Feminisms and Cross-Ideological Feminist Social Research: Standpoint, Situatedness and Positionailty -- Developing Cross-Ideological Feminist Research
Franks, Myfanwy, Journal of International Women's Studies
When we consider the different cultural spaces in which feminist social researchers might be carrying out empirical research the nature of 'feminist social research' becomes difficult to define. The issue becomes even more complex when we consider the multiple standpoints, contexts and positionalities of different kinds of feminists from diverse backgrounds, both secular and religious. There cannot be a blanket universal agreement between feminists from different ideological positions regarding appropriate subjects and methodologies for research. Nevertheless, the writer concludes that through a pragmatic feminist approach, exemplified by working in a situated way with the materials that are available, we can move toward moments of issue-based coalition between standpoints.
Key words: feminist social research, feminist standpoint theory, cross-cultural feminist research, Islamic and 'Western' feminisms
Feminisms and Cross-ideological Feminist Social Research: Standpoint, Situatedness and Positionality -- Developing Cross-ideological Feminist Research (i)
Myfanwy Franks (ii)
Arriving at an acceptable universal definition of feminism or of what it is that constitutes feminist research is problematic. This is because the patriarchal relations against which feminisms constitute a resistance, differ in their configuration from place to place. It is evident that the contexts in which feminist research is carried out differ considerably. 'Situated' experience leads to 'situated' knowledge and consequently there are diverse feminisms which include both secular feminisms and feminisms within religions. That which is progressive in one situation may be retrogressive in another. In this paper I shall address some of the important issues in feminist social research methodology that have arisen over the past two decades and attempt to find ways to build bridges between epistemological differences of application in a cross -cultural context. These methodological issues include the notion that feminist researchers should not be in the business of objectifying women as well as the problematic nature of objectivity in feminist social research. The issue of difference among feminists makes it impossible to construct a prescribed universal method with respect to these concerns. Three critical influences in the definition of identity are standpoint, situation, and positionality, i.e., the way in which a group or individual is defined by others. In liberal discourse the last of these is often neglected as an identity issue. The three concepts imply that identities and outlooks are fluid and that there cannot be universally prescribed research methods. At the same time I shall argue that although differences between feminist identities are multiple and complex, that the three concepts of standpoint, situatedness and positionality suggest that amidst the apparently irreconcilable differences there are possibilities of moments of agreement and understanding between feminists from different backgrounds. Standpoint, situatedness and positionality also imply that there cannot be universally taboo groups for research purposes nor prohibited issues for feminist research. Although the postmodern emphasis on difference means that the impossibility of a universal agreement has been exposed, there remains the potential for joint research and action on specific issues between networks of feminists of different standpoints. I conclude that the way forward for feminist social research is a pragmatically based research which utilises the tools arid materials available locally (and globally available if accessible) (iii), purposive research with a user group or groups in mind and is not simply theory for theorisation's sake.
Below I shall discuss the standpoints, locatedness and positionalities of feminisms especially in relation to Islamic and 'Western' forms of feminism. The issues of the objectification of women in feminist research and the problematic nature of objectivity in feminist social research are also addressed. As indicated above, the writer concludes that the way forward may be through the possibility of issue-based coalitions.
In developing countries it is sometimes said that women's rights come under the umbrella of human rights. Globally there are feminisms, Eastern and Western, and between these are overlap and interchange. For instance there are Islamic feminists in the West and Western feminists in the East. Leila Ahmed has made a distinction between two kinds of Islamic feminism, which were historically rooted in the Egypt of the early twentieth century. These were modernist feminists who were in favour of unveiling and women's suffrage and who had dialogue with the West, and Islamist feminists who were opposed to Westernization and unveing (Ahmed 1992:180). Both these threads of feminism have influenced the later forms of Islamic feminism, which are now apparent in the West. Azza Karam differentiates in present-day Egypt between 'Muslim feminists' and 'Islamist feminists'. She describes Muslim feminists as using Islamic sources but as "aim(ing) to show that the discourse of equality between men and women is valid" (Karam 19 98:11) and 'Islamist feminists' who hold the view that "women are oppressed precisely because they try to be 'equal' to men and are therefore being placed in unnatural settings and unfair situations, which denigrate them and take away their integrity and dignity as women" (Karaml998: 910). For the purposes of this paper I use the term 'Muslim feminists' and 'Islamist feminists' to differentiate between these two different kinds of feminism differently rooted in the same faith. Islamist feminists and 'Western feminists' overlap geographically but they tend to move in separate worlds.
On a global scale, differences between feminists arise not only from the sources of feminisms such as secular or sacred texts and ideologies, resistance to different forms of exploitation, identity politics, ethnicity or sexuality but also through different understandings of what it means to be a woman. The various standpoints concerning the constructions of gender could be summed up under three headings: cultural constructions (nurture), poststructuralist constructions or deconstructions (discourse) or essentialist constructions (nature).
Cultural constructions of gender led to a Second Wave Western feminism which (although Radical feminists were often described as essentialist) largely embraced an androgynous view of gender equality. Gender was considered to be something that was the result of enculturation and there was nothing a priori about it. This view was exemplified in Liz Stanley's 'Should "Sex" Really Be "Gender" - or "Gender" Really Be "Sex"'? (Stanley 1984). At this time it was said that feminist research was 'by women for women'. Over the last two decades however, not only did it become clear that there is no unified women's voice but the poststructuralist deconstruction of 'woman' led to 'gender scepticism', a doubt that 'women' can be defined (Bordo 1990). (iv) Politically, some writers have seen this as problematic in that it could lead to a denial of oppression (Berktay 1993; Franks 2001; Hartsock 1987; Maynard 1994; Moi 1985). Postmodernist theory, in terms of critical theory, deconstructionism and poststructualist analysis, has profoundly changed the way in which we can look at feminist research, …
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Publication information: Article title: Feminisms and Cross-Ideological Feminist Social Research: Standpoint, Situatedness and Positionailty -- Developing Cross-Ideological Feminist Research. Contributors: Franks, Myfanwy - Author. Journal title: Journal of International Women's Studies. Volume: 3. Issue: 2 Publication date: May 2002. Page number: 40+. © 2007 Bridgewater State College. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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