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Feminist methodology has been developed in response to concerns by feminist scholars about the limits of traditional methodology. Feminist social scientists have raised questions about separation of theory and method, gendered biases inherent in positivism, and hierarchies that limit who can be considered the most appropriate producers of theoretical knowledge. Feminist methodology includes an array of methods, approaches, and research strategies and offers a broad vision of research practice that can be used to study a wide range of topics, to analyze both men’s and women’s lives, and to explore both local and transnational or global processes.
Beginning in the 1970s, feminist scholars critiqued positivist scientific methods that reduce lived experiences to disconnected variables that do not do justice to the complexities of social life. They argued for the importance of starting analysis from the lived experiences of women and others who have been left out of the knowledge production process rather than start inquiry with the abstract categories and a priori assumptions of traditional academic disciplines. Feminist scholars also stress the importance of intersectional analysis, an approach that highlights the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality in women’s lives.
In a follow-up to an assessment of feminist methods in 1991, Fonow and Cook (2005) found that concerns about researcher reflexivity, transparency of the research process, and women’s empowerment remained central concerns in contemporary feminist methodology. The call for reflective practice has also been informed by critiques of the traditional research practices by third world and postcolonial feminist scholars.
A consistent goal expressed of feminist methodology is to create knowledge for social change purposes. Emphasis on social action has influenced the type of methods utilized by feminist researchers as well as the topics chosen for study. For example, feminists have utilized participatory action research to help empower subjects of research as well as to ensure that the research is responsive to the needs of specific communities or to social movements. This approach is also designed to diminish the power differentials between the researcher and those who are the subjects of the research. In an effort to democratize the research process, many activist researchers argue for adopting participatory strategies that involve community residents or other participants in the design, implementation, and analysis of the research. Collaborative writing also broadens the perspectives represented in the final product.
Feminist reconceptualizations of knowledge production processes contributed to a shift in research practices in many disciplines and to calls for more diverse methodological and self-reflective strategies than in traditional methodological approaches. Some feminist scholars question whether or not it is possible to develop a reflexive practice that can fully attend to all the different manifestations of power. However, since feminist methodology is open to critique and responsive to changing dynamics of power that shape women’s lives and those of others who have been marginalized within academia, feminist researchers often act as innovators who are quick to develop new research approaches and frameworks.
- Fonow, M. M. & Cook, J. A. (2005) Feminist methodology: new applications in the academy and public policy. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 30 (4): 221—36.
- Fonow, M. M. & Cook, J. A. (eds.) (1991) Beyond Methodology: Feminist Scholarship as Lived Research. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.
- Harding, S. P. (ed.) (1987) Feminism and Methodology. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.