1At a time when the number of research studies on gender is rising in France, this collective work sets out to examine the gendered or sex-related dimensions of the survey process in the fields of sociology and anthropology. It probes how sex affects survey fieldwork and how fieldwork affects sex; in other words, the effects of the interviewer’s sex on his or her work but also the kind of gendered presentation of self the field requires from the interviewer. In the latter connection, the first chapter clearly shows that whereas feminist research immediately pointed up women’s subordinate position in social science production and exposed the androcentrism of the social sciences overall, research more concerned with the political order and social relations of domination is still relevant and still being done. Monjaret and Pugeault set the tone quite clearly: “Science still too often has a sex. Studies that dare to point this out are useful” (p. 72).
2The above questions are handled here through reflexive analyses where the researcher probes his/her own social identity and action in order to assess their effects on his/her research. Specifically, the point is to examine the role of one’s sex, understood as a biological datum, and gender relations in the sense of social expectations that may be activated by a person’s belonging to one or the other sex. The three contributions that make up the first section of the book explore the social dimension of relations between the interviewer and his or her respondents.
3Isabelle Mallon returns reflexively to the work she did for her thesis at a retirement home, a strongly female institution, adding a gender dimension to her analyses. She explains how her access to spaces of female socializing and highly personal exchanges and scenes was facilitated by her gender identity; i.e., being a woman herself. Laurence Guyard describes in detail the medicalization of female bodies in gynaecology consultations and presents the issues for the interviewer of entering and positioning oneself in the field. She highlights the importance of the interviewer’s body, sex and gender when it comes to finding the “right distance” in the field. In analysing the gendered images that patients attributed to her, she shows how the survey relationship becomes possible when the observer is seen as a source of moral support during the consultation, a moment that proves quite difficult for a considerable proportion of the women interviewed. Assigning her this identity enabled the actors (all of whom are women) to remain in their roles and statuses during the consultations, consultations that should be understood as presentations of self in Goffman’s sense. Guyard thus recalls how important it is to go beyond the interviewer’s biological sex when analysing such interactions (p. 125).
4Pierre-Noël Denieuil retrospectively examines the gender issues involved in a series of surveys he conducted between 1992 and 1995 on businesswomen in Tunisia. He describes the three-way relationship between the researcher, the trainee (a Tunisian interpreter) and the woman respondent. He concludes that while sex did impact on the survey, other determinants (sexual, professional and cultural) influenced his analysis of how he reached his scientific conclusions.
5The second section of the book focuses on how gender operates in studies of intrinsically gendered milieus. Jasmina Stevanovic relates aspects of her experience during a survey she conducted on merchant marine ships with a male film camera operator who was also a friend of hers. This arrangement aroused the curiosity of the sailors, and in turn elicited expressions of the gender and conjugality stereotypes and stereotypes about conjugality that predominate in this milieu. Stevanovic analyses, for example, the discomfort she felt having her clothing checked by female officers, thereby bringing to light the norms governing the appearance and role of women on board.
6Marie-Hélène Lechien and Marc Bessin jointly conducted a survey on the issues involved in a prison healthcare reform. They show that the sex of the interviewer (male or female) had effects on the gender positions adopted during a survey carried out in remand centres and long-term prison facilities. Bessin, for example, chose not to conform to the prison guards’ expectations of shared, tacit male understanding, adopting instead a kind, benevolent attitude when listening to long imprisoned male inmates who had become vulnerable and felt they had lost some of their virility.
7Geneviève Pruvost has further developed the research she pursued in her thesis on feminization of the French police force. She shows that inquiring into police work when one is a woman amounts to having “all the stigmata at once” (p. 167). She first probes the effect of her sex on the survey, bringing to light that in some situations – for example, body searches of males – it reduced her field of observation. She concludes that above and beyond sex, it is indeed gender that is determinant. Gender may facilitate survey work as long as the sociologist is willing to invent “an appropriate gender” for him/herself (p. 178). In this particularly stigmatized environment, a woman studying police force feminization is not disconcerting and seems worthy of trust, especially when she makes an effort to play down her femininity and her feminist position.
8In the last chapter in this section, Agnès Jeanjean, who studied sewer workers, shows how the interviewer’s sex actually facilitated doing research in this extremely male context: being female made it possible for interactions to assume an “initiated-initiator” character. As she sees it, she was accepted in the field in large part precisely because she was female, and she reports how her interviewees expected her to “play the young girl” (p. 185).
9The third section of the book probes sexualisation in the survey relationship. Anne Saouter returns to her thesis on the milieu of rugby players. She shows how her move to study it was interpreted by its members as a plunge into a “den of males” (p. 205). In this particularly male, virile milieu, the price of admission to the survey field was “acting as if I were a man – what’s more, a rugby man” (p. 207). Here what came to the fore was not sex but sexuality issues: she shows how, to gain the trust of rugby men, she had to be asexual – i.e., to break clearly with potentially seductive behaviour that might otherwise slip into the respondent-interviewer relationship.
10Philippe Combessie and Sylvie Bégot both studied sexual practices, one the practises of “libertines,” the other those of escorts. They describe the very particular work that has to be done in studies focused explicitly on sexuality. Gaining access to the field raises the question of the limits that the interviewer must comply with, as he or she may have to cope with sexual solicitation and seductive behaviour. Bégot refused sexual solicitations but was willing to accept a gender-related attribution whereby she became the confidante; otherwise, she held seduction attempts at bay by conducting interviews electronically.
11While this book focuses almost exclusively on issues related to sex and gender, it also works to demonstrate that reflexive analysis should become an integral part of apprehending one’s research topic. In this respect, the work is useful for all researchers, however experienced or inexperienced, who want to apply a reflexive approach – there are so few studies on this question. Moreover, several contributions reveal intersections between the categories of sex and gender and other analytic categories. Lechien and Bessin make a connection between sex and interviewer’s status, Pruvost between sex and political convictions that must be concealed while in the field, while Jeanjean shows how class issues too come into play.
12Undeniably, the work contains a wealth of interesting, useful material. However, the introduction would have been more effective if its authors had clarified their sociological definitions of the terms sex and gender. And deeper probing of intersections between analytic categories would have been welcome. It is also regrettable that so many authors should have in effect transmitted a rather limited understanding of feminism, either through the respondent remarks they quote or their own analyses, thus failing to take into account not only the intrinsic diversity of feminist thinking but also recent developments in it.