Finding humility in reflexivity : stories of women working in the Nepali trekking industry
This thesis explores the lived experiences of women working in the Nepali trekking industry at a women-owned company and empowerment program in Pokhara, Nepal. My research questions ask how these women make their decisions to become guides in the first place, interpret their minority statuses in the industry, and define and embody empowerment in relation to their job titles. The thesis is a response to another paper I wrote while in Nepal directly after collecting the data in the spring of 2018. This second iteration makes entirely new claims and analyses the guides’ responses through a very different theoretical framework. My thesis takes a non-traditional format, and is divided into two distinct sections, each of which are situated in time and place. The first discusses my original study’s methods and findings, along with its many assumptive qualities. This leads into the second section, which applies various theoretical concepts in order to incorporate discussions of positionality and reflexivity into the literature and analysis. I find that my assumptions are visible through several of my interview questions, and that they lead towards a "narrative disjunction” between my understandings and those of the guides. The places where these disjunctions exist illuminate the limitations of traditional feminist notions of freedom, liberation, and emancipation. My results establish the idea that concepts such as agency and empowerment have various modalities instead of specific definitions that are tied to certain lifestyles, actions, and conceptualizations. I discover through my reflexive approach that the women I interviewed who work as trekking guides in Nepal defy secular-liberal and Western feminist interpretations of agency and empowerment and embody these terms in other powerful ways.
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