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A feminist and decolonial perspective on passing the test in activist ethnography: Dealing with embeddedness through prefigurative methodology

Claire Jin Deschner (Leicester School of Business, Leicester, UK)
Léa Dorion (Laboratoire RITM (EA 7360), Université Paris-Saclay, Paris, France)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 29 January 2020

Issue publication date: 12 June 2020



The purpose of this paper is to question the idea of “passing a test” within activist ethnography. Activist ethnography is an ethnographic engagement with social movement organizations as anti-authoritarian, anarchist, feminist and/or anti-racist collectives. It is based on the personal situating of the researcher within the field to avoid a replication of colonialist research dynamics. Addressing these concerns, we explore activist ethnography through feminist standpoint epistemologies and decolonial perspectives.


This paper draws on our two activist ethnographies conducted as PhD research in two distinct European cities with two different starting points. While Léa entered the field through her PhD research, Claire partly withdrew and re-entered as academic.


Even when activist researchers share the political positioning of the social movement they want to study, they still experience tests regarding their research methodology. As activists, they are accountable to their movement and experience – as most other activist – a constant threat of exclusion. In addition, activist networks are fractured along political lines, the test is therefore ongoing.


Our contribution is threefold. First, the understanding of tests within activist ethnography helps decolonizing ethnography. Being both the knower and the known, activist ethnographers reflect on the colonial and heterosexist history of ethnography which offers potentials to use ethnography in non-exploitative ways. Second, we conceive of activist ethnography as a prefigurative methodology, i.e. as an embedded activist practice, that should therefore answer to the same tests as any other practice of prefigurative movements: it should aim to enact here and now the type of society the movement reaches for. Finally, we argue that activist ethnography relies on and contribute to developing consciousness about the researcher’s political subjectivity.



Deschner, C.J. and Dorion, L. (2020), "A feminist and decolonial perspective on passing the test in activist ethnography: Dealing with embeddedness through prefigurative methodology", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 205-222.



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