AN INTRODUCTION TO FEMINIST RESEARCH

AN INTRODUCTION TO FEMINIST RESEARCH

Research methods are technique(s) for gathering data (Harding, 1987) and are generally dichotomised into being either quantitative or qualitative. It has been argued that methodology has been gendered (Oakley, 1997; 1998), with quantitative methods traditionally being associated with words such as positivism, scientific, objectivity, statistics and masculinity. In contrast, qualitative methods have generally been associated with interpretivism, non-scientific, subjectivity and femininity. These associations have led some feminist researchers to criticise (Pugh, 1990) or even reject (Graham & Rawlings, 1980) the quantitative approach, arguing that it is in direct conflict with the aims of feminist research ( Mies, 1983). Feminist researchers have accused quantitative positivistic methods of ignoring and excluding women (Oakley, 1974) and adding women to male knowledge. Feminists have also criticized the context-stripping nature of traditional methods (such as surveys, questionnaires, psychological tests and experiments, and even interviews), as a result of which as the reality of human experience, and more so women’s experience, is lost (Bohan, 1992). Feminists have consistently emphasized the importance of social context, insisting that feminist methods should be contextual - that is, avoid focusing on the individual in isolation, cut off from interactions and relationships with other people. As Fine and Gordon (1989:159) note:

 

… do not put us in a laboratory, or hand us a survey, or even interview us separately alone in our homes. Watch me (MF) with women friends, my son, his father, my niece, or my mother and you will see what feels most authentic to me.

 

Feminists have also criticized traditional quantitative research in which people are transformed into ‘object-like subjects’ (Unger, 1983), with the interests and concerns of research participants completely subordinated to those of the researcher (Campbell & Schram, 1995). In such research, participants’ voices are typically silenced or severely circumscribed by the powerful voice of the researcher, and their experience may be occluded, ironicized, invalidated or even erased (Woolgar, 1983)

 

It has therefore  been argued that qualitative methods are more appropriate for feminist research as they are best suited to reveal and understand experiences of women in contemporary society and adequately address their needs by allowing subjective knowledge (Depner, 1981), thus challenging the partial accounts of the gendered lives of both women and men. In feminist research, respect for the experience and perspective of the other is upheld,  with many feminist researchers expressing commitment to “realizing as fully as possible women’s voices in data gathering and preparing an account that transmits those voices” (Olesen, 1994: 167). Furthermore, feminist research is characterized by ‘non-hierarchical relations’ between the researcher and the participants.AN

Subject Matter: 
FEMINIST RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
Editors: 

Dr. Jane Wambui

Source: 
Department
Frequency of Publication: 
Annually
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