This past week I read an article titled “The Racialized Erotics of Participatory Research: A Queer Feminist Understanding” by Jessica Fields. For me, just the title of this article raised many questions- and I was most struck by the use of “erotic” in a title of a paper that includes community based research. For those that study sexuality and intimate relationships, this may not be shocking, but for me, I had never seen that term used in research previously.
As I read the article, the term erotic took on a different meaning. Our course facili-structor deemed that he preferred the term intimate, and, perhaps to alleviate some personal discomfort, I took to “intimate” as a synonym.
The authors describe their research with women who are incarcerated and examine the “erotic” or intimate knowledge they found. The intimate is a focus on the deeply personal- the evaporated lines between academic and participant. Yet it’s also epistemological. Born out of the understandings of Audre Lorde, and other queer feminist scholars- the erotic is about bodies, emotions, and desire.
To me this was both incredibly familiar and totally unknown. In my own experiences of being “in community” this is what lies at the heart of it. This deep connection to one another that is in our fully human experience. Yet, as an academic, this seems to dismantle every idea about what “science” is. Not because we can’t measure some of these concepts, but because the erotic is about the relationship between a university researcher with community researchers. That, to me, is the most radical.
As I think about the number of times I’ve asked a student to reflect on their feelings and experiences, I think there is even more importance to ask ourselves these questions. My methods instructor has four goals for us: to be systemic, skeptical, ethical and reflexive. As we deeply engage with our partners, I think we must remain ethical and reflexive of our own relationships, and skeptical about ways of knowing that don’t account for the relationship in our scholarship.