The Feminist Biographical Method in Psychological Research

By Popadiuk, Natalee | The Qualitative Report, September 2004 | Go to article overview

The Feminist Biographical Method in Psychological Research


Popadiuk, Natalee, The Qualitative Report


The feminist biographical method is an in-depth interpretive methodology that is useful for research in the field of psychology. I believe that this qualitative method is an excellent tool for analyzing individual narratives of participants' lives in relation to the larger cultural matrix of the society in which they live. Although an oral interview is often the primary strategy employed for data collection in this methodology, other sources of information such as personal journals, official documents, and cultural texts are also exciting additions to the research. The strengths of the feminist biographical method include the depth, context, and meaning found in the research; the inclusion of women's experiences and voices in academic research; and the ability to conduct a sociopolitical analysis of potentially marginalized people. In this article, I delve into the feminist biographical method by providing discussion and examples from research in the field, as well as from my own research. I provide the reader with a personal narrative on "how-to" conduct research using the feminist biographical method. In particular, I delineate the process of researching the lived experiences of women international students in difficult relationships. As a psychological researcher, I encourage others in the field of psychology to consider using the feminist biographical research to add context, depth, and richness to studies involving human participants. Key words: Qualitative Research Methodologies, Feminist Research, Biographical Research, International Students, Women's Issues, Intimate Relationships, and Abusive Relationships

I want research that begins in a place of unknowing, with a leap of faith, a courageous willingness to embark on a journey. I want research that seeks out mysteries and acknowledges even the muddled, mad, mesmerizing miasma that rises up as a kind of breath and breathing, connected with the pulsing and compelling rhythms of the heart (Leggo, 1999).

Introduction

Deciding on an appropriate research methodology is not an easy task for burgeoning qualitative researchers. Today there are many choices including action research (Greenwood & Levin, 1998; Taylor, 1994), critical theory (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000; Fox & Prilleltensky, 1997), discourse analysis (Potter & Wetherell, 1995), ethnography (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995), feminist research (Fine, 1994; Usher, 1996; VanderPlaat, 1999), and grounded theory (Charmaz, 2000; Strauss & Corbin, 1990) to name only a few. Besides the sheer number of qualitative methodologies available, further complications arise when considering the practical and theoretical implications of each method. For instance, grounded theory stems from a positivist tradition that straddles both quantitative and qualitative realms. This kind of research will provide a very different context for conducting, analyzing, and interpreting data than interpretivist methods that built upon humanistic, hermeneutic understandings. Also important to consider is that in every academic discipline some research methods will be foregrounded as valuable, time-honored, and accepted while others are left in the background, considered inappropriate, or are simply unknown. These latter methods then, become unacceptable tools of investigation within any given department, university, or even an entire field. Since the feminist biographical method is rarely used in psychological inquiry, I would like to make a case that this method should be considered and utilized for this kind of research.

In order to situate myself, I will share my own process of finding a method that not only fits well with my research, but also with my philosophy as a therapist and educator. While studying and preparing extensively for my candidacy exams during my doctoral program in Applied Psychology, I took many courses in qualitative inquiry, read voraciously on the subject, and fretted with other students about how to make the final decision on choosing an appropriate methodology. …

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