The comments I share in this blog draw on my presentation notes from a panel on qualitative feminist methodologies for the WED Lab Webinar series. You can listen to the whole 2 hour session here. In this blog, I will briefly summarize what I mean by a qualitative feminist methodology, give some examples of how I’ve tried to integrate a feminist approach into my research, and conclude with some thoughts on how to scale-up and broader qualitative feminist methodology for data collection across different sectors.
The beautiful thing about a feminist methodology is that it recognizes and celebrates diverse forms of knowledge and ways of sharing that knowledge.
Three principles of feminist research (as outlined by Michele Ollivier and Manon Tremblay, 2000) include: 1. The construction of new knowledge and the production of social change (an activist orientation); 2. The grounding of research in feminist values and beliefs; and 3. Inclusivity and collaboration as guiding frameworks (interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and diversity of voices).
To be activist in orientation means to consider and address power imbalances in research and to be politically motivated to alter social inequalities. This means that feminist research should begin by including the experiences of women and other marginalized groups but must also aspire to actively involve marginalized groups in the process of data collection and the sharing of the information (including sharing ownership of the findings).
There are many benefits to a qualitative feminist research approach. It brings in diverse and unheard stories, and is rich in detail and analysis. There are also several challenges. Qualitative feminist research can be a long process, involving many choices and inputs from different stakeholders. Qualitative feminist research often benefits from a collaborative process, drawing on expertise of diverse knowledge holders and actively engaging these groups in the research and analyses stages. Therefore, feminist research partnerships can be labour-intensive and time consuming, often with lengthy training and mentorship components.
One of the biggest challenges of feminist methodology is that the target is always moving. Feminist researchers are continuously striving for more inclusive and participatory approaches to ensure shared ownership throughout the research stages.
I was part of a team of researchers who employed a feminist methodology for our research analysis in 2017. The research team (Kate Grantham, Ben Lough and I) hired, trained and mentored nine emerging scholars from the Global South to analyse data, prepare reports and communicate their findings in the form of sole-authored journal articles that were all published in 2018 in Voluntaris Journal. This research experience was highly rewarding but also limited by the fact that the research was designed exclusively by Global North scholars. The questions, the data collection, the research subjects, etc., were all selected by researchers in the North.
As an aspirational methodology, feminist research means finding ways to scale up our efforts and to do more to change the relationships of inequality. Moving forward, we are actively engaging in collaborations with Global South partners to determine what topics need to be researched, what questions need to be asked and how to design the research process with greater input from partners in the Global South.
There is even more to do. I continue to think about how to bring qualitative feminist research methods into other sectors. How can development practitioners and funding organizations employ the techniques of feminist methodology to inform monitoring, evaluation and learning processes? Fortunately, I get to work with development practitioners who share the same goals. I also get to work with outstanding feminist scholars and researchers who share my desire and aspirations for a more inclusive, participatory and equitable research agenda.