Theme Panel: Space Invaders in Comparative Politics? Feminist Women of Color Perspectives

Space Invaders in Comparative Politics? Feminist Women of Color Perspectives

Full Paper Panel
Division 31: Women and Politics Research
Co-sponsored Theme Panel

Participants:
(Chair) Robin L. Turner, Butler University; (Discussant) Zachariah Cherian Mampilly, Baruch College, CUNY; (Discussant) Sean Yom, Temple University

Session Description:
Women of color often are treated as “space invaders” to the political science discipline (Alexander-Floyd 2015). Violating the unstated disciplinary norms of cisgender white manhood, our bodies are perceived to bias our research and reduce its generalizability. These perceptions are particularly fraught for women of color scholars who engage in comparative qualitative or interpretive research. Not fully at home among relatively women-friendly but overwhelmingly white comparative qualitative/interpretive scholars nor with U.S.-focused feminist women of color scholars, we must navigate between multiple subfields of this heteropatriarchal white supremacist discipline. Our “outsider-within” location in comparative qualitative/interpretive political science poses distinctive challenges but also presents the opportunity for novel insights on politics, the subfield, and the discipline. Our experiences can and should inform how the discipline works towards a more equitable, inclusive, and just post-pandemic political science. The diverse set of women of color qualitative scholars use autoethnography to map how each author navigates comparative politics and other subfields while also carving out possible spaces of belonging and imagining a more just and inclusive future for political science.

Papers:

Never Fully Belonging, Always at Risk of Violence: Women of Color Perspectives
Natasha Behl, Arizona State University

Why do we find pervasive racial and gendered violence in the academe when universities are committed to meritocracy and diversity? Why are women of color severely underrepresented in political science, despite the discipline’s decades long commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion? I use an interpretive approach, particularly autoethnography, to explain the persistence of gender- and race-based inequality and to challenge longstanding policy prescriptions for achieving equality and inclusion. This analysis demonstrates that conventional policies, such as mentoring and networking, perpetuate the very inequalities they are ostensibly designed to remedy because these policies are themselves tangled up in intersecting power relations. In this essay, I critically examine the primary tools of othering that I experienced while mapping the mechanisms—racial, gendered, and epistemic oppression—that cause unequal belonging in political science. Through an autoethnographic account, I provide insight into the difficulty of diversifying political science, highlight some of the factors that cause women of color to (in)voluntarily exit the profession, and identify writing as an act of survival and resistance. These insights can and should inform political science as it strives for a more just future.

Reflections on Multiple Consciousness and Space Invasion in Comparative Politics
Robin L. Turner, Butler University

“Being a problem is a strange experience, —peculiar even for one who has never been anything else,” W.E.B. du Bois observed in Souls of Black Folk. His observation resonates more than a century later for those positioned as problematic “space invaders” in comparative politics, in the discipline, and in the academy. This paper illuminates how heteropatriarchal white empiricism shapes these fields through an autoethnographic account of my peculiar experiences as an African American cisgender woman and qualitative comparative politics scholar. I argue the multiple consciousness arising from this vantage point presents a conundrum. On the one hand, being a space invader may facilitate critical analysis of the discipline, of the political phenomena we study, and of our positionality and how it shapes our data. On the other hand, our insights are less likely to be accepted as credible because our capacity as knowers is suspect. Space invaders who engage in the open, active reflexivity interpretivists call may find it diminishes rather than buttressing the trustworthiness of their work. This conundrum arises from heteropatriarchal white empiricism and needs to be addressed in working towards a better, more robust post-pandemic political science.

Do as I Say, Not as I Did? Being a Unicorn in a Tough Job Markets
Erica Townsend-Bell, Oklahoma State University

I am often asked to share how I came to the work I do. It is a question familiar to many but in my case the “How (in the heck) did you come to work on Uruguay” (and on intersectionality to boot!) also serves as the equivalent of the “Where are you really from?” question. My answer is well refined by now, but the genesis of the question is that it is odd, and perhaps misguided, to attend to such a presumably narrow and ungeneralizable case. This perception holds regardless of the broader theoretical and empirical engagements on race, gender, and intersectional politics that my research has helped to illuminate. I concede that my research trajectory is odd in some ways, because it has required me to chart my own path in ways that are not clearly viable for up-and-coming scholars to follow. I engage a practice of autoethnography to examine the role that timing, and networks played in the evolution of my career path, and their impacts on the advice I might give to younger scholars who seek to follow into a discipline that remains hostile to engagement with a real diversity of questions, methodological approaches and people.

“Don’t You Just Study Filipinos? How Is This Political Science?”: Reflections
Ethel Tungohan, York University

Within Political Science, where quantitative/positivist approaches are still the norm, women of colour are largely still seen as “space invaders” (Alexander-Floyd 2015). Those of us who do qualitative and interpretive research face added pressures. We have to navigate the dual pressures of proving, first, that women of colour are legitimate members of the discipline and second, that qualitative/interpretive approaches are valid research approaches. Despite the emergence of more research proving the gendered racism that women of colour academics face (see, e.g., Michelson & Lavariega Monforti 2021) and the increasing prominence of the interpretive methods subfield in Political Science, my experiences show Political Science largely remains resistant to diversifying membership and methodology. In this paper, I share my reflections on recent experiences navigating peer review and the political science job market to illustrate the challenges of being a woman of colour using qualitative/interpretive methods when researching Filipino migrant communities. Using comments that I have received from anonymous peer reviewers and from political science job search committees as the starting point of my analysis, I highlight how conventional political science tropes regarding objectivity, parsimony and generalizability still influence how political scientists evaluate scholarly merit. In my case, my presence within the subfield of Canadian and Comparative Political Science, where women of colour are still in the minority (Canadian Political Science Diversity Task Force 2018), and my use of interpretive and socially-engaged research methods mean that I constantly have to navigate oftentimes loaded questions regarding ‘fit’ and ‘rigour.’


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