Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Answering Questions and Asking More: Reflections on Feminist Participatory Research

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Answering Questions and Asking More: Reflections on Feminist Participatory Research

Article excerpt

This article is a reflection on the nature of participatory feminist research in general, and the issue of self-disclosure to participants of a research project in particular. The author struggles with the ethical and practical implications of sharing her own experiences of violence with a group of Spanish-speaking immigrant women in Toronto, Ontario who have experienced domestic abuse.

But unfortunately, as we know, research that admits to working for women (and thus to being political), which demands conscious subjectivity and which acknowledge (women's) feelings, emotions and intuitions is not taken seriously in academic circles...

(Duelli Klein 1983, p. 96)

It has been important for me, while reflecting on the process of my doctoral research and my role as researcher, to re-read the early writing on feminist research. More than anything, this early writing supports one underlying premise of feminist research: that it is dynamic and continuously evolving. In reading and reflecting, I have felt less isolated with my own frustrations that I have encountered in my research. Shulamit Reinharz (1992, p. 194) notes that in feminist research, learning must occur on three levels: the person, the problem and the method. My learning has certainly occurred on all levels and this paper addresses in particular the third level, while demonstrating how the learning on the other two levels are interrelated.

The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to reflectively describe a feminist participatory research project with Spanish-speaking immigrant women in Toronto who had experienced domestic abuse; and second, to analyze one particular challenge that arose during the research process, the issue of self-disclosure in feminist participatory research. The first part of this paper will begin with a brief overview of relevant feminist and participatory research literature. I will then describe the research process in some detail, focussing on the challenge of self-disclosure. In the second part, this challenge will be analyzed and some conclusions, albeit tentative, drawn. With each question answered, more need to be asked.

I. Feminist and Participatory Action Research

The ultimate goal of feminist research is the emancipation of women and the creation of a just world for everyone (Mies, 1982; Deles and Santiago, 1984, Acker et al., 1983). Feminist research emerged from the women's liberation movement of 1960s. The movement legitimized the questions of female scholars and provided the catalyst to challenge male bias in research. By the early 1980s, critics had begun to demand that feminist research move beyond theorizing to be able to utilize genuinely participatory practices which have the potential to liberate and empower those involved (Mies, 1983).

Margrit Eichler provides a minimal definition of feminist research in her book, Feminist Methodology:

Feminist scholarship is oriented towards the improvement of the status of women and is undertaken by scholars who define themselves as feminists. Hence it is engaged rather than supposedly value-neutral research -- which is one of the sources of the debate with respect to its methodology -- and it is carried out within the context of a community of scholars who in some manner take note of and respond to each others' work. (1997, p. 10)

And in her book on feminist research, Feminist Methods in Social Research, Reinharz (1992) points out that feminism is a perspective rather than a research method and that feminists use many research methods. As such, feminist research will be politically motivated research that aspires to produce learning that is useful for women, makes women visible, and facilitates the potential for change while causing minimal harm to participants (DeVault, 1996, pp. 32, 33).

As feminism is change-oriented by definition, one could argue that all feminist research has some action component. …

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