‘Hair economies’: power and ethics in an ethnographic study of female African hairdressers in Cape Town

Settler, Henrietta Monica (2017-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In this empirical study, which focused on power and ethics, I explored the relationship between the researcher and the research participant in the context of migrant African women in Cape Town. The study, located in hair styling salons, had dual aims; one ethnographic and the other methodological. In the ethnographic context of the hair salons, I sought to analyse how female migrants from African countries chose specific economic activities that express their cultural or gendered identities. Methodologically, this study was aimed at identifying and analysing how the power between the researcher and the research participants impacted on a study of migrant women’s experiences, with specific consideration of the social and economic contexts within which research participants navigate and assert their own agency. Participant observation was used as the primary data collection method, a method that I used in conjunction with semi-structured interviews. For a period of 12 weeks, between May 2013 and August 2013 I entered and engaged the social world of migrants and hair salons in Mowbray, Cape Town. From the onset securing access to the research field and participants proved to be a challenge since initial possibilities of access to a primary identified site was denied. Through a process of negotiation and securing access, I, as researcher had to confront issues of privilege in relation to migrants, even though my race and gender provided me with a degree of intersectionality in relation to African migrant women. Further, I found that not only does migrant women`s ownership and labour in hair salons disrupt imagined ideas about their mobility, but also that they asserted their agency by presenting me, the researcher, with a protracted set of rules of engagement. This resolved, to a degree, their vulnerability and my power as a researcher. By default, I managed to find a salon owner willing to grant access. The aim of the study was to interview the owner of the hair salon as well as the four hairstylists but only two stylists agreed to being interviewed. Findings from this research show the complexities of power relations between the researcher and the research participants. African migrant women in scholarship are imagined in a gendered context and almost always in relation to their partners as the primary decision-maker around migration. This study shows how African migrant women facilitate their own agency in the context of migration and how the hair styling industry provides them with a range of economic possibilities. The study further shows, notwithstanding their vulnerability as migrants, how African women in this research project exercised their agency as women by refusal, selfsilencing, determining the level and measure of participation and the content of discussions.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In hierdie empiriese studie, wat op mag en etiek gefokus was, het ek die verhouding tussen die navorser en die navorsingsdeelnemer in die konteks van vrouemigrante uit Afrika in Kaapstad ondersoek. Die studie, gesitueer in haarstileringsalonne, het tweeledige oogmerke gehad; een, etnografies en die ander metodologies. In die etnografiese konteks van die haarsalonne was my doel om te analiseer hoe vroulike migrante uit Afrika-lande spesifieke ekonomiese aktiwiteite gekies het wat aan hul kulturele of “gegenderde” identiteite uitdrukking gegee het. Metodologies gesproke was hierdie studie gemik op die identifisering en analise van hoe die mag tussen die navorser en die navorsingsdeelnemers ’n studie van vrouemigrante se ervarings beïnvloed, met spesifieke oorweging van die sosiale en ekonomiese kontekste waarbinne navorsingsdeelnemers agentskap navigeer en laat geld. Deelnemer-observasie is as die primêre data-insameling-metode gebruik, en ek het hierdie metode in samehang met semi-gestruktureerde onderhoude gebruik. Vir ’n tydperk van 12 weke, tussen Mei 2013 en Augustus 2013, het ek die sosiale wêreld van migrante en haarsalonne in Mowbray, Kaapstad, betree en daaraan deelgeneem. Uit die staanspoor was die uitdaging om toegang tot die navorsingsarea en deelnemers te verkry, aangesien aanvanklike toegangsmoontlikhede tot ’n primêre geïdentifiseerde navorsingsterrein geweier is. Deur die onderhandelingsproses en die verkryging van toegang, moes ek, as navorser, vrae oor bevoorregting in verhouding met migrante konfronteer, selfs al het my ras en gender aan my ’n mate van interseksionaliteit in verhouding met vrouemigrante uit Afrika verskaf. Verder het ek gevind dat vrouemigrante se eienaarskap en arbeid in haarsalonne nie net veronderstellings oor hul mobiliteit versteur nie, maar ook dat hierdie vroue hul agentskap laat geld het deur aan my, die navorser, ’n uitgebreide stel reëls van interaksie te voorsien. Dit het, tot ’n mate, hul kwesbaarheid en my mag as ’n navorser uit die weg geruim. By verstek was ek in staat om ’n saloneienaar te vind wat bereid was om toegang te verleen. Die doel van die studie was om met die eienaar van die haarsalon, asook die vier haarstileerders, onderhoude te voer, maar slegs twee stileerders het ingestem tot onderhoude. Bevindings uit hierdie navorsing toon die kompleksiteite van die magsverhouding tussen die navorser en die navorsingsdeelnemers. In akademieskap word vrouemigrante uit Afrika in ’n “gegenderde” konteks voorgestel, en bykans altyd in verhouding tot hul lewensmaat as die primêre besluitnemer rakende migrasie. Die studie toon dat vrouemigrante uit Afrika hul eie agentskap rakende migrasie fasiliteer en dat die haarstileringsbedryf aan hulle eindelose ekonomiese moontlikhede bied. Die studie toon verder dat, ten spyte van hul kwesbaarheid as migrante, Afrika-vroue in hierdie navorsingsprojek hul agentskap as vroue uitgeoefen het deur weiering, die keuse om self stil te bly, en die bepaling van die vlak en mate van deelname, asook van die inhoud van besprekings.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/100857
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