Read Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story by Ruth Behar Free Online
Book Title: Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story|
The author of the book: Ruth Behar
Edition: Beacon Press
Date of issue: May 15th 2003
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 332 KB
City - Country: No data
Loaded: 1358 times
Reader ratings: 4.3
ISBN 13: 9780807046470
Read full description of the books:
Someone I know said that the first half of this book, which mostly relates Esperanza's story in her terms (although translated from Spanish to English), would be hard to understand for an undergraduate in sociology or anthropology, or for someone who isn't well-acquainted with ethnography. This is because Behar does not enter into the analysis throughout the first half of the book, but concentrates the analysis at the end in chapters devoted to that kind of thinking. So this book does not make it easy to find the important points in it, and in many ways it is a critique of ethnographies, so if you don't know what an ethnography tends to look like, some of the implied points in this book would be easy to miss. I think I agree with this idea about the book in general.
But I also think that this book offers two important conceptual tools that I haven't seen anywhere else (although I do not claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of ethnographies or ideas related to them). The concepts are "translation" and "borders". These concepts are used in many parts of the book, and are never explicitly defined, but you can tease out the importance of the terms. So essentially, the typical way we think about "translation" as moving from one language to another, and "borders" as signifying the border of a country, can both be widely expanded so that we can find borders and translation in every sphere of social life. So if you get an assistant professorship at a prestigious university, you're "crossing a border" into that particular academic world (of the department that hired you), but you're also crossing the more general border of being recognized as legitimate by academia in general. So when crossing a border, "translation" often occurs or needs to occur. So perhaps at your previous university you worked on several things, but then at the new prestigious university they want you to work on different kinds of things, and you need to "translate" your research interests to stay true to what you care about but also align with the new features across the border. Etc. You can find borders and talk about efforts at translation in basically every sphere of social life, and while this book does not make this explicit claim (because doing so would put too much of a finality to it, and she's against doing that kind of thing), you can tease it out by comparing what she says about translation and borders across the different chapters of the book.
I appreciate the translation/border perspective as a more empowering way to think about social worlds in disjuncture than the “split habitus” idea. The “split habitus” is a feeling that people who have experienced social mobility often have. The world they grew up with and the world important for their occupational field are incompatible in many ways, which creates feelings of anxiety, or other feelings of unease, when in each social world. Friedman (2014, in a book called Comedy and Distinction) goes so far as to call people with strongly split habiti “culturally homeless”—they don’t feel at home either in the world where they grew up or in the world of their occupational field. Pierre Bourdieu (a famous French sociologist) developed the idea of the split habitus to help account for himself—Bourdieu experienced an incredible degree of social mobility for someone in France, growing up in a poor provincial town to holding a chair at the Collège de France, the most prestigious realm of French academia.
So I think the translation/border idea is more empowering than the “split habitus” idea, because I don’t know what you can do with “split habitus” other than feel sorry for yourself. But with the translation/border perspective, you can identify borders and describe them, which is an interesting exercise that can help you gain a better understanding of your particular situation. And then after you’ve described the borders, you can think about translation between the worlds, something that casts the situation in a more interesting and empowering way that releases your ability to be creative about negotiating the boundary.
In terms of the data in the book, the events Esperanza discusses occurred in the past, and, therefore, Behar cannot access them except through interviews. I appreciated the detailed transcriptions in the book. But I also thought that we can’t rely too much on the factual consent of these accounts, thinking of recent challenges to the primacy of accounts in sociology (e.g., Jerolmack and Khan 2014b). Behar is, however, careful to hedge her claims about the story, unlike the kind of sociology critiqued by Jerolmack and Khan (2014a). Behar clearly understands the life history as a story, and often discusses how Esperanza did not allow certain things to enter into the story, like her sexuality. Esperanza did not want to discuss her sexuality likely as a result of this being a generally taboo topic for women in rural Mexico, which Behar discusses (in terms of the women not being permitted to enjoy sexual pleasure). But she was also usually with two or more of her younger children (Gabriela, Norberta, and Mario) when talking to Behar, and this clearly coloured the interviews. So what we have is a story—a story meant to socialize her children, in part. I think this is okay as long as we understand that this is such a story, and I think we can admire Behar for being honest about who was present during the interviews (something that many ethnographers leave out).
Behar, though, does supplement her interviews with participant observation. She lives in the community, and we sometimes see Behar dealing with the same social pressures that makes Esperanza afraid of being seen talking to Behar about her life history (e.g., a boy yelling “Gringa!” at her in an angry tone, and people drawing insulting words on her car). We are also transported across the border of a cult, which is a very interesting experience, to say the least. Behar also accompanies Esperanza into a large city, which allows us to see the validity in Esperanza’s fears of being seen with Behar, as well as seeing specific detail about how Esperanza’s peddling works (being invited inside and chatting sometimes, for example).
I was hoping that there would be a chapter about the confessions of inquisition and how these related to Esperanza’s story. Behar talks about her work researching confessions during the inquisition, and sometimes tangentially refers to how these relate to Esperanza's stories, and I would have appreciated a chapter that discussed this in detail. But perhaps the book was already long enough and given a few statements in the autobiographical chapter, it seems like she was already publishing about that before finishing the book. But the topic of “confessions” is a very interesting one. Like “translation” and “border”, I think “confession” can apply to most ethnographers, and having some investigation of that concept would have, I think, been satisfying. We could also, for example, see the autobiographical chapter as an attempt at “confession”. I also see opportunities for “confession” every day in social life, and wished that she would have helped develop that concept (given her extensive experience with it, in terms of the inquisition archives).
Friedman, Sam. 2014. Comedy and Distinction: The Cultural Currency of a “Good” Sense of Humour. New York, USA: Routledge.
Jerolmack, Colin and Shamus Khan. 2014a. “Talk Is Cheap: Ethnography and the Attitudinal Fallacy.” Sociological Methods & Research 43(2):178–209.
Jerolmack, Colin and Shamus Khan. 2014b. “Toward an Understanding of the Relationship Between Accounts and Action.” Sociological Methods & Research 43(2):236–47.
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