Abu-Lughod’s Writing Women’s Worlds: Introduction

I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable Lila Abu-Lughod’s introduction to Writing Women’s World was. Usually, I am that reader who skips over introductions-finding them tedious without good reason. After reading about the unique connection she made with the Ali Bedouin community in her preface, I was interested as to why she chose to write this ethnography using storytelling.

While in the introduction Abu-Lughod very clearly explains why storytelling became the technique she uses, before she discusses the use of the word culture. It was that part of the introduction I find most interesting, because as an anthropologist I don’t tend to think of the word culture being accompanied by any particularly demeaning ideology- for instance say the words civilize and race do. Abu-Lughod with her own points and the perspectives borrowed from others, challenged me to access my understanding of the usage of the word culture. She explains that using this word, whether consciously or unconsciously, can cause anthropologist to make generalization that lock non-Western groups into a category referred to as “other”, leaving readers to put themselves into the category “self”. These two categories can be problematic, because it doesn’t address the fact that everyone’s experience within their culture is unique- some not conforming in any way to generalizations made. Somewhat instinctively, the reader is also less likely to recognize similarities between “self” and “other” because the dialogue has been set up in a way where both sides are put on opposite ends.

After reading the preface and introduction, I am looking forward to continuing Writing Women’s World. Specifically focusing on how Abu-Lughod’s decision to use storytelling did or did not steer her away from making generalizations- as she criticizes doing so in her introduction.