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Critical urban collaborative ethnographies: articulating community with Sappho for Equality in Kolkata, India

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This article reflects on the notion of community through a collaborative ethnographic study with women loving women in Kolkata. Performing critical urban ethnographies in the global south and writing about sexualities that defy easy spatial categorizations are vital for those who seek to extend the scholarship of sexualities beyond the ‘gayborhood paradigm’ in the global north. This article focuses on how women loving women understand community and activism in Kolkata, a city that exists within tireless attempts at economic rejuvenation and vibrant modes of living. The question of community is moot in political activism around decriminalization of same-sex relationships and social legitimacy of the same. Drawing on collaborative ethnographic work with Sappho for Equality, an activist collective working with sexually marginalized women in eastern India, we engage with community as a space through which women loving women articulate marginalization and strategically connect with normative social institutions. I begin my discussion by introducing the notion of critical collaborative ethnography as a way to practice accountability in social research. Following that through select ethnographic vignettes, I demonstrate how a ‘queer community’ is not a predetermined end but is always in the making: a process that forms and dissipates within specific material contexts, activist practices, and social encounters.
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Keywords: India; Kolkata; collaborative ethnography; community; comunidad; etnografĂ­a colaborativa; mujeres que aman a mujeres; queer; women loving women

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice Studies, University of Southern Indiana, 8600 University Blvd, Evansville, IN, 47712, USA

Publication date: September 14, 2015

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