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The Fiction of Ethnography in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland

Cameron Awkward-Rich
Science Fiction Studies
Vol. 43, No. 2 (July 2016), pp. 331-350
Published by: SF-TH Inc
DOI: 10.5621/sciefictstud.43.2.0331
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Page Count: 20
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The Fiction of Ethnography in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's
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In the introduction to Women Writing Culture (1995)—an anthology of writing by feminist anthropologists compiled, in part, in response to the masculinism of the highly influential Writing Culture (1986) anthology—Ruth Behar proposes that Charlotte Perkins Gilman could be a starting point for an alternative, feminist genealogy of social theory, a proposal that is not reflected in the body of Behar's discussion. This kind of invocation, however, seems to be how Gilman has been engaged with in the social sciences: many people recognize that she might be important and that she is probably useful for feminist projects writ large, but no one seems certain of exactly how. Following from the focus on ethnography as a kind of writing central to both Writing Culture and Women Writing Culture, this article offers one kind of answer to how Gilman may be useful to the development of a specifically feminist ethnography, recognizing the importance of the function of the ethnographer-narrator of her most successful utopian sf novel, Herland (1915). In particular, I argue that Gilman uses boredom strategically to undercut the geographical, cultural, and sexual domination inherent to the narrative of the (white) male quest in which modern anthropology is rooted.

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