Doing Fieldwork on Women in Theocratic Islamic States: A Critique of the Politics of Empiricism

By Mojab, Shahrzad | Resources for Feminist Research, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Doing Fieldwork on Women in Theocratic Islamic States: A Critique of the Politics of Empiricism


Mojab, Shahrzad, Resources for Feminist Research


This paper examines the way some feminist advocates of cultural relativism adopt positivism and empiricism in order to discredit the radical critique of Islamization of gender relations in Iran. It argues that relativists use the positivist/empiricist cult of experience and objectivity in order to undermine the critique of policies and practices that oppress the women of Iran. The choice of a method of inquiry is not based on methodological considerations only. The researcher's political preferences, implicit or explicit, plays a significant role in the entire research process, especially in the study of sensitive issues. Although one may identify a methodological tradition with a certain brand of politics, the paper argues that methodological paradigms enter into changing relationships with structures of power.

Introduction

Today, an amazing array of methodological choices is available to the researcher in social sciences and the humanities. In the field of education, for instance, the Educational Research, Methodology, and Measurement: An International Handbook (Keeves, 1997) presents some 30 "methods of educational inquiry" and 66 "research methodologies." I argue, in this paper, that the choice of a method of inquiry is not based on methodological considerations alone. A host of factors, ranging from the researcher's ideological and political commitments to the interests of editors and publishers, constrains the freedom to choose in the marketplace of methodologies. This paper examines the politicized nature of the research agenda of feminists who study women and gender policies in the Islamic theocracy of Iran.

The Context

The ties that bind knowledge to power are complex, strong, and known since ancient times. Power relations decide, to a large extent, what kind of knowledge will be produced, legitimized, transmitted, and utilized. Equally tied to structures of power are research methods, i.e., rules, codes, criteria, procedures, and techniques for producing knowledge.

Methodology, to distinguish it from method itself, evaluates research methods. In the late twentieth century, methodology turned into a major site of struggle, especially in the social sciences and the humanities. Approaches to methodology range from sceptical postmodernist rejection of all methods of research to positivist insistence that (social science) research should strictly adhere to the methods of natural sciences. The former position advocates relativism, i.e., it argues that all knowledge claims are equally valid; it rejects privileging some knowledge claims on the basis of "objectivity" or scientific merit. The latter position, positivism, rejects the validity of research that is not based on "rigorous" methods of science, observation, and experimentation (Rosenau, 1992, pp. 109-37).

There is, between the two extremes of postmodern "relativism" and positivist "objectivity" (or "scientism"), a host of methodological "paradigms" ranging from post-positivism to hermeneutics, which converge with or diverge from the two polarized positions. While methodological debates are rooted in the old discourses of philosophy, especially epistemology (theory of knowledge), they are, at the same time, political statements that intervene in today's unequal distribution of power in society. In other words, the creation of knowledge is a methodological as well as a political undertaking. Marxism, for instance, claims that all knowledge is shaped by class interests, while feminism argues that gender underlies the creation of all forms of knowledge. It is already known that race, nationality, ethnicity and culture, among others, also shape the production, distribution and utilization of knowledge.

Stating the Problem

Advances in methodological studies have revealed close ties that bind epistemology to politics, and knowledge to power. However, we need to know much more about the complexity of these relationships. One relevant question is the extent to which a methodological tradition is embedded in a certain trend of politics.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Doing Fieldwork on Women in Theocratic Islamic States: A Critique of the Politics of Empiricism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?