Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader

By Sharlene Hesse-Biber; Christina Gilmartin et al. | Go to book overview

PART 6
Social Policy and Female Agency

These three articles provide important theoretical and methodological insights and strategies in conducting interdisciplinary social policy research. In addition to alerting us to the tensions that may arise in balancing the use of quantitative and qualitative data in making an effective argument for social change, these authors examine the potential abuse of social science data when it is used to support ideological biases and to justify social control within the social policy arena. They urge us to consider the wider sociopolitical context within which research is conducted and the need to maintain the strategic use of some essentialist categories to promote social change. Roberta Spalter-Rothand Heidi Hartmann's article, "Small Happinesses: The Feminist Struggle to Integrate Social Research with Social Activism," argues for a "dualistic approach" to the study of social welfare policy which combines quantitative and qualitative research designs as a strategy to advance social policy and promote social change. They suggest that while it is vital for research to be grounded in women's "lived experience,"social scientists should not dismiss the usefulness of quantitative "positivist" data. They argue their case by using their own "positivist research on work and welfare "to promote new policy initiatives for women. For example, they cite the need to provide "credible evidence" to show how current welfare policy hurts the efforts of single mothers to take charge of their lives. By taking on the role of "scientific expert" they utilize positivist methods to "gain credibility" within the policy sphere where their research was taken up by mainstream media as "hard facts." At the same time, they note the tensions that arise in integrating this dual perspective. The conflicts these researchers felt between their commitment to the open circulation of academic data and activists' insistence on a more politically strategic use of information dramatize the necessity to keep dialogue open and to work toward effective coalitions between feminists working for similar goals inside and outside the academy.

Cindy Patton's article, "From Nation to Family: Containing African AIDS," demonstrates how social policy is often embedded in dominant discourse and is used as a mechanism of social control by the elite. She traces the psychological fears (in the heterosexual West) that motivate biased assumptions about race, class, and sexuality both in dominant state policy and in "scientific" theory and practice. She examines how AIDS policy in developing nations of Africa grew out of the legacy of the colonial construction of an "idealized" nuclear family. Holding up the traditional Western family model as a symbol of progress and a structure they sought to impose on African societies, early colonizers were able to undermine traditional African family structure, to control the African economy, and to justify discrimination against Africans. The depiction of the traditional colonial family is now used by the state to control the perception

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