Transferring Knowledge from Real Life into Science: Reflecting on Feminist Research Methodologies
July 20, 2023
By Elena Dressler
Photograph by Elena Dressler
Street Artist unknown
This last semester (March-July 2023) I decided to take some time off my studies and travel. I wanted to take a step back, explore, see different parts of Europe, read many books and texts that I have saved in a folder which was called “to read”, but I never had the time to actually read. When my friend then told me she would be teaching an autonomous tutorial on feminist methodologies, I was very happy because I could easily incorporate one meeting a week - with interesting topics that I hadn’t engaged with much. Now that the academic semester is almost over I look back and think: during this semester, in which I actually wanted to take time off from my academic learning and do something else, other than study, I have learned many new things - academically. The autonomous tutorial “Exploring Feminist Research Methodologies in the Social Science” taught me many things that the common university courses (including the ones on methodologies) fail to teach students. In this short reflection I want to stick up for taking a semester “off” and concentrating on something that one actually always wanted to spend time with or that is completely new. Taking a semester “off” does not have to mean one has to go traveling, stop working and just chill - although it can - for me, it meant taking a step back, only doing hybrid courses and engaging with a topic that I always wanted to engage with but felt I never had the time.
Coming to the tutorial: besides, my general interest for feminist topics, I have never really bothered with methodology (yes, there is a pivotal difference between method, a technique for gathering evidence and methodology, a theory and analysis of how research does or should proceed) - even less with a critical standpoint - even though I always thought I should. Considering methodologies from a feminist view made engaging with the topic a lot more attractive to me. The course was very well-structured and gave me a very good overview on how feminist research is generally grounded in the different theoretical approaches (critical theory, post-modernism, post-structuralism etc.). The two most important things that I learned during this course are: (1) Our perception of “the objective truth” is not always so objective - in fact, usually the truth is very subjective and not separable from individual experiences. What my “objective truth” is, often depends on my standpoint, on my view and my narratives of a topic. It might be very different from your truth, depending on your standpoint, your views and your narratives. (2) There is always an epistemic authority about a topic that decides whose knowledge is silenced and whose is accepted or recognized as “truth”. It is based on other people’s judgement on who is reliable, trustworthy and objective - which in large parts depends on geopolitical structures of dominance and control, as well as the right and ability to speak and be heard.
My main takeaway from the tutorial is thus: when doing research one should always consider other standpoints, other truths and try to think about whose knowledge is accepted, whose is silenced and why. Feminist methodologies try to do exactly that: they attempt to grasp issues that concern groups of people that are usually marginalised or unheard, and thus bring about justice in many different forms. Feminist methodologies also try to take into account and uncover hierarchies within research and do research ethically correct. One fact that became very clear to me during this course was that we need new views and methodologies on old (and new) research topics, and that framing is everything. The thing that probably hit me the most was the realization that feminist (as well as other critical) standpoints are still unwanted, underfunded, silenced and often not taken seriously - even more because the word contains feminin. Critique and new ideas might not always be taken in easily, but I guess (traditionalist) scholars, funders and the rest of the world should be able to cope that 50 percent of the population is female and that their concerns, issues and approaches might be different but of the same value. I thus conclude this reflection by suggesting to everyone - and especially scholars - to engage with the topic of methodologies, knowledge production and critical or feminist theory, and thereby discover new and valuable impulses to known topics.