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Feminist research and epistemologies. SO 3066. lecture outline. feminist critique of sociological research and methods counting or quoting?: debate over the appropriateness of quantitative or qualitative research methods in feminist research tend to favour qualitative methods

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Feminist research and epistemologies

SO 3066


lecture outline

  • feminist critique of sociological research and methods

  • counting or quoting?: debate over the appropriateness of quantitative or qualitative research methods in feminist research

  • tend to favour qualitative methods

    e.g. refer to Oakley’s (1981) study – transition to motherhood - and the idea of a ‘participatory model’

  • is there a feminist method?

  • gendered nature of knowledge

  • feminist sociology of knowledge

  • feminist epistemologies: e.g. standpoint and empiricism

  • some final points to think about


feminist critique of research

  • challenge the myth of ‘hygienic research’:

    • question the ‘scientistic cloak’ - the idea of detached value-neutral researcher

    • research is not always orderly – messy

    • reflexivity - no account of researcher’s self and their relationship to/with those participating in the research project


‘counting or quoting’?

  • debate about using quantitative and qualitative research methods in feminist research

    • quantitative methods regarded as incompatible and unsuitable for feminist research

      e.g. survey – positivistic, one-way - exploitative process, associated with male values of control – ‘rape’ analogy

    • qualitative methods = more compatible with carrying out ‘feminist’ research?

      e.g. un/semi-structured interviews – build rapport – two-way process


e.g. ‘participatory model’(e.g. Oakley 1981; Bryman 2001; Duncombe & Jessop 2002; Letherby 2003)

  • Oakley (1981) – conducted research - transition to motherhood

  • repeated interviews – 55 women twice pre and twice post birth – even attended the odd birth too!

  • her respondents would ask her questions – read quote

  • intense research context – increased personal involvement/rapport


BUT

  • cultivating rapport or ‘faking friendships’ – exploitative too?

  • assume shared womanhood - can rapport be forged between all women irrespective of class, ethnicity, sexuality etc?

  • feminist research – considered too subjective – issues of validity (led to a range of feminist epistemological positions – baseline to assess ‘truth claims’ – discuss shortly)

  • also some feminists argue that statistical research has an important role to play too – e.g. extent of discrimination – equal opportunities

  • Oakley and others have since advocated mixed-method (i.e. quantitative and qualitative) research designs

  • depend on research question(s)? – ‘it’s not what you do it’s how you do it’!


is there a feminist method?

  • method: research techniques/practices – e.g. ethnography, survey, interview (choice of recipe)

  • methodology: theories of how research is conducted – e.g. qualitative or quantitative (cooking process)

  • epistemology: theory of knowledge – (kind of meal produced)

    according to Stanley & Wise (in Stanley 1990:26):

    who can be a knower?

    what can be known?

    what counts as valid knowledge?

    what is the relationship between knowing and being (ontology)

  • what makes feminist research ‘feminist’ is the methodology and epistemology NOT the method


gendered knowledge?(e.g. Letherby 2003)

  • reason and the ‘gendered metaphor’ – dualistic, oppositional, and hierarchical:

    • men - women

    • culture - nature

    • reason - emotion

    • mind - body

    • public - private

  • ‘authorized knowledge’ - basis of academic knowledge (institutionalised and legitimate), scientific, reason, objective, associated with men?

  • ‘experiential knowledge’ – everyday, emotional, subjective, associated with women - dismissed?

  • feminists claim that knowledge is not gender neutral

  • ‘malestream knowledge has been used to control women, and feminist knowledge is an aid to the emancipation of women’ (Abbott et al 2005: 366)


‘a feminist sociology of knowledge’(according to Lengermann & Niebrugge-Brantley in Ritzer 2000: 477)

  • claim that knowledge and understanding of the world:

  • from the standpoint of groups of people

  • is always partial and interest laden

  • varies within and between groups

  • power relations

  • ‘feminist standpoint epistemology’ – standpoint of women


feminist sociology and knowledge

  • ‘sociology for women’ (Smith 1987)

  • women’s ‘outsider status’

  • ‘epistemic privilege’


feminist standpoint epistemology

  • sometimes called ‘women’s experience epistemology’- because experience is the considered the basis of knowledge

  • ‘standpoint’ – ‘what we do shapes what we know’

    • builds on and adapts Marx’s insights of the proletariat / particular emphasis on the sexual division of labour – women are particularly aware of and responsible for the grounded responsibilities of everyday life

    • women – oppressed class – comprehend their own subordination and those who oppress them (men) – this affords a ‘truer’ understanding of social reality – not distorted by ideologies of power

    • claim that feminist knowledge is less biased than malestream knowledge


BUT

  • feminism motivated by political interests too?

  • are all women the same – is there a common basis of oppression – can some women share more in common with some men than with other women?

  • hierarchy of oppression?

  • are some women more oppressed than others e.g. Black women – hence do they produce truer or different version(s) of reality?

  • problem of relativism?

  • is it more accurate to speak of standpoints?


feminist empiricism

  • accepts the norms of positivist science – change ‘bad’ and ‘sexist’ practices instead (compatible with liberal feminism - reform)

  • ‘faulty science’ becomes more ‘accurate’ and ‘good science’ (assumes a realist ontology)

  • promote ‘non-sexist’ research

    e.g. language; concepts; implications of findings

  • research designs and samples include

    men AND women

  • correct androcentric biases in knowledge and research


BUT

  • perpetuates and leaves intact the myth of ‘hygienic research’ - many feminists reject this assumption

    i.e. notion of a neutral researcher who attempts to access and represent an objective reality

  • people are objects in such research

  • lacks reflexivity and transparency of research process?


summary of main issues

  • feminist critique of sociological research and methods

  • counting or quoting?: debate over the appropriateness of quantitative or qualitative research methods in feminist research

  • tend to favour qualitative methods

    e.g. refer to Oakley’s (1981) study – transition to motherhood - and the idea of a ‘participatory model’

  • is there a feminist method?


summary of main issues

  • gendered nature of knowledge

  • feminist sociology of knowledge

  • feminist epistemologies: e.g. standpoint and empiricism

  • some final points to think about


final thoughts

  • feminist theory arose out of personal politics – importance of women’s everyday ‘lived experiences’ is it becoming disconnected from women’s experiences?

  • to what extent is feminist theory politically relevant today and for whom?

    • given the emphasis on diversity and differences between women – how effectively and legitimately can feminists from different cultural, religious, class, ethnic backgrounds etc theorise about ‘other’ women and their experiences?


final thoughts

  • does a researcher have to be working class to study working class women or of the same ethnic origin etc – infinite regress – if this is the case what are the implications for sociology?

  • when we talk about ‘gender’ and ‘sociology of gender’ – we tend to equate gender as a shorthand for women – why is this? Are men not gendered too?

  • the influence and impact of feminism and feminist theory has played a part in opening up a field referred to as ‘men’s studies’ whereby male researchers look at men and masculinity or masculinities – can men utilise feminist perspectives?


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