In this extract, anthropologist Jane K. Cowan (1991)

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Last updated: August 29, 2019

Inthis extract, anthropologist Jane K. Cowan (1991) provides an extensive yethighly refined outlook of what it is like to be a Greek woman or man, marriedor unmarried, living in a convoluted society which is heavily family orientated.Cowan (1991) examines the ways in which identity is formed, as she discusses, howgoing out for coffee encompasses predominant notions about autonomy, morality andfemale sexuality. The author questions why men in the Greek village of Lesbos perpetuateelaborate friendships with neighbours and people of the village while the womendo not; why young woman often take part in conflict-resolution rituals; and howthe dominant role of mature married householders is challenged by unmarriedpersons who emphasize spontaneity and personal autonomy. This chapter explainsthe way in which gender identities in Greece are not unitary and fixed: kinshipis organized in several highly specific forms, and gender identities areplural, competing, antagonistic, and are continually being redefined bycontexts and social change.Thisessay has had a significant contribution to the way we grasp gender identity inthe field of anthropology in the 1990s, as Cowan (1991) explores the ways inwhich gender is both a social and cultural construction.

This text delineates,with great detail how the ordinary activity of coffee drinking, which is a leisureactivity for the people of Sohos, is both gender segregated and encoded withnotions around gender differences. This longitudinal study delves into the numerousways in which perceptions about womens sexuality and autonomy are encapsulated in manner of sociabilityfor this reason, the validity and accuracy pf this text are high. Cowan then explainshow the emergence of an unfamiliar sort of leisure establishment in the town whichwas described as “European and sophisticated” (Cowan, 1991, p190), the Kafeteria,has redefined the traditional separation of leisure space between men and womanand generated a new space where predominant definitions of female personhood iscontested, by attracting a new demographic of young people who no longer conformto the long-established gender expectations.

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A noticeablequality to this text is that Cowan avoided the use of complex scholarly languagefound in many anthropological textbooks but still communicated a complexdiscourse. However, we cannotignore a noticeable shortcoming with this text which is that the anthropologistCowan’s fieldwork is micro and is only representative of a small fraction of woman’sexperience with gender identity, therefore we cannot generalise her study togive us a wider picture of how woman experience their everyday sociability in mostplaces. Moreover, Cowan’s research excludes narratives of woman from differentcultures and backgrounds, I believe that the variety of axis contributing towomen’s experience of identity could have added so much more depth to theinformation we receive about woman’s gender identity. Another limitationbecomes evident when taking into account the author’s theoretical stance, asCowan holds a feminist perspective to deliver on a patriarchy dominated society,we can see that it may contain some bias, this is evident as we can see thatthe majority of the chapter speaks only about woman’s experience of sociabilityand describes the men’s in a…… language. Therefore, this may reduce the reliabilityof her research. A Further weakness of this text is that it is now dated and isonly useful to use as hindsight to map progress made in achieving genderequality in everyday sociability.

In addition, the chosen research methods mayhave caused some limitations on the findings as she used overt observation andgroup interviews. Although, overt observation is an ethical way of conductingresearch, it results in the Hawthorne effect which is when peoplealter their behaviour since they know they are being observed we don’tknow if the girls’ opinions at the end of the articles are authentic, becausethe author’s presence with them over a long period of time might haveinfluenced their opinions on feminism and made them feel empower– they mightfeel they must hold feminist views.  

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