top of page
WhatsApp Image 2023-07-18 at 09.53.02.jpeg

Summarizing the Course ‘Exploring Feminist Research Methodologies in the Social Sciences’

July 20, 02023

By Maya Heins

Photograph by Elena Dressler

Street Artist unknown

This semester I organized an autonomous tutorial titled "Exploring Feminist Research Methodologies in the Social Sciences". The course aimed to understand what makes research feminist and how feminist theory influences research construction and execution. The course emphasized the need for methodological and ethical considerations to challenge imperial, racist, and patriarchal assumptions in social sciences research. The tutorial explored the history of the academic and theoretical feminist tradition, various feminist research methodologies, interdisciplinary research from a feminist standpoint, and the importance of addressing and reflecting on researchers' own positionality and biases. Based on theoretical texts, the class was discussion-centered, and as a group we sought to better understand what feminist research is and how to do it. We spent a lot of time challenging each other to formulate and succinctly articulate our understandings of what feminism is and how to incorporate it into our own work in an ethical manner. Many of these discussions centered around both the importance of feminism as a concept and theoretical framework in modern society, but also many of the challenges, (such as racism and homophobia within feminist groups) that it presents. Since not everyone was able to participate in the course, but still might be interested in the subject, this article seeks to share the textual evidence that we covered throughout the semester with a broader audience.


Over the course of the semester, our class covered topics such as intersectionality, feminist epistemology, standpoint feminism, empiricism, post-modernism, post-structuralism, critical theory, qualitative methods (interviews, ethnography, participatory action research, media analysis), quantitative methods (surveys, content analysis, evaluation research), feminist methodologies for international relations and peace research, intersectionality methodology, sex positivity, backlash movements to feminism, feminist ethics, reflexivity, and the implementation of feminist methods in research. We covered all of these topics by reading a variety of sources including works by Leavy & Harris (2019), Ackery, Stern & True (2006), Hesse-Biber (2014), Reinharz (1992), Lykke (2010), McCall (2005), Fuentes (2023) and Tickner (2005), among others. The following points, summarized from our class reading notes with the help of ChatGPT, represent the core topics and concepts covered in this course:


During our first content-based session on methodologies, the focus was on intersectionality, feminist epistemology, standpoint feminism, empiricism, and feminist normative theory. The key points from the readings by Leavy & Harris (2019), Hesse-Biber (2014), and Ackery, Stern & True (2006) are as follows:

  • Feminist theory challenges gender inequity in social, political, and cultural practices, considering gender as a continuum rather than a male/female binary.

  • Feminist research challenges androcentric biases, exposes assumptions in methods, theory, and findings, and seeks to change science by uncovering sexist and androcentric assumptions.

  • Intersectionality, a concept coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, highlights how multiple oppressions overlap and are experienced by individuals at the intersection of different identities.

  • Intersectionality moves beyond the traditional focus on gender to include issues of race, class, disability, and geography, emphasizing the importance of addressing oppressions rooted in these intersecting identities.

  • Third-world feminisms and global feminisms emerged from postcolonial theory and primarily address non-dominant, non-white, and non-Western perspectives and issues.

  • Empiricism, rooted in sensory experience and replicability, has historical origins in Renaissance Europe. It prioritizes rationality and separates knowledge from social contexts, often associated with positivist methods.

  • Epistemic authority and privilege refer to whose knowledge is recognized and accepted, often influenced by geopolitical structures of dominance and control. Self-reflexivity and acknowledging the perspectives of all involved in knowledge production are important in feminist research.

  • Feminist empiricism, influenced by enlightenment perspectives, seeks equality, liberation, and rationalism. It aims to eradicate gender bias through the inclusion of women in the research process.

  • Standpoint feminism acknowledges the role of social position in knowledge production, rejecting the idea of objective knowledge. It values transparency about researchers' perspectives and views knowledge as shaped by social, political, and historical contexts.

  • Standpoint theory emphasizes the diversity of individual experiences and social contexts, considering the situated knowledges that emerge from specific economic, demographic, and gendered positions.

  • Feminist normative analysis in international relations engages with the ethical dimensions of power asymmetries. It employs detailed case studies, discursive analysis, and critical moral ethnography to explore the consequences of arrangements using feminist moral frameworks.

  • Relational ontology and feminist moral ontology emphasize the embeddedness of ethics in social and personal relations, challenging individualistic and contractual perspectives.


During the next session on methodologies, the focus was on post-modernism and post-structuralism. Here are the key points from the readings by Leavy & Harris (2019) and Hesse-Biber (2014):



  • Post-modernism extends humanist feminist approaches by focusing on the social constructivism of gender and challenging binary notions of gender.

  • It rejects master narratives and essentializing truths, recognizing the multiplicity of perspectives and lived experiences.

  • Language plays a central role in constructing repressive structures and essentializing views of gender.

  • Post-modernism pursues truth as a construct of power, emphasizing the role of language in creating and signifying reality.

  • Judith Butler's work on gender highlights how it is constituted in social discourse and the inseparability of gender theory from feminist political philosophy.

  • Strategic or operational essentialism recognizes the social and cultural functioning of gender in essentializing ways, but also highlights the need for nuanced understandings in social, economic, and interpersonal contexts.

  • Post-modernism recognizes multiple subjective, relative truths and the shaping of reality by experience, society, culture, and language.



  • Post-structuralism encompasses various theoretical positions and emphasizes the instability of knowledge.

  • It rejects objectivity and a single reality/truth, focusing on the social construction of realities and power interests.

  • Post-structuralism explores subjectification through discursive regimes that shape gendered subjects.

  • Feminist sociology examines gender in relation to power and socio-cultural institutions, practices, and codes.

  • It aims to keep the category of "women" unstable and considers agency and possibilities for action.

  • Post-structuralism rejects objectivity and a single reality/truth, emphasizing the social construction of realities and the power interests involved.

  • Feminist post-structural discourse analysis focuses on language and discourse as constitutive of experience, enabling the uncovering of hidden oppressions.

  • Critical theory challenges assumptions of universal behaviors and stereotypes, exploring power dynamics and justice in various social systems.

  • Examples of post-structuralist approaches include cyborg feminism, trans*feminisms, and genderqueer diversity theory.


The class went on to explore the different methods that feminist research methodologies employ. During the first methods' session the focus was on qualitative research methods, including interviews, ethnography, and participatory action research. During the second methods session the focus was on quantitative research methods, including surveys, content analysis, evaluation research, and media analysis. Here are the key points from the readings by Leavy & Harris (2019), Hesse-Biber (2014), and Reinharz (1992):


Qualitative Methods:

  • Qualitative research values subjective experiences and meaning-making processes.

  • Data collection methods include field notes and memo-notes for synthesizing and integrating data.

  • Analysis and interpretation involve coding the data, identifying patterns and themes, and writing memos to document impressions and emerging understandings.


Interviews and Ethnography:

  • Interviews can be structured, semi-structured, or unstructured, and can be conducted one-on-one or in groups (focus groups).

  • In-depth interviews are usually one-on-one, inductive, and allow for in-depth exploration of topics.

  • Oral history involves interviewing one person multiple times, accessing a significant portion of their life.

  • Ethnography involves fieldwork and can be participatory or non-participatory observation, as well as observing and engaging with participants in their cultural context.

  • Various types of ethnography include native ethnography, urban ethnography, global ethnography, critical and applied ethnography, visual ethnography, and digital ethnography.

  • Issues that feminist ethnographers need to consider during data collection include power dynamics, reflexivity, and the potential for retraumatization.

  • Reciprocity is a complicated issue for feminists due to power imbalances and the need to ensure meaningful participation and benefits for research participants.


Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR):

  • CBPAR involves forming research partnerships with nonacademic stakeholders to address community-identified problems or issues.

  • Collaboration, power-sharing, and different forms of knowledge are valued in CBPAR.

  • The aim is to promote community change and action, addressing inequality and democratizing knowledge production.

  • The research design is a recursive process, involving recurring communication and evaluation with community partners.


Quantitative Methods:

  • Quantitative research is based on post-positivist and empiricist philosophy.

  • It is based on post-positivist and empiricist philosophy.

  • It focuses on probability testing and building evidence to support or reject hypotheses.

  • It involves low levels of interaction between the researcher and participants.

  • It values breadth of data and statistical descriptions.

  • Effective for exposing rates of phenomena.



  • Surveys are the most widely used quantitative method in the social sciences, collecting data from a large sample for statistical analysis.

  • Survey research is useful for studying beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and behaviors.

  • The research design involves transforming the topic into a research purpose statement and formulating hypotheses.

  • Researchers must minimize respondent burden and consider survey delivery methods (online, phone, etc.).

  • Probability sampling strategies are used to determine the sample (element, study population, etc.).

  • Data analysis includes descriptive statistics (frequencies, measures of central tendency, measures of dispersion) and inferential statistics (null hypothesis significance testing).


Media/Content Analysis:

  • Media analysis involves examining media representations and their social implications.

  • It can be used to uncover hidden oppressions and challenge dominant narratives.

  • Methods include content analysis, discourse analysis, and visual analysis.

  • Content analysis is a method for studying cultural materials and can be quantitative or qualitative.

  • It examines written texts, visual images, audiovisual texts, digital platforms, music, and objects to understand the politics of representation and how gendered power operates.

  • Feminist media analysis begins with discourses and examines the ways power operates through ideas and representations.

  • It involves analyzing various forms of media, such as print news, internet content, television, advertising, and material culture.

  • The research process includes understanding basic representations, identifying key themes, coding data, and analyzing patterns.

  • Reflexivity is essential for the researcher to remain aware of their role as the prime arbitrator of meaning in textual analysis.


Evaluation research:

  • Evaluation research focuses on studying programs or interventions to make judgments about their merit and worth.

  • It is problem-centered and involves synthesizing facts and values to assess program outcomes.


The following three sessions all focused on a specific case study within the framework of feminist methodologies in various different fields of study. The first session focused on the field of International Relations (IR) and peace research, followed by sessions on intersectionality and sex work. The main points from all session readings are as follows:


Tickner (2005):

  • The field of IR in the US has been dominated by positivist and rational choice methodologies.

  • Feminist scholars entered the field in the 1980s and challenged the masculinist biases in IR.

  • Feminist IR employs post-positivist and interpretive methodologies, emphasizing historical, sociological, ethnographic, and linguistic approaches.

  • Feminist IR aims to uncover the gendered nature of IR theory and practice and understand the disadvantaged lives of women within states and international institutions.

  • Feminist IR critiques the androcentric biases in conventional IR research and seeks to make women's experiences visible.


Ackery, Stern & True (2006):

  • Feminist IR research is characterized by reflexivity, which encourages continuous interrogation of one's own research and scholarship.

  • Feminist inquiry is transdisciplinary, political, and values multiple locations and intersections of social relations.

  • The distinctiveness of feminist methodology lies in its incorporation of ontological, epistemological, ethical, and methodological reflections.

  • Feminist research challenges and deconstructs traditional concepts and assumptions in IR and starts from the individual and micro levels to understand state behavior.

  • Feminist research aims to create knowledge that advances emancipation and challenges oppression, and it values everyday life experiences and practical knowledge.


Routledge Handbook of Feminist Peace Research (2021):

  • Feminist peace research requires investigatory skills and sensitivities to reveal oppressions, identify exclusions, and locate agency.

  • Feminist peace research asks feminist questions about power and pays attention to positionality.

  • Validity in feminist research is related to whether the outcomes are emancipatory.

  • Ethnography is a method that explores how bodies matter politically in relation to war and peace and focuses on lived experiences.

  • Discourse interpretation and narrative analysis are used to analyze the production and dissemination of stories in post-war societies.


Crenshaw (1991):

  • Intersectionality focuses on the multiple interactions of race and gender in the context of violence against women of color.

  • Identity politics, while important, often fails to address intra-group differences, leading to tensions among different groups.

  • Violence is shaped by class and race, and the marginalization of women of color within both feminism and anti-racism needs to be addressed.

  • Intersectionality highlights the need to account for multiple identities when studying the construction of the social world.


McCall (2005):

  • Intersectionality challenges the limitations of gender as a single analytical category and emphasizes the complexity of social life.

  • Three approaches to intersectional research methods are discussed: anticategorical complexity, intracategorical complexity, and intercategorical complexity.

  • Anticategorical complexity deconstructs analytical categories, intracategorical complexity interrogates the boundary-making process, and intercategorical complexity provisionally adopts existing categories to document relationships of inequality.

  • Ethical considerations, power dynamics, and positionality should be kept in mind when conducting intersectional feminist research.


Fuentes (2023):

  • The study utilizes a participatory action research (PAR) approach and examines sex worker support networks and the effects of criminalization on sex worker solidarity.

  • The research design includes semi-structured dialogues to uplift the narratives of sex workers and avoid essentializing their experiences.

  • The study challenges the framing of sex work as violence against women and instead focuses on the relegation of sex workers to the margins of oppressive systems, leading to stigma and violence against them.

  • The study explores the whorearchy, a sex worker-defined model of social organization that reflects the hierarchical arrangement and internal dynamics within the sex work community.

  • A Black feminist disability framework is employed to analyze how sex workers' positions along different axes of oppression react to criminalization and influence their position within the whorearchy.

  • The research uses semi-structured dialogues with sex workers to understand the impact of criminalization on their lives and networks, as well as their experiences of community and safety.

  • Sex worker spaces and collective care are highlighted as crucial sources of support and mutual aid, particularly in the absence of accessible formal systems of support.


The final sessions of the semester focused on feminist ethics and reflexivity in research, as well as the process of putting together a research project.  They highlight the value-laden nature of feminist research and the importance of considering ethical considerations throughout the research process. Here are some key points and discussion questions related to the readings:


Leavy & Harris (2019):

  • Feminist research is value-laden and always engaged, meaning that it is not value-free or neutral.

  • Researchers should reflect on their personal experiences, vulnerabilities, and emotional capacity when choosing a research topic and carrying out the research.

  • Ethics involves moral reasoning and deciding what is right and wrong. Relational understandings of ethics challenge binary ways of thinking and emphasize situational and relational views of morality.

  • Historical unethical research practices, such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, have led to the development of principles and ethical guidelines to protect research participants.

  • Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) were established to ensure the protection of human subjects in research.

  • Reflexivity is important in research to acknowledge and reflect on the power dynamics within the research process and the researcher's positionality.

  • Relational ethics emphasizes building trust, rapport, and emotional reflexivity with research participants, respecting their dignity and inclusivity, using culturally sensitive language, and actively listening.

  • The analysis, interpretation, representation, and dissemination of research findings should be done in a transparent and ethical manner, considering the intended audience and reaching them effectively.


Hesse-Biber (2014) focuses on the process of putting together a research project. Here are some key points and steps outlined in the reading:


Step 1: Developing Your Ideas

  • Identify social justice causes and communities you are interested in working with.

  • Clarify your research problem in one sentence and formulate related questions.

  • Reflect on the assumptions you are making about social reality and consider how you perceive social reality.

  • Conduct a literature review to understand how others have approached the topic, define key terms, identify controversies, and determine what is known and what gaps exist in the research.


Step 2: Deciding on Your Research Design

  • Consider the suitability of different research methods for addressing your research problem.

  • Be open to adapting and changing your research design if needed.

  • Determine your target sample and consider the importance of diversity in your research.


Step 3: Data Analysis

  • If using grounded theory data analysis, code your data line by line by asking questions such as what is going on, what people are doing, and what assumptions underlie their actions/statements.

  • Code segments of text, sort them in new ways, condense them, generate analytical concepts, and write memos to summarize and interpret the data.


Step 4: Interpreting Findings

  • Reflect on the power dynamics in your research and consider the voices that are heard or marginalized. Give careful attention to representing diverse perspectives and experiences.


Step 5: Writing up Your Methods Project

  • Be transparent in describing how you conducted your research and the limitations or constraints you faced.

  • Reflect on what you were not able to do and discuss any challenges or limitations encountered during the research process.




Ackerly, B. A. (2006). Feminist methodologies for international relations (B. A. Ackerly, Trans.). Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press.


Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241–1299. 


Fuentes, K. (2023). Sex Worker Collectives Within the Whorearchy: Intersectional Inquiry with Sex Workers in Los Angeles, CA. Affilia, 38(2), 224–243.


Hesse-Biber, S. N. (2014). Feminist research practice : a primer (S. N. Hesse-Biber, Ed. & Trans.). SAGE.


Leavy, P., & Harris, D. (2019). Contemporary feminist research from theory to practice (D. Harris, Trans.). New York: The Guilford Press.


Lykke, N. (2010). Feminist studies : a guide to intersectional theory, methodology and writing. London [u.a.]: Routledge.


McCall, L. (2005). The Complexity of Intersectionality. Signs, 30(3), 1771–1800.


Reinharz, S. (1992). Feminist methods in social research. New York [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press.


Tickner, A. (2005). Gendering a Discipline: Some Feminist Methodological Contributions to International Relations. Signs, 30(4), New Feminist Approaches to Social Science Methodologies, pp. 2173-2188. 


Väyrynen T., Parashar, S., Féron E., & Confortini, C. C. (2021). Routledge handbook of feminist peace research (Väyrynen T., S. Parashar, Féron E., & C. C. Confortini, Eds. & Trans.). London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

bottom of page