By Aziz Alshahwan
Soraya Altorki and Camillia Fawzi El-Solh (1988). Arab Women in the Field: Studying
Your Own Society. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
In the introduction, the book focus on the issue of how social scientist themselves are
cultural beings whose backgrounds greatly influence the data they gather. With two
important elements, one is being both authors are females and the other is being
indigenous in Arab society, which is mostly segregated by the sexes. All six contributors
are women of Arab descent with Western education. Four of them were raised and
socialized in the Arab world ( Altorki, EI-solh, Morsy, and Shami) and two were raised
in the west (Abu-Lughod and Joseph). Studying one’s own society is not new and it is
started as early as the 1920’s with the study of American minorities but the interest
increased in the 1960s.
The implication of gender played a crucial part in all these studies since they were
carried out in highly segregated societies. Female researcher will have less access to male
subjects and issues while she will have more access than any male in the subject of
female and the same with male. Indigenous field work In the other hand have
indisputable advantage of being able to attach meanings to patterns of that they find out,
faster than those non-indigenous researcher who are not familiar with the culture.
Feminization, Familism, Self, and Politics
Suad Joseph (American)
Suad grow up as an Arab-American which give her the identity of two world and in her
graduate work at Columbia University she focused on the relationship between women,
family, and the polity in the Borj Hammoud municipality in Beirut. She saw herself as
insider/outsider and also as the subject/object in relation to her study. When she enter the
field she thought as if she was going home. She felt an awakening of an old knowledge
learned at an early age. She was seen by the people as mughtarbi ( those who have gone
abroad) which gave her a certain legitimacy and access to people in the neighborhood.
She thought she was caught between the neighbors’ expectations that she should be both
like them and different from them. She was expected to behave as a proper married
She used both structured and unstructured methods. In the structured interviews, she
collected and recorded reams of data and in the unstructured method , she absorbed and
assimilated, often not recorded. Her responses to events and situations became data for
her to reflect upon along with observations of the behavior of other. She conclude that
researchers who research their countries of origin have perhaps the opportunity to
combine the personal and professional in a way that other may not.
At home in the field
Soraya Altorki (Saudi)
Soraya had been brought up in Saudi Arabian family and raised in Egypt from middle
school through college. In her study she focus on urban society and more on the elite
families in Saudi Arabia. Therefore she was at home in the field. The people she studied
saw her as one of them and some of them had ties of kinship and friendship to her family.
She saw fieldwork as a process of resocialization into her own society, but she argue that
being an insider can have even more serious consequences for research because
information might be withheld when it relate to behavior that must be concealed from
public knowledge. If one is outside the system, one’s awareness of what going-on, may
not be problematical. Other argument is an outsider investigating family organization and
inter-family conflict, she or he must gain the confidence of the people and trusted not to
expose family differences to the community. But an outsider status doesn’t have to imply
shared culture knowledge, and thus protect the outsider from applying the same moral
judgments. For this reason also people may not trust the outsider. Now in the case of the
insider is twice bounded first to know and second to be trusted not to conceal family
differences. In the conclusion she point out that in sex-segregation societies, the role of a
female researcher is less limited than that of her male counterpart when the subject under
study includes women as the major participants.
Fieldwork in My Egyptian Homeland
Soheir Morsy (Egyptian)
Soheir traveled the Arab world with the aim to select a community where she can
examine the relation between gender and the health system. She selected a village in the
Nile Delta in Egypt with a population of 3,200. The People in the village identified her as
an upper–class women and they were very curios about how her relationship with her
husband is going for being a part for such a long time. With time people developed an
attitude of sympathy for her. . The researcher never pretended to be one of the village
people and they never expected her to be either, they only saw her as a fellow Egyptian.
Although her research project was focus on gender, power, and illness this selectivity did
not deter the anthropological “holism” by writing everything. Because as she point out
you never know what might be important later. Holism is not only in data collection but
also in a broader national as well as global context. She also point out how in
reciprocating people kindness while she was working on the field may influence her
objectivity and methodology.
Gender, Class, and Origin
Camilla Fwzi (Egyption/Irish)
This study of an Egyptian peasant settlement community in Iraq was carried out by
Camillia who herself is Egyptian with western education. One hundred settlers and their
families were recruited by the Egyptian authorities from various provinces in Egypt.
They arrived in the spring of 1976in the Khalsa Settlement thirty-six miles south of
Baghdad. The researcher perceived herself as an outsider only in the sense of being non-
Iraqi therefore she assumed that she could afford to escape some of the restrictions
applicable to Iraqi women in general. Similar with all Arabic countries, obtaining
research permission in Baghdad necessitates beginning as near to the top of the
bureaucratic ladder. The researcher try to avoid been seen or introduce with or by any
form of authorities because she don’t want to be identify as such which may influence her
work in the field. Since she was Egyptian she was also concern that the settlers might
think that the Egyptian government had sent her to report on them. Although perceptions
of her gender role as an Arab woman restricted her freedom of mobility in specific
situations she believe there are also a number of positive aspects to such status. One
advantage is lies in the time required to carry out research since she was a female she has
easy access to the home and to the settlers wives and she was able to move freely with
them. Had she been a man that would be difficult without the presence of the husband
the brother or the father in the house.
Studying Your Own
Seteney Shami ( Jordanian)
Shami went home to Jordan to study an ethnic minority group named Circassian. She is
a Circassian herself. The community of Circassians numbering about 25,000 clustered in
the Jordanian capital, Amman. In her study she was more interested in question of
ethnicity and national integration, and in understanding factors that affect ethnic
cohesiveness in the context of national polity. She started by interviewing her parents.
When she moved to the field for the first time she felt that she was among her people.
She established a great connection with the community and start taking photo and
observing the community activities such as sport clubs, Tribal Council and various ethnic
organizations. Part of her fieldwork was also done in the Wadi, which is a squatter slum
area in the heart of Amman comprising about 300 household. She saw the Wadi as an
extension of the private sphere of the home. People in the Wadi have two categories of
others. One is madani ( townsfolk) and the other is fallahi (peasants). A madani woman
was one who wore short skirts, and wore makeup. People in the community saw her as
both madani and falllahi because she attainted most of the community function.
Field of a Dutiful Daughter
By Lila Abu-Lughod (Plestinian American)
In 1985 Lila return to the Bedouin community in the Egyptian Western Desert in which
she had spent nearly two years doing fieldwork. She recalled how much she was
welcome when she was doing her fieldwork and lived with one of the family in the area.
Living with one of the family she called or saw herself a dutiful daughter. She argue had
she been an Egyptian (non-Bedouin) she would certainly have faced a set of problems her
non-Egyptian identity allowed her to avoid. She also argue looking at the insider-
outsider researcher issues that in studying Arab group the insider will be identify with a
particular class and way of life not to mention nationality and ethnic group compare to an
outsider. Though she was seen as an Arabic she also faced the problem of only being
partially culturally Arab