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A Feminist Approach to Research: Truth as Relational

Posted by Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA)

01 Apr 2016

Some of CEPA’s researchers, Aftab Lall, Nadhiya Najab, and Prashanthi Jayasekera, followed a short course on social science research at the Social Scientists’ Association in Colombo. The class covers the evolution of social science research, and the philosophies that have shaped modern understandings of truth and reality. The course has helped them to reflect on what they do as researchers, and why they do so. This short blog series put together with the assistance of Anna Bassett-Boynton will follow their experiences in class, and share the knowledge they gain.

This blog examines the Feminist approach to research, and how this approach informs researchers to be reflexive in our search for knowledge. Feminism critiques empirical research, which is about what you see and observe, and posits that facts are subjective and value tinged. (For more on how the human understanding of knowledge has changed over time, see our first blog in this series: Link here) Feminism suggests that when looking at the production of knowledge it is necessary to understand who is producing it, how is it being produced, and why is it being produced. Feminist epistemology also raised the question of whether the gender of the knower was relevant or significant. It goes on to state that it is not individuals alone that acquire knowledge, but communities as a whole. Feminist theory states that communities must be located and analysed within the broader structures and networks of power. Postmodernism, in relation to feminist theory, states that there is no universal truth. It questions the concept of reality, as there is no single way to understand reality. Therefore truth is relational.

This raises the question, what is the truth? We as researchers will never completely know anything in its entirety. Therefore, we should question who is producing the truth. We should not only think about the facts produced, but also to consider what questions are being asked, and from what perspective. This theorising should raise more questions and make us, as researchers, more aware of and more sensitive to our research topics and subjects.

Reflexivity, as coined by the feminist scholarship, is useful as a turning inwards - throughout the research – to question your intentions and processes. Reflexivity is necessary is because, as researchers we are never 'just' studying something. Rather, one’s position as a researcher can and will inform your data.

Reflexivity is important because research is never innocent. Research is a philosophical, economic and political affair. It is impossible to ignore politics when doing research, as we do research within a particular paradigm and we are influenced by particular theories. However, paradigms are not static. Even our research funding comes with certain strings attached – requiring us to carry out research in a particular way and to be aware of our audience’s philosophical standpoint.

Feminist scholarship urges that we shouldn't just extract knowledge from a particular community, which is exploitative. It suggests instead that research should have a positive impact or give something back to the community. Feminists therefore believe in research done for the purpose of political change and ‘emancipation’.

Lecturers:

Malathi de Alwis on Feminist Approaches to research
Kumari Jayawardene on archival research, the emergence of the feminist consciousness in Sri Lanka


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