My dissertation has been a deeply personal project from the beginning. It would make sense, then, that page 99 finds me in the middle of a section titled “My Role as Researcher” in the middle of Chapter 2—Methodology. The beginning of the page reads:
“[I] was able to participate in and co-construct relationships in a natural manner, sharing personal stories from my own diagnosis and life experiences, speeding along the process of developing relationships with participants.”
My dissertation examines the linguistic and social practices of women in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with an intersex chromosomal condition known as Turner Syndrome. I share the same intersex embodiment as my participants, being diagnosed at age 10. I was initially hesitant to be overly personal in this section, afraid of engaging in excessive “naval gazing”. Without this disclosure, however, a huge methodological part of my work would be missing. During sixteen months of in-person fieldwork and five years of virtual fieldwork, I developed close friendships with many of my collaborators, which occasionally resulted in my professional and personal worlds colliding. What would it mean for me to be a publicly disclosed intersex scholar? Will people think less of me for including such personal details in my work? Am I letting my own personal experiences color my interpretation? On page 99, I cite Galey Modan and her 2016 article about ethnographer-informant relationships:
“Virtual ethnography and incorporating new media technology also allows for an intermingling of personal and professional worlds, blurring boundaries and intensifying processes that were already part of ethnographic processes (Modan, 2016)”.
This blurring of boundaries is something that I continue to ponder, especially as Modan notes that social media may have the power to “balance out power relations, because it can provide informants the opportunity to turn the gaze on us when we’re not aware of them. As someone who works in both virtual and in-person spaces with active online participants, I certainly feel the need to ensure my work does justice by them.
As I re-read the final words of the page, I begin to shift uncomfortably in my seat:
“Factors that continuously presented themselves as important markers of distinction throughout my research included: holding citizenship of the United States, being categorized as white or light-skinned, having resources and connections from large universities and governmental institutions within the United States and Brazil, being a multilingual native English speaker, my capacity for domestic and international travel…”
Seeing my laundry list of demographic attributes laid bare, especially without the further contextualization, makes me wonder if the fears embedded in the questions above are all-too-true. Laid bare like this, it reads a bit like census data. I admit, I initially hoped that page 99 would contain some lovely ethnographic prose and thick description of the women I worked with. I feel it is fitting, though, that page 99 would ultimately reveal the intimate, personal nature of my dissertation, and push me to continue to reflect on my place within this larger community of Turner Syndrome women that I find myself in, both personally and professionally.
Modan, Gabriella. (2016). Writing the Relationship: Ethnographer-Informant Interactions in the New Media Era. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 26(1), 98–107.
Ashlee Dauphinais Civitello completed her PhD in Hispanic Linguistics in 2021. She is an Assistant Professor of Spanish Linguistics in the Department of Foreign Languages & Literature at the University of Nebraska Omaha. She is currently preparing a book manuscript that builds upon her dissertation titled Butterfly Warriors: Language and the Intersex Body in Brazil.