Lifting as We Climb: A study of African-American Lesbian Community Building in Baltimore City
Description Degree awarded: Ph.D. Sociology. American University The current study involving the KFI business was sparked, in part, by the Presidential Address delivered by Patricia Hill Collins in 2009 at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting. Collins, a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, is a social theorist whose research and scholarship have examined issues of race, gender, social class, and sexuality. In her address "The New Politics of Community," Collins asserted that "the new politics of community reveals how the idea of community constitutes an elastic political construct that holds a variety of contradictory meanings and around which diverse social practices occur" (Collins 2010). Drawing on my own lived experiences of the past eight years with KFI, this study uses Patricia Hill Collins' (2009) concept of community as a political construct to describe, analyze and understand the founding and development the KFI business. My research methodology is a three-fold attempt to triangulate my topic: document analysis, autoethnography and a survey questionnaire. My first strategy was to immerse myself in the documentary history of KFI, both as a way of presenting the context for the research and as preparation for the autoethnography. The documentary research was primarily a way of sensitizing myself to the history of KFI. My second strategy, autoethnography, involves me in an experimental effort to resolve a problem receiving increasing attention in literature on qualitative methodology: how to make use of the life experiences of the researcher in a qualitative study. Building on Robert Merton's (1956) advocacy of focused interviews, the first research method that was employed was the use of a survey questionnaire. The study found that Collins's (1999) proposition that community always involves power negotiations was accurate. It also proved that the KFI business produced a remedy to what the group members identified as a genuine problem--finding safe spaces outside of their own homes in which to engage in sociability. Within the study, there is also the affirmation that KFI is valued as a physical space for interaction.
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