Cheering on the Revolution: Exploring Feminist Research Methodologies in the Social Sciences
July 20, 02023
By Emil Reithinger
Photograph by Elena Dressler
Street Artist unknown
The course “Exploring Feminist Research Methodologies in the Social Sciences” shifted the focus away from conventional research methodologies and methods, in favor of an all-encompassing feminist approach. Well-structured, it started by giving an overview of feminist research methodologies, before diving deeper into existing practices and reflecting on ethical concerns in feminist research. Although feminist research methods appear to be a niche-product at first glance, it seems only logical, that not only research topics, but also research methods and methodologies develop, and conventional research methodologies are not always suited for evolving research topics. Because evolving feminist research methodologies try to answer this need for development, it is incomprehensible why feminist research methodologies are hardly paid attention to, and why they are not applied to a broader context and instead are often overlooked by conventional research fields in social sciences.
Often starting with methodologies, I remember that class discussions soon turned to feminism in general. Since the term feminism opens a broad field and evokes ambiguity, I often felt insecure about where to locate feminism in my normative- and value-horizon. I was convinced that feminism has a decent core idea, but I sometimes struggled with concerns about it being too white or non-inclusive towards other marginalized groups. Regarding these discussions about the conceptualization of feminism in general, my major takeaway from the course was a more reflexive and profound understanding of feminism. The discussions helped me put feminism into context, and I gained security perceiving feminism as a theoretical concept, that refers - just like realism, constructivism, or institutionalism - to numerous sub-concepts. These sub-concepts differ widely and produce controversies on their own. One of numerous aspects the course taught me is for example that in contrast to conventional (theoretical) concepts, the conceptualization of feminism incorporates the basic assumption that research is value loaded and subjective. Depending on underlying beliefs research questions are posed differently and research outcomes in result can be interpreted in different ways. In this sense I am now able to assign critiques or ambiguities with historical chapters or controversial sub-concepts but hold on to my deep belief in the fundamental idea of the justice, equality and fighting-oppression feminism. Furthermore, the concept, like comparable concepts, undergoes a historical development, where not every development necessarily means progress. As a theoretical concept it has its own research methods which are part of a broader understanding on how to produce knowledge. Regarding the use of language and framing, it surprised and shocked me how common practices ignore obvious influences on research results and take on a universal understanding for granted. This is reflected, for example, in the fact that men are assumed to be the norm - that medicines are adapted to men's bodies, or that airbags in cars are tested with dummies of average height and average weight of men. But also in social sciences the needs of women are often ignored, not acknowledged or seen as a deviation from the norm - leading to severe consequences for women - even if women are about 50% of humanity. I learned that feminist research methodologies are aware and reflexive. Researchers try to act on an eye level with researched subjects. They acknowledge the object of interest as a subject of interest, and are concerned with the consequences that research can cause. Another important aspect is that feminist research places marginalized and overlooked societal groups at its core. Whereas marginalization often remains invisible, feminism searches to uncover these invisible chains using feminist methodologies that try not to stumble across these invisible chains and not make inequalities visible in a painful way.
Overall, the course supported me in my belief that science is value loaded and subjective. Scientific research is built on a normative construct, influencing its results. It seems impossible to work on an objective work ethos, and further, as a powerful instrument it carries the responsibility to pursue a supporting-the-marginalized norm-agenda. Although I did not stumble across feminist research methodologies in my studies so far, the course gave me insight into numerous feminist interventions trying to question conventional research. It made me understand how feminist research interventions question conventional research, and thus are still not welcome and offered in male and white dominated university curriculums. Holding on to these starting points I hopefully will be able to support and pursue a more inclusive research agenda in the future.