Feminist Methodology?! Doesn’t that just mean talking about women?

Experiment – make a case for something that sort of exists

I would define “methodology” as “the boring part of the article that I always skim, maybe nonsense, probably overly technical just to make sure it isn’t questioned. But definitely boring.”

One of my current professors gave our PhD cohort an enthusiastic call to arms; Make your methodology the most intriguing part of your thesis. I am determined to do it with a new look at a not-too-new idea. I need to be able to explain why a feminist methodology is absolutely necessary . . . and interesting!

The current (especially American) discourse surrounding research is that the best research is objective, double-blind, randomly assigned, and experimental. This is the “gold standard” of research. It is assumed that under those stringent standards will come research that is rigorous, generalizable, and useful. Many countries have “what works” forums for this kind of research. These forums focus on how education research conducted within this paradigm is guaranteed to improve schools. The assumption is that the “gold standard” leads to the best research that will work anywhere and under any conditions. The less obvious message is that research which is subjective, personal, conducted in cohorts, or non-experimental is then deemed less rigorous and must not be of much benefit. Unfortunately, most school situations can be described as exactly that kind of situation; subjective, personal, in cohorts, and non-experimental. School is a process and often finding the “causal mechanism” is not always obvious!

In my research, I am realizing that not just the predominance of women in the school setting, but my own involvement in my research and the way I will do my measurement call for a different way of looking at things. I cannot simply reject quantitative research or objectivity, I must have a methodology that can hold up to scrutiny by those who believe in the “gold standard”. So, let’s clear out the assumption of what is “proper” research and attempt to make the case for a FEMINIST METHODOLOGY!!

A few issues with the “gold standard”:

  • Measurement ≠ Understanding – Just because something can be quantified or experimented with does not automatically mean that we understanding the underlying mechanisms.
  • Unmeasurable things have value too – For example, imagination!
  • People are an integral part of any research – The participants, the researcher, and culture all affect research. Pretending these factors don’t exist, are outside of the scope of a study, or are apolitical is not rigorous.
  • Anything that we measure will increase, while things that are not measured will decrease – Methodology  affects the results and there may be no such thing as objective research.

A few ideas from feminism that call for a different methodology:

  • Centre/Edge theory – That people who live within the prevailing knowledge do not have to understand those on the edge, but people on the edge have to understand the “centre” (this is often framed as Men/Women, Middle Class/Poor, or Majority/Minority)
  • Theories of knowledge – As I’ve discussed on this blog already, knowledge and “who are the knowers” is highly contested. Sometimes taking to non-experts and looking at more than numbers is as good or better.
  • Limits of quantitative “averaging” – When we average data, what we get out of it is genderless, emotionless, and sanitized. Quantified people are not very human.
  • Quantifying experiences in a way that allows for a broad range rather than narrow or artificial categories may be possible
  • My own “baggage”, life history, lived experience, and personal attachment will effect my understanding of what I see and how I conduct my research.

Surprisingly, feminist methodology doesn’t just mean that we are studying women. Instead, it means that we are recognizing the humanity in each one of us, the limits of reducing that humanity to numbers, and trying to find out the experiences of people. So, here lies my hopes of creating a new kind of feminist mixed-methods methodology. Wish me luck!

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