Jineteras, Luchadoras and the Awkward Tourist-Anthropologist in Havana: People as Categories

Anne-Mette Hermansen

Abstract


In this article I argue that research ethics applications, although necessary, are problematic for aspiring anthropologists because they curb the imaginationand provide a rigid template for conceptualizing one’s research project and categorizing one’s research participants. The process of applying forces applicants to invent social units that do not necessarily hold empirical validity. To exemplify I describe my own, unsuccessful search for jineteras in Havana, Cuba. Jinetera is a stigma applied to some women who have relationships to foreign men that are sexualized and commercialized to various degrees. I will unpack this category and show that the stigma itself is useless in defining individual women’s life strategies. However, categories (of people) are not in and of themselves useless. The second part of my argument concerns the utility of taking our informants’ categories seriously, not to replicate them, but to use them as vehicles for discovering some properties of the relationships between our informants and their surroundings,including their relationships to researchers. To demonstrate this, I use my own position during fieldwork as the awkward tourist anthropologist. In conclusion I argue that the strength of anthropology lies in explaining social relationships, not in listing people according to already defined categories.



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