University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Resisting Western Epistemologies of Hmong Women’s Lives: Leena Her, May 2010.

Available for download as audio (.mp3, 32.1MB) or video (.m4v, 157.7MB).

Resisting Western Epistemologies of Gender and Hmong Women’s Lives

What does it mean to be a Hmong woman through the ‘western gaze’ of anthropologists and ethnographers? In this presentation, Leena Her traces the genealogy of how Hmong women’s lives have been written, analyzed and theorized by western scholars.

This genealogical project began with her own attempts to make sense of a sharp gender gap found between Hmong men and women in accessing educational opportunities in Lao PDR. She observed that Hmong men were often encouraged to attend school while women were discouraged through practices such as the telling of disobedient daughter stories–a category of stories reported about Hmong daughters who disappointed and disgraced their families by becoming pregnant or getting married while attending college.

Do the analytic frames of Hmong patriarchal society explain why Hmong men overwhelmingly complete upper secondary school and attend college? Are Hmong women discouraged from going to school because in Hmong society a Hmong daughter will marry and become someone else’s daughter?

Dr. Her challenges the primary position that interpretive frames—such as Hmong patriarchal society and cultural beliefs regarding Hmong women’s role in maintaining traditional Hmong society—have been used by western scholars to interpret gender disparities in the Hmong diaspora. She argues that for Hmong women in Lao PDR the gender gap reveals less about Hmong culture but more about the economic choices families make in the political and economic contexts of Lao PDR.

Leena Neng Her is the 2009-10 postdoctoral fellow in Hmong Studies at the University of Minnesota.  The fellowship is hosted by the Program in Asian American Studies and the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota and generously funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Dr. Her received her PhD in Educational Linguistics from Stanford University in 2009. Her project, “Educational Opportunity, Minority Status, and Discursive Practices in the Hmong Diaspora,” combines research conducted in Laos and in the United States in which she pursues structural constraints such as minority status, the institution of schooling, and American and Lao culture as central frames to interpret social phenomena. Her work follows the ethnography of how one school community in the US explained minority academic failure, identify educational problems and consequently propose solutions and compares it to similar discourse about Hmong student experiences in Laos and access to higher education.  In the Spring of 2010, Dr. Her is teaching Ethnic Minorities, Schooling, & Scientific Theory.

Sponsored by: Institute for Advanced Study, Asian American Studies

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