Feminist social science, especially in places such as Russia where such research is new, requires eclectic methods. In exploring the impact of intervention on gender violence mobilization, awareness, and state responsiveness, my method is grounded in what social scientists refer to as “participant observation.” I follow other scholars of gender violence politics in this approach because it combines systematic observation of the “daily life” of activists with an investment in relationships and the cause (Elman 1996, ix; also Dobash and Dobash 1992). Since 1994, I have periodically lived in or traveled to Russia to engage with Russian feminism, sometimes literally participating in and observing activists’ daily lives when local and transnational activists invited me to stay in their homes. Since 1997, my research has focused on violence against women, and in addition to participant observation, my methodology has included unstructured interviews with other intermediaries: policymakers, legislators, funding officers, academics, and foreign embassy staff. More recently, employing “deterritorialized ethnography” (Merry 2006a), I began to observe other important global contexts, such as the 2006 EU conference discussed above and the postcommunist women’s caucus at the United Nations’ 2005 Commission on the Status of Women in New York (a. k.a. Beijing+io). Events designed as encounters between the “local” and the “global” are moments where exchange, reinterpretation, resistance, and appropriation are brought into relief. The promise of this kind of intense observation is that it can connect theory with people and elicit accounts of feminist activism and gender politics that are often left out of dominant interpretations about Russia and the United States/West.
This fieldwork is complemented by systematic textual analysis. I studied the language used in interactions as Russian activists struggled to create Russian terms for global feminist concepts. I collected and examined primary source materials created and/or distributed by local and transnational activists, academics, policymakers, human rights monitors, and law enforcement authorities, such as bulletins, fliers, model or actual legislation, books, reports, posters, stickers, and websites. I employ a simplified content analysis of Russian newspapers to monitor media coverage balanced by discourse analysis of dominant ways of articulating gender violence (see appendix 2 for more details on measurement and method). Based on all this evidence, I use process-tracing to capture the unfolding of the process of foreign intervention and gender violence politics, from the early 1990s until 2007.
The study constitutes a sample of the range of activities and articulated frames of violence against women in the urban centers of Russia. My research was centered in Moscow, the capital and by far the most populous and most wealthy city in Russia as well as the city through which most foreign intervention flowed. In Moscow, I found many of the elites, domestic and international, involved in the politics of violence against women. Research outside of Moscow, in cities such as St. Petersburg, Orel, Kaluga, Saratov, Barnaul, Kazan, and Arkhangelsk, revealed additional complications and dynamics. Although my fieldwork research was limited to the more Western areas of Russia, it is undisputed that the West, especially United States, has had great impact, even in the Russian Far East. I regret that undertaking this global-local study in a large, difficult, and quickly changing country has meant that I cannot fully engage questions of ethnic, religious, sexuality, urban-rural, and class differences among women within Russia. A future project, I hope.