Assess the view that feminist research requires its own specific methodology

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Assess the view that feminist research requires its own specific methodology
Feminists believe that society is malestream and is patriarchal and they strive for equality for
women. Female researchers criticise sociologists for using malestream methodologies therefore
neglecting the experiences of women and only concentrating on issues that are of interests to
males. They argue that the conventional positivist research mirrors the hierarchy that is present
in our society as the researcher has the questions to ask so they have the power and the
participant is their subject, therefore they generally reject traditional positivist-quantitative
methodology. Feminist view traditional methodologies as patriarchal as feminists Firestone
(1970) and Millett (1970) suggest that up until the 1970s, the dominance of theoretical and
methodological perspectives like Functionalism and Positivism assumed that sexual identities
were biological and fixed. Feminists however, argue that sexual identity is socially constructed
and that previous research had been conducted under the `male gaze', in which methodology
was very much associated with `patriarchal practice'. Harding (1987) identifies three key
elements and in one of them new purposes of social science for women she says that feminist
research is committed and is open about its commitment which is known as the female
standpoint where the researcher takes the side of the women being researched.
Feminist researchers prefer to use research methods which will give qualitative data which
enables them to reach `verstehen'(Weber). Feminists tend to favour particular methods such as
focus groups. Focus groups consist of a relatively small number of people who are asked to
discuss a specific topic. Focus groups would give the feminist researcher the opportunity to hear
an issue being discussed, with women being able to discuss and challenge each other's views
however they are not very representative as only a small sample is used. Wilkinson says that
feminists use focus groups as there is less of an obvious power divide and they allow people to
interact naturally and that they also even out power by giving a group of women the chance to
take control of the discussion. Madriz further adds focus groups give marginalised women the
chance to make sense of their experiences and gives them a sense of solidarity. Feminists would
also prefer to use unstructured interviews where it is more like a conversation with the
participant where the researcher just has a basic area for discussion and asks any questions that
seem relevant. Therefore there is no official hierarchy between the researcher and the
participant and the participant can express themselves giving a truer picture. An example of the
use of unstructured interviews is Oakley's study of the `housewife'.
Ethnographic methods are methods such as participant observation and in-depth interviews.
Feminist researchers prefer to use ethnographic methods as it allows them to immerse
themselves in the lives of the people under study so that they can gain an in depth
understanding of the lives of women. Harding says that feminist methodology must have a
`dual-perspective'. This means that in order to investigate female experiences, the researcher
must also be female as this allows for more valid data as the female researcher can empathise
and appreciate what the participant is saying. Therefore ethnographic methods also allows for
the dual-perspective approach, in which the researcher and the subject are of equal status so
they can provide more detailed qualitative data which will help reach verstehen. Reinharz (1992)
supports the use of ethnographic methods in saying that it is the most effective way to study
women as they allow the full documentation of women's lives, especially those regarded as
unimportant by males such as domestic tasks. Ethnographic methods also reinforces the
researcher's female standpoint commitment as the ethnographic methods such as in-depth
interviews will allow the researcher to empathise with the female participant therefore taking
their side. Ethnographic methods would be useful for studying issues that women face of family

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An example of the use of ethnographic methods by feminist researchers is Skeggs
(1997) where she interviewed 83 women over 12 years using partipant observation and
in-depth interviews. She particularly focused on providing a means for marginalised women to
express themselves and claimed that the research empowered the women and gave them a
voice thus the ethnographic method used helped the feminists strive for equality and giving
women a voice.…read more


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