The cross-publics of ethnography

The case of “the Muslimwoman”

by Lila Abu-Lughod

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Engaged anthropology, public anthropology, and public ethnography are names for a long tradition of trying to make a difference beyond the academy. The passionate and polarized responses of both nonacademic publics and engaged scholars in adjacent fields to my attempt to intervene in public debates about Muslim women's rights raise questions about the ethics, politics, and potentials of ethnography's travels across fractured global publics. They illuminate the geopolitical terrain of current debates about feminism and Islamophobia and reveal that ethnography may be most effective in interrupting or unsettling hegemonic representations and political formations when it makes available alternative accounts of lives and communities that can then authorize and give substance to critics’ arguments. Does this instrumentalization of ethnography benefit those whose lives anthropologists share through fieldwork?