament of being mobile workers worldwide. Consequently, the editors have put an emphasis on the dangers of considering prostitutes solely as passive victims and thus as invisible social actors. All in all, it appears clear that in the globalization era, the migration and mass movement of prostitutes influences their life conditions, their roles as women (as mothers, as daughters) and their position as social subjects participating in the international economy. Never forgetting how prostitutes are victims of the sex trade industry, the editors nevertheless deepen the understanding of what prostitution is in the globalization era by bringing these women back as active participants in the world-wide economy and politics without, however, forgetting that they remain victims of international, national, and local systems of oppression.
By Dominique Hétu