There Is No Such Thing As Feminist Research Sociology Essay
Over the last several decades, feminist scholars have become increasingly more reflective with regard to the research process and have raised issues about the way social sciences analyzes men, women and social life (Harding 1987). They argue that traditional theories have been applied in ways that make it difficult to understand the role women play in social life or understand men’s activities as gendered. Feminist research originated from within the context of the Second Wave Feminist and is primarily “connected in principle to feminist struggle” (Sprague and Zimmerman 1993: 266). Addressing the issue of what makes a particular piece of research specifically ‘feminist,’ they find that it includes incorporating gender, privileging subjectivity, avoiding exploitation, and empowering women (Krook 2007). Feminism emerged long after women started questioning their lower status and demanding an amelioration in social position (Freedman 2001). Historically, researchers have not given much interest in women and their concerns even when women where included, they were seen as ‘not male’ and therefore as ‘other’ (Letherby 2003:6). The concept Feminism means different things to different people ranging from a wish to change and challenge the whole existing order of things to the desire to bring about a more balanced and saner equality between both sexes and achieve a respectable individual liberty for women with their natural instincts and characteristics intact (Tandon 2008). It is basically concerned with women’s position in the society and the discrimination they face because of their sex. In order words, one could argue that all feminists are trying to change the social, cultural, economic and political way things are done to reduce discrimination against women (Freedman 2001).
According to Tandon (2008), feminism includes women acting, speaking and writing on women’s issues and rights, identifying social injustice in the status quo and bringing their own unique perspectives to bear on issues. The failure of academic scholarship and mainstream research to “give voice” to women’s activities, experiences, and perspectives provoked early feminist scholars and researchers to seek remedies for these omissions (Hesse-Biber and Leavy 2006: 6). Feminist scholars have begun to make unique contributions to the long standing debates about theory and method (Smith 1977,1979,1980 and Westkott 1979) sharing the concern of others with basic and enduring controversies such as the nature of science, its epistemological foundation, the possibility of a science of society and the role of science in maintaining/ undermining systems of power (see e.g Blumer 1969, Berstein 1978 and Hughes 1980). Mary Wollstonecraft, an important feminist writer in the 17th century was of the opinion that both males and females contributed to the inequalities and the fact that women had considerable power over men was taken for granted so therefore both would require education to ensure the necessary changes in social attitudes (Tandon 2008).
Different feminist researchers have their perspectives and ask different questions drawn from a variety of methods and methodologies, thereby enabling them to become more aware of sexist, racist, homophobic, and colonialist ideologies and practices. Some feminists use traditional methodologies but ask new sets of questions that include women’s issues and concerns, some modify these traditional methodologies while others disturb the traditional epistemologies and methodologies (Hesse-Biber and Leavy 2006). Feminist researchers argue that traditional theories have been used in ways that make it hard to understand women’s participation in social life or to understand men’s activities as gendered (Harding 1987).
The process of research involves a continuous series of decisions and choices. The beliefs and concerns of feminist research are regarded as unique because it acts as a guide to the research process (Brayton 1997). Basically, feminist research differs from traditional research for three reasons; it actively seeks to remove the power imbalance between research and subject, it is being politically motivated and has a major role in changing social inequality and it begins with the standpoints and experiences of women (Brayton 1997). There is hardly a widely accepted view on the definition of research by scholars. Saunders et al (2007) and Wisker (2008) assert that it involves the accurate collection of data designed towards the study of particular phenomena. Saunders et al (2009) describes research as something people embark on in order to find out things in a systematic way, thereby increasing their knowledge. All research is different but there are some factors familiar to all good researches. A good research work is evaluated by the new authentic information it conveys to the reader about the research subject. In a good research, the research aims and objectives must be a clear and should define the research question. A good research should also entail an information sheet for participants, which gives a clear view on what the research is about, what will be involved and the consent that will be gotten on a consent form prior to when the research begins. The methodology used should correlate with the research question so if for example- the research is about people’s perceptions, it would make more sense to use a more qualitative and unstructured interview. Also, if the research intends to identify the extent of the problem, then a more quantitative, randomised sample survey can be used. A mixture of methodologies which go together can be used in a good research. The research should be conducted in an unbiased way and the researcher should do his or her best to ensure that the outcome of the research is not interfered with also and in the unlikely event it is, the problem needs to be addressed openly and logically (White 2006). On the other hand, it is fair to say that a bad research is the complete opposite of a good research. A bad research is always never complete or correct. It is always false and always misleading.
Feminist research is basically about putting the social construction of gender at the centre of one’s inquiry so one can say it attempts to shape the concrete conditions of our lives (Lather 1991). A feminist methodology must deal with the issues of objectivity in social sciences and at the same time deal with the issue of the relationship between the researcher and the person being researched (Gottfried 1996). Feminist work brings to light the fact that the researcher’s choice of methods, research topics and study group population are always political acts. Although there is no such thing as feminist method, there is recognition that ‘feminist research practice’ can be distinguished from other forms of research (Kelly 1988 cited in Letherby 2003: 5). Feminist research practice can be differentiated by the questions feminists ask, location of the researcher within the process of research and the intended purpose of the work produced (Letherby 2003).
Skeggs (1994: 77) claims that the ‘feminist research begins from the premise that the nature of reality in western society is unequal and hierarchical’. This means that feminist research is grounded in political as well as academic concerns. Harding (1987) argues that a good feminist analysis insists that the researcher should be on the same even plane as the subject matter being researched thereby making it possible for the results of the whole research process to be scrutinized. The reason why feminist research is done is to understand why inequality exists between men and women, although not all feminists agree on how to combat male domination and liberalise women (Letherby 2003). Feminist scholars have not only managed to adapt existing methods that caters to the demands of the feminist mindset, there have also devised new methods and perspectives for analyzing different kinds of research questions (Krook 2007).
Harding 1987 claims the crucial qualities of the feminist research when she argues that studying women from their viewpoint, acknowledging the researcher as part of the research subject and admitting that the values of the researcher shape the research is what makes feminist research feminist. She also believes that they can be thought of as practical features because they show how to apply the common structure of scientific theory to research on women and gender. The goal of feminist research in human sciences is to correct both the invisibility and distortion of females and helps us “to see the world from women’s place in it” (Callaway 1981: 460).
. Feminist researchers emphasize the synergy and interlinkages between epistemology, methodology, and method and are interested in the different ways that a researcher’s perspective on reality interacts with, and influences, how she goes about collecting and analyzing her data (Charmaz, 2006; Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2006). One distinctive feature of feminist research is that the perceptions of women’s experiences is what the researcher uses to generate its problematics and these experiences also acts as an important indicator of the “reality” against which hypotheses are tested(Harding 1987: 7). Curthoys (1991) suggested that Feminist research is expected to be politically correct, and it is supposed to assist us accomplish a better society. Feminists want to understand and explain but moreover they want to emancipate and transform.
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