Feminist Methods in Social Research

Feminist Methods in Social Research

Feminist Methods in Social Research

Feminist Methods in Social Research


Shulamit Reinharz here examines the wide range of experiments feminist researchers undertake. Her goal is to help explain the relationship between feminism and methodology and to challenge stereotypes that might exist about 'feminist research methods'. Reinharz concludes that there is no one feminist method, but rather a variety of perspectives or questions that feminists bring to traditional methods. She argues that this diversity of methods has been of great value to feminist scholarship. She also includes an extensive bibliography which catalogues feminist scholarship over the last two decades. There are a few edited volumes on the subject but currently no authored text.


The question of difference is one with the question of identity. It is becoming the critical question for feminist theorizing in all the disciplines including social science research methods as feminists begin to question and challenge the implicit male perspective of the dominant paradigms, methodological strictures, and theoretical assumptions of the various disciplines.

In the opening quotation Roslyn Bologh, a U.S. sociologist, writes that feminist theory about research methods involves questions of identity (what are feminist research methods?) and of difference (what is the difference between feminist research methods and other research methods; how do feminist research methods differ from one another?). This book is devoted to these questions. To answer them, I analyze instances of feminist research to discover which methods feminist researchers actually use and why they say they use them. This grounded approach supplements existing philosophical discussions about the relation between feminism and research.

Many people have asserted what feminist research is. For example, U.S. psychologist Bernice Lott wrote that:

Feminist scholarship and empirical research . . . have particular qualities that distinguish it from other research . . . in its choice of problems and ultimate objectives.

On the other hand, U.S. natural scientist Cindy Cowden defined it as stemming from two "personal beliefs: that reductionist science is inadequate to understand organisms, whether they are spiders, starfish or women; that we can only understand organisms by seeing with a loving eye." British sociologist Liz Stanley wrote that "'feminist research' is absolutely and centrally 'research by women' because I see a direct relationship between 'feminist consciousness' and feminism." Canadian political scientist Naomi Black wrote that feminist research "insists on the value of subjectivity and personal experience." U.S. sociologist Marjorie DeVault wrote that "the dilemma for the feminist scholar, always, is to find ways of working within some disciplinary tradition while aiming at an intellectual revolution that will transform the tradition." And U.S. literary scholar Carolyn Burke claims the strength of the women's movement lies in its ability to acknowledge "serious disagreement" on topics including feminist methods.

In my view, despite this variety, such definitions mask diversity and downplay . . .

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