Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader

Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader

Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader

Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader


As feminist scholarship has developed, it has become increasingly clear that the practice of feminist research is interdisciplinary. Yet there are very few books in the social sciences and humanities that address the methodological and theoretical issues raised in doing feminist research from an interdisciplinary perspective. This collection is an ideal text for courses in research methods and in women's studies in a wide range of social science and humanities disciplines. A distinct feature of this volume is its interdisciplinary and global orientation. The collection is organized around key issues in feminist theory and empirical research as they have been impacted by post-structuralist dialogue. Several essays address the tensions between disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge building, exposing male biases embedded in disciplinary paradigms. Other essays deal with the politics of identity and experience, presented not as innate and unproblematic, but as constituted by discourse, representation, and the effects of power. Responding to the inadequacy of essentializing modes of feminist thought, some scholars focus on the complex terrain in which difference is used as a tool of oppression and of resistance both inside and outside feminist praxis. The gender dynamics of power and resistance are taken up by several critics whose research encourages the development of a feminist scholarly methodology focused on women's subjective experiences and the ways in which relations of power are mediated. Visual and discursive representations of the female body constitute another major focus of the volume, especially as related to the imposition of compulsory heterosexuality and reproductive norms. The volume concludes with a set of essays which present the reader with some methodological and political dilemmas feminists encounter as they expose the underlying ideological distortions in existing social policies.


From time to time in academia, shared need, individual talent, strong commitment, valued resources, and venturesome leadership align to transcend organizational and disciplinary boundaries. When they do, powerful collaborations can take hold. Fields of scholarship can gain momentum and intellectual lives can flourish. So it happened in Boston when the Graduate Consortium in Women's Studies at Radcliffe College began in 1993.

A group of brilliant feminist thinkers working in several research universities in the Boston area shared a growing concern about the paucity of opportunities for graduate-level education in women's studies. They felt keenly their own isolation in separate disciplines and institutions and longed for deeper interdisciplinary collaboration to advance their own work and women's studies scholarship. The working relationship among these faculty members turned into a friendship and this friendship generated the trust and mutual commitment necessary to risk exploration across intellectual and institutional boundaries. Together they envisioned a new institutional model that would simultaneously address the following problems in graduate education that they had identified.

For graduate students in their own institutions, as in most academic institutions, opportunities for graduate-level study in women's studies were nonexistent or limited to independent study with already overcommitted faculty members. Further, most graduate-level work was highly focused within disciplines, creating specialists ignorant of the concepts, issues, and methodologies of other disciplines and unable to see or mine the connections nascent and necessary in women's studies scholarship. The pedagogy in their institutional environments ignored the importance of combining academic knowledge with experiential knowledge to advance women's studies scholarship.

Acutely aware of early feminism's neglect of the interactions among gender, race, class, age, sexuality, and ethnicity, these scholars also sought to embed in their work a deep commitment to addressing the full range of these lenses of experience. Impatient with the pace of progress on the educational and social frontier of women's advancement, these feminist leaders recognized the importance of linking theory, policy, and practice. They also knew that their own careers, and those of junior faculty members, would depend on opportunities for development to deepen their understanding, broaden their intellectual networks, and produce new work, both in teaching and in scholarship.

The genius of this group of faculty members was their design of a consortium of scholars and teachers in which all these needs could be addressed simultaneously. What they lacked was an institutional home, financial and physical resources, and an encouraging and compatible environment. They also needed . . .

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