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BAND discussion for June

June 7, 2012


Each month the Bloggers Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees has a question to discuss. I have agreed to put up my question and moderate the discussion for June. I hope lots of you will get involved and add your comments and suggestions.

When is an author’s subjective response to a subject not a bias but a legitimate perspective? What non-fiction have you read where an author’s feelings enhance your understanding?

No one who enjoys non-fiction respects books that are so wedded to an ideology or bias that they deny established facts which challenge the author’s position. We reject those who tell us, “I’ve made my mind up. Don’t confuse me with facts.” Such an attitude limits rather than expands the treatment of a subject. But sometimes an author’s involvement in a situation or subject can enhance his or her ability to understand and describe it. Curiosity and concern can drive an author to learn all that can be known about something. Actually facing a problem can provide an inside view not seen by a researcher or journalist who maintains an “objective” distance.

Recently, I have read excellent books by scholars who have grown up in the worlds they describe. One example is Leila Ahmed, who grew up in a Moslem family in Cairo, worshiping in her grandmother’s home with her mother and aunts. Her Women and Gender in Islam goes beyond works on the topic that only focus on Islam as it has developed among the religion’s leaders and practitioners in mosques. Although often critical of the leadership of her religion, she provides insight into why women continue to find value in a religion often viewed as harmful for women. Without giving up her professional methodology or her commitment to seeing various sides of issues, Ahmed enhances her book with what she learned from her own personal, subjective experience which she describes in more detail in her memior, Border Crossing. Judy Yung’s Unbound Feet, about Chinese American women in San Francisco, and Tera Hunter’s T’Joy My Fredom about black women in Atlanta after the civil war, also combine empathy and factual rigor to describe how situations look when viewed from outside the dominant culture.

Have you read any non-fiction where the author’s subjectivity strengthens the story told rather than weakens it? Any ideas about how the author achieves this?

Title links are to my reviews of these books.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2012 6:18 am

    Great point that sometimes a ‘bias’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m going to have to think on this more before crafting my own response! Thanks for hosting!

  2. June 14, 2012 10:37 am

    Another relevant book is Reading Across Borders which claims that stories by marginal authors prioritize information in ways that challenge the categories with which we usually think. Check out my review.

  3. June 28, 2012 10:17 am

    Sorry for the delay! Here is my post:

  4. June 29, 2012 7:27 am

    Great discussion! My post is here.

  5. RogueAnthropologist permalink
    June 30, 2012 10:20 am

    Thanks for hosting! Here’s my post:

  6. RogueAnthropologist permalink
    June 30, 2012 10:24 am

    Thanks for hosting! Here’s my post: (original link was bad)

  7. June 30, 2012 12:35 pm

    Thanks for all your comments and suggestions. I particularly liked Rogue Anthropologist’s term “self reflective” as a positive way of addressing the fact that all that gets written reflects a perspective or bias.

  8. June 30, 2012 9:22 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one posting on the last day of the month 🙂 I think for me, subjectivity is always alright as long as the author obeys some simple rules to remain credible and true to the facts. See my full answer here.

  9. July 10, 2012 9:16 am

    I’m so far behind… sorry! This was a great topic though, my answer is here:

  10. July 31, 2012 4:53 pm

    I apologize to all of all for not responding as much as I intend to all your fine answers to me questions. My life and health bottomed out just as they were arriving. But all is well now. I am starting to blog again and want to stay in touch.

    Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and words.

  11. July 1, 2013 6:24 pm

    Remarkable! Its genuinely remarkable paragraph, I have got much clear idea about from this article.


  1. BAND June 2012: When Bias is a Good Thing « Amy Reads
  2. June BAND: Bias and self-reflexivity « rogue anthropologist
  3. June BAND Discussion | Doing Dewey
  4. June BAND Discussion: Author’s Subjectivity (and ‘Coming of Age on Zoloft’)

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