When the natives are our neighbors

F. Ginsburg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The US debate over the ethics of abortion is the context for this discussion of problems in reporting the results of research when the topic is a controversial social movement on which the researcher and members of the academic community hold strong personal views. The author worked with local right-to-life and prochoice activists in Fargo, North Dakota, in the early 1980s. This article describes the political climate in those years after the election of Reagan to the presidency, as well as the composition of the prolife movement and its emergence with the New Right in the 1970s. The local scope of much right-to-life activity in that era made it an appropriate topic for ethnographic research using participant-observation techniques. The collective portrait of local prolife activists in Fargo was more complex than their stereotype of reactionary housewives left behind by social change would suggest. Right-to-lifers are often considered hostile to feminism, but a large part of their rhetoric actually covered the same ground. Much of the right-to-life program can be interpreted as the expression of a desire to reform the most dehumanizing aspects of contemporary capitalist culture. From this point of view, prolifers are more similar to their prochoice opponents than to their presumed New Right allies, who prefer a more libertarian social philosophy. Activists on both sides of the debate share a common sociohistorical context providing common references, particularly regarding procreation and sexuality. The debate has a dialectical quality in that a large part consists of reactions to the positions of the other side. Militants on both sides agree on such points as the need for equal pay for equal work and the need to make the economic system more responsive to the needs and responsibilities of women. The credibility of the author's findings was questioned by colleagues, which prompted reflection on the presentation of results of research on a controversial group belonging to the same society. The initial strategy of attempting to serve as a mediator between opposing camps by discovering common concerns was replaced by an attempt to allow the militants to present their own positions through extensive quotations. 21 interviews with prolife and 14 with prochoice activists constituted formulations of what the subjects considered models of the place of reproduction, motherhood, and work in the lives of American women.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)129-142
    Number of pages14
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 1992

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anthropology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


    Dive into the research topics of 'When the natives are our neighbors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this