Ramazanoglu, Caroline with Janet Holland. Feminist Methodology: Challenges and Choices. London: Sage, 2002. Print.
This book is basically a text book that you might assign to provide an introduction to basic issues, trends, and concerns surrounding feminist methodology in the social sciences. In their overview of feminist methodology, the authors put forth a three-pronged argument. First and perhaps most important, they argue that debates in feminist methodology are responses to debates in Western philosophy about ontology and epistemology. Second, they argue that feminist responses to these debates have resulted in debate and diversity within feminism. And third, despite these methodological debates, there is still something distinct about feminist research because it is grounded in experience, focused on issues of social justice in gendered relationships, and takes into account theories of power. The authors argues that all methodologies combine some kind of ontology with some kind of epistemology, and then add to that some set of rules that determine how to produce valid knowledge claims. They argue that feminist methodologies add to this basic formula some theory of power that helps to account for what or how different people might come to know and in what ways. In response to the question of what makes something feminist research they provide 3 criteria: 1) they must be framed by feminist theory and aim at producing knowledge that will help transform gender injustice; 2) must seriously consider intersections of gender with race, class, sexuality, etc. and be conscious of the fact that focusing exclusively on gender can result in significant exclusions; and 3) it must come to terms with the fact that women can and do exercise power and occupy places of privilege and/or participate in their own subjugation. The book is divided into three parts: the first focused on challenges to scientific method, the second focused on challenges from postmodern and poststructural theory, and the third focused on detailing the choices one encounters when doing feminist research.
In the first section of the book focused on challenges to scientific method, the authors deal largely with questions about objectivity and whether or not, as they challenge traditional ways of making knowledge claim, feminist researchers are able to make valid knowledge claims themselves. Ultimately, the authors argue that the ongoing struggle for feminist researchers is justifying a position on a methodological continuum between absolute truth and absolute relativism. While both have been critiqued in some manner, the authors point to feminist standpoint theory and Sandra Harding’s concept of strong objectivity as two attempts to stake out a position on this continuum.
In the second section focused on challenges to feminist methodology posed by postmodernism, the authors argue that postmodern theory has great potential to open up new spaces in feminist research by introducing concerns by challenging traditional truth claims, deconstructing binaries, challenging essentialism and universality, and understanding power as productive. However, postmodern questions about knowledge and power have the potential to undo the aims and foundations of feminist methodology. Ultimately, it seems that feminist researchers must stake a similar mid-way position on a continuum between modernist thought and postmodernist thought in order to productively carry out feminist research.
I struggled with the overall tone of this book which sometimes seemed to trivialize feminist work, but I do find useful the authors discussion of feminist researchers needing to find a position on the continuum between absolute objectivity and absolute relativism. And while they don’t say it outright, their discussion of the challenges presented by postmodernism seems to similarly suggest the importance of staking a position somewhere between modernism and postmodernism. I also appreciate their formula for what constitutes a methodology (ontology + epistemology + rules for what constitutes valid knowledge), especially the idea that what feminist methodology adds to this formula is a theory of power.
“From a feminist perspective, postmodern thought need not be seen as beyond epistemology. Postmodern thinkers themselves make knowledge claims, some of which seem to have become established as general truths. Rather than feminists being required, for example, to take on trust that power is everywhere and cannot be possessed, that gender is performative, or that hybridity is powerful, these knowledge claims can be investigated, qualified and contested, and their knowing subjects deconstructed. Since postmodern thinkers produce knowledge, they have an implicit epistemological stance on what counts as knowledge, though their epistemologies differ from those of modernity. They deconstruct rationality, but continue to propose reasoned arguments.” (98)