Feminist Research Methodology: An Introduction

Feminist Research Methodology: An Introduction


  1. Introduction
  2. Feminist Research Methodology: an overview
  3. The significance of feminist research methodology as a research paradigm
    1. Feminist criticism and feminist methodology dialogue
  4. Aspects of Feminist research
    1. Feminist Ontology
    2. Feminist Epistemology: Feminist ways of knowing
    3. Subjectivity of the researcher
    4. Feminist Research Methods
    5. Standpoints, intersectionality and situatedness of knowledge in feminist research methodology  
    6. Ethics in Feminist Research Methodology
  5. Conclusion


An alternate strategy for conducting social science research is provided by feminist research methodology. The current post goes into great detail about the following topics:
  • i)the necessity and significance of conducting research within the feminist research methodology paradigm;
  • ii) different aspects of feminist research methodology; and 
  • iii) various distinguishing characteristics of feminist research methodology.

Learning Outcome

The blog aims to engage the students in:
  • Understanding the need and significance of doing feminist research. 
  • Developing a critical understanding of the basic aspects of Feminist research methodology. 
  • Developing an understanding of how to engage with the feminist research approach while studying the social world.

Feminist Research Methodology: an overview

Feminist research's definition has long been a complicated one. It is more challenging to define feminist research due to the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary character of feminism. In an effort to provide a definition, feminist research can be distinguished from other types of social science study by doing so. The three tenets of feminist research are as follows:
  1. Putting women’s experiences at the center of its investigation 
  2. Locating researcher within the research. 
  3. Transformation of gender relations.
Thus, feminist research centers around and problematizes women’s diverse situations; and examines various institutions and structures that frame those situations 
(Creswell, 2007). 
With the aim of conducting transformative research, feminist research approaches attempt to create non-hierarchical and participatory relationship between the researcher and the participants of the research 
(Olesen, 2005).

According to feminists, gender is the fundamental factor that determines a person's consciousness and the way in which she or he perceives reality. Gender is viewed as a fundamental organising category in feminist research methodologies and offers a prism through which to view and comprehend the social world and its reality. This study strategy aids in examining how women perceive their gender.

The goals of feminist research, according to Lather (1991), were to change the status of women in society and to make women's experiences more visible in a world that was dominated by male knowledge. In addition, Stewart (1994) says that feminist study emphasises women's agency in comprehending and combating injustice. She also asserts that feminist researchers deliberately take into account their own socio-spatial positions, as well as how they affect the research process and results, when studying women as a heterogeneous group. Thus, feminist research places a strong emphasis on examining power dynamics and how they affect women and global knowledge production.

The significance of feminist research methodology as a research paradigm

Wickramasinghe (2010) quotes Delphy (1981: 73),
“All knowledge which does not recognize, which does not take social oppression as its premise, denies it, and as a consequence objectively serves it… Knowledge that would take as its point of departure the oppression of women would constitute an epistemological revolution.”
Delphy identifies the need for challenging accepted conventional wisdom and urges an epistemic revolution. The revolution that calls for the transformation of repressive structures is represented by feminist research methods. The knowledge that knowledge is power is the foundation of the feminist research paradigm.
It is an attempt to deconstruct existing mainstream knowledges and claims to have the power to make new knowledge claims arising out of woman’s standpoint 
(Delphy, 1981; Wickramasinghe, 2010). 

The origin and development of feminist research methodology as a separate research paradigm happened primarily for epistemological reasons 
(Wickramasinghe, 2010). 
Feminists discovered and exposed holes and misrepresentations in the body of knowledge, particularly as it related to women. These gaps occur in practically all academic fields, and feminists and female researchers are aware that traditional paradigms and research techniques cannot close them, leading to inaccurate or incomplete knowledge about women. Such acknowledgment supported the need for a new research paradigm that is feminism-based.

Feminist criticism and feminist methodology dialogue

The feminist critique of traditional quantitative research served as the starting point for the discussion of feminist research methodology. The following is a summary of particular feminist critiques of conventional research by Jayaratne and Stewart (1991):
  1. The research topics in conventional researches were sexist and elitist
  2. Research designs in such researches have been primarily biased with selection of only males as subjects of research. 
  3. The relationship between researcher and the participant has been that of unequal power and exploitative to the goals of the researcher. 
  4. The primarily positivist paradigms have given only illusion of objectivity. 
  5. The quantitative data has been superficial without actually speaking for the number of women it defines. 
  6. The data has been inadequately disseminated and utilized.
Such criticisms have been contradictory to the goals of feminism 
(Mies, 1983)
Many facets of the experience of women have not been well articulated or conceptualised by traditional social scientific studies. Therefore, feminists pushed for the creation of qualitative research procedures that are founded on feminism's guiding principles but can be widely applied in the social sciences.
Features of Feminist research
  1.  Guided by feminist theory; and women and gender are focus of analysis. 
  2. Includes multiple research methods. 
  3. Involves an ongoing criticism of conventional androcentric research methods. 
  4. Trans-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approaches and methods. 
  5. Being politically motivated, it aims as social transformation and goes beyond creating knowledge for its own sake to creating knowledge to affect social change.
  6.  Strives to address the differences among people and represents diversity. 
  7. Focuses on making equitable relationship between the researcher and the researched.
  8.  Acknowledges and emphasizes on the significance of the researcher’s self and subjectivities. 
  9.  Use of experimentation in presentation such as performative methods. 
  10. Use of participatory processes that affect consciousness raising and reflexivity of the researchers. 
  11. Addresses ethical issues of equal relationship with participants and non-exploitative and non distorted recoding of participants’ voices; rejection of subject and object dichotomy. 
  12.  Acknowledging women’s different ways of knowing. 
  13. Integrating emotion, intuition ad experience with reason and analysis in the study
(Cook and Fonow, 1986; Reinharz, 1992; Webb, 2000; Patton, 2002; Cresswell, 2007; Wickramasinghe, 2010)

Aspects of Feminist research

Being a new and fluid research methodology approach, Feminist research methodology has often caused much confusion among researchers. To understand various aspects of feminist research methodology, one has to understand the meanings and significance of various aspects of feminist research methodology. Much of the confusion and misunderstanding about feminist research methodology has been at the levels of method, methodology and epistemology 
(Harding, 1987). 

All three are frequently used to describe feminist research technique. To be clear about what a technique, methodology, and epistemology are, nevertheless, is helpful. The procedure of gathering data with a few tools is known as a method. Data collection techniques include surveys, interviews, and more. In terms of feminism research, epistemology and methodology are the most misunderstood concepts. According to Latherby (2003), methodology is the general research paradigm or framework that is based on a certain epistemology and employs a particular set of techniques. It has to do with speculating on and evaluating the methodology and findings of research. The theory of knowledge production is related to epistemology, on the other hand. The uniqueness of feminist research mostly results from the social sciences' epistemological context. Feminist research methodology is, in essence, a research paradigm that employs feminist methodologies and generates knowledge from feminist epistemic perspectives. The following paragraphs address the various components of the feminist research methodological framework:

Feminist Ontology

Ontology relates to one’s claims about one’s sense of being or existence. It “refers to consciousness of realities of the self (or being) and understandings/ conceptualizations of the forms, nature or aspects of reality which impinge on are part of, or motivate research processes. 
(Wickramasinghe, 2010: 36).
Depending on their consciousness at a given time, people perceive many crossing realities. The feminist research technique is cognizant of a number of aspects that lead to the development of its own feminist ontology.

Understandings of the metaphysical, epistemological, discursive, and experiential aspects of women's oppression are related to feminist ontology. Ontology serves as the foundation for the research goals and epistemologies. Feminist research methodologies acknowledge that there may be a number of competing ontologies within a single study that are distinct but connected and overlap.

Feminist awareness is awareness of the lack of women in knowledges (and their formation), the typical acceptance of men as the norm, the absence of women's opinions, and the overt sexism in the majority of knowledge paradigms.

Such feminist engagement with ontology causes feminist researchers to find and fill gaps with respect to women with the goal of correcting the epistemological silences and misrepresentations of women in all disciplines
 (Wickramasinghe, 2010). 

The emergence of feminism around the world is happening at the same time as the ontological change. Such a shift can be attributed to the writings of de Beauvoir (1972), Boserup (1970), Oakley (1972), and Smith (1974). The change in India has been brought about by grassroots movements for women as well as the growth of feminism's influence within the UN and other international organisations. Feminist ontologies and epistemologies have been called for as a revolutionary act of exercising and exerting power against the conventional knowledge domains as a result of movements, research, and reports that have highlighted the lack of women and their viewpoints from important disciplines.

Feminist Epistemology: Feminist ways of knowing

Feminist research methodology departs from conventional research paradigms at the level of epistemology. While ontology concerns knowing and being conscious of realities, epistemology is the 
“reflexive focus on ways of knowing the ontological realms of the research process 
(Wickramasinghe, 2010: 39).” 
Epistemology involves three things: what constitutes knowledge; the act of knowing; and the ways in which knowledges are understood, analyzed, constructed, applied critiqued and validated.

Feminism provides alternate and oppositional epistemology to the existing knowledges and is concerned with filling gaps vis-à-vis women, male standards and sexism in conventional and existing knowledges 
(Cook and Fonow, 1986)
Feminism uses various epistemologies to critique other epistemologies. For example, to critique culturalism, feminism uses post-colonialism. In India, feminists have taken opposite epistemological stand against the Western feminist standpoints to assert the significance of cultural differences in transformative power of feminist epistemologies. In the modernist epistemologies, positivism has been a particular target of feminism and has been exposed for not being as empirical and for being constructed by the subjectivity of the knowledge producer 
(Haraway, 1988). 
Feminist epistemology is concerned not only with filling gaps in the conventional knowledges from feminist perspective but also with feminizing research and knowledge production processes 
(Wickramasinghe, 2010).

Within feminist epistemologies, there have been progressive epistemological positions that strengthen, counter and/or critique each other. The transformative aims of feminists from different thoughts have contributed to development of new and more powerful epistemologies. Importantly, the essentialist and universalist Western epistemologies have been challenged by epistemologies of difference. Standpoint theorists, for example, account for difference in women’s knowledges and their construction which leads to theorization about their different realities based in their class, ethnicity, race, caste, sexual orientation, etc 
(Harding, 1987; Collins, 1991; Rege, 2006)
The way that researchers describe the subjects of their studies is another issue that feminist epistemologies address. The difficulties in speaking for others in a research setting are discussed by Alcoff (2008). The problem is addressed by standpoint feminists, who suggest connecting the subjectivity of the knowledge producers to the knowledge created. The oppressed is the central viewpoint for developing real subordinated knowledges in perspective epistemologies. From different vantage points, there can only be limited and incomplete knowledge (Haraway, 1988; Collins, 1991). In order to account for variations in women's realities and experiences, feminist epistemologies have shifted toward epistemologies that are concerned with such situated knowledges and intersectionality.

Such situated epistemologies that are concerned with them There are various feminist viewpoints, and as a result, we have unique feminist epistemologies that give us frameworks for knowledge formation (Harding, 1987; Webb, 2000). Three main epistemic viewpoints within feminism are identified by Harding (1987). These three perspectives are connected to the evolution of concepts around the women's movement. The following three epistemologies are listed: and intersectionality in order to take into account the many realities and experiences that women have.

The feminist empiricist approach

The feminists of the 1960s and 1970s' "second wave" of feminism merely focused on identifying research gaps. The emphasis was on highlighting the flaws in our current understanding of the world because it reflected a male-centric and incomplete social reality. The nature of research topics was brought up in order to cast doubt on the validity of such knowledge. These subjects primarily focused on men and represented their worldviews and experiences. Additionally, the myth that knowledge was pre-built into served men's interests and devalued women. By "adding" women to their research, feminist empiricist researchers were able to correct bias against women and distortions of prior knowledge. They paid little attention to how the researcher's identification affected the research. Despite the contribution that empiricist researchers made by include women, dedication to a non-sexist research approach was insufficient to generate new information from the perspective of women. Gender was included by using it as a variable as opposed to a theoretical category. The relationship between awareness, experiences, and feminist theory is not sufficiently explored in this generation of study, nor is it given the weight it deserves. The primary goal of empiricist research is to address epistemological issues in methodologies and research operations while neglecting the connection between the creation of knowledge and the struggle over who has the authority to create knowledge and be a knower (Webb, 2000). Feminists who believe that there are many ways of conceptualising and capturing objectivity—and, more crucially, that distinct knowledge is generated by subjects with varied socio-spatial, economic, and political positions—have vigorously criticised this method of feminist knowing. Such criticism was linked by Harding (1987) to the emergence of viewpoint theory, an alternative feminist epistemology.

The feminist standpoint theory

Leading feminists have argued for this method of generating feminist knowledge and for a critique of male-centered knowledge that focuses on the various concepts of objectivity (Mies, 1983; Smith, 1987). This method exposes how traditional research's masculinist objectivity results in "poor science" from privileged perspectives. Furthermore, the outcomes of such "poor science" cannot be changed by just including women in the study. In response, they propose "good science," which highlights the importance of the researcher's subjective perspective on the study process and its conclusion. The subjective perspective of the researcher is seen as both a resource and the study's subject. This method is mindful of the research issues brought about by women and places emphasis on and articulates the perspectives and experiences of women. This strategy focuses on how research questions created by women are formulated and responded to. The notion that a researcher can exist independently of research is rejected. All knowers are positioned in time, space, history, culture, and a social standing, according to the perspective theorists. Their position has an impact on how they explain and interpret the world they live in. According to this method, knowing and being are connected. Being is a component of knowing. Knowledge that acknowledges its subject position and resulting partiality is produced in a way that is more objective and less skewed than knowledge that does not. Focusing on the importance of acknowledging viewpoints for addressing knowledge creation from a feminist perspective, Mies (1983) has proposed that the oppressed perspective is the best viewpoint to conduct research because it gives the researcher a view of both positions of the oppressed as well as that of the oppressor, resulting in a more complete and less partial accounts of the world. The standpoint theorists promote the centrality of women's experiences as fresh empirical and theoretical sources, the transformative power of research for women, and the positioning of the researcher as a key subject in the research process and outcome by prioritising the subjectivity of the oppressed. According to Harding (1987), these characteristics of perspective theory serve as a guide on how to apply scientific theory to studies on gender and women that embrace feminist ideology.

The blending of the researcher's private life and the public arena of research is another important aspect of perspective epistemology. The power dynamics between the researcher and the participant are upset by such interweaving (Oakley, 1981). In a non-hierarchical research process where the researcher invests her/his subjectivity, feminist interviewers thereby enable women's voices to be heard. In order to create study questions and find their answers, researchers have often drawn on their personal experiences. Numerous works from a feminist perspective have been influenced by the individual experience of exclusion.

The feminist perspective has had a significant impact on feminist modes of knowing and has given rise to feminist research that is predominantly conducted by women, for women, and on women. Later work, like that of Smith (1987), which refuses to give preference to either the oppressed or the oppressor's viewpoint, has lessened the overall emphasis on the perspective of the oppressed. It focuses on the variety of experiences that women have. Smith makes the case for recognising various perspectives on the world and the various sources of these perspectives. Such an approach promotes acknowledging the variability of experience and led to the post-modernist critique of feminist viewpoint theory.

Feminist post-modernisms and other recent manifestations of feminist ways of knowing

The more recent feminist writing of the 1980s and 1990s was a response to the increasing diversity within feminism and includes writings from the global South and by black feminists. It has to do with the issues of who is capable of knowing and whose experiences shape feminist knowledge. The centrality and epistemic authority of Western feminist researchers were called into doubt in this work. The feminist post-modern movement questioned the feminist epistemologies' universality and cast doubt on the wisdom derived from oppression-related experiences (Harding, 1987). This idea's main defence is that not all women have similar experiences, and any information built on the assumption that all women have similar experiences is incomplete and contradictory. In numerous feminist works, the three epistemologies mentioned above interact with one another frequently, and scholars frequently integrate diverse frameworks in their work.

Subjectivity of the researcher  

According to Wickramasinghe (2010), one of the most distinguishing, defining, and all-encompassing features of feminist research methodology is the researcher's subjectivity. This runs counter to the prevalent positivist research paradigms that value objectivity in research. However, since all research is subjective in nature, working within the principles of feminism means that the presence, identities, and subjectivity of the researchers cannot be eliminated or limited in the study process. The growth of sociological ideas, theories, and research techniques (such as interpretivism, constructivism, postmodernism, etc.) has revealed the perils of eliminating subjectivity and theorised the importance of the researcher's self in the research processes (Haraway, 1998; Harding, 2004). The objectivity of the study is improved when one is aware of her subjectivity. Additionally, it is stressed that subjectivity at the junction of race, class, sexual orientation, and religion improves methodological rigour.

Subjectivity is frequently charged with influencing the findings of feminist research. However, it is not damaging because subjectivity is frequently conveyed through the process of reflexivity in feminist research technique. Throughout the study process, the researcher intentionally incorporates and builds her or his role, beliefs, thoughts, experiences, and consciousness. As a result, the subjectivity of researchers is continuously constructed and articulated.

Feminist Research Method

Research methods are concerned with how data is gathered and constructed, written down, and analysed and they depend on the researcher's epistemology, ontology, theory, and ethics as well as the research project at hand. According to Harding (1987: 2), feminist researchers employ "very much any and all of the methodologies, in this particular sense of the term, that traditional androcentric scholars have employed." Of course, the specifics of how they use these techniques to obtain evidence vary rather frequently. Additionally, Moss (2006) argued that any methodology may be rendered feminist. Feminist strategies encourage the right application of all techniques. The goal is to select the best approach for addressing research issues and to use it in a way that is consistent with feminism's guiding principles and ideology. Instead of emphasising methodology, feminist researchers concentrate on respectfully employing methods that put both the researcher and the subject of their research on an equal footing. The specific circumstance or context informs the methodological decisions in feminist research (Greaves et al., 1995)

Feminists' criticism of quantitative research methods and prioritisation of qualitative methods stems mostly from the inadequacy of traditional and existing research methodologies. Compared to strictly objective quantitative approaches like surveys, etc., qualitative research methods are seen to be better able to record and reflect on women's experiences. Feminists have argued for the use of qualitative methods as the major methods in data gathering in eminist research methodology, arguing for the need to have social scientist methodologies that may allow participants to explain the world as they perceive it (Smith, 1974; 1987). When combined with feminism's guiding principles, such methodologies are typically non-hierarchical and promote a more humane and equal interaction between the researcher and the subject. Qualitative research methods have been shown to produce more reliable and accurate data regarding the lives of the study subjects, while not yet being the standard in the social sciences.

However, because they rely on interpretivism, inductivism, and constructivism, the qualitative methods are also considered as problematic (Ribbens and Edwards, 1988). Feminists are using both approaches to achieve their goal of changing gender relations due to the inadequacy of any one (Oakley, 2000). Thus, the contemporary feminist research employs a triangulation of qualitative and quantitative techniques to both validate the information generated and to build knowledge that has a wider application across disciplines.

Interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and cross-discipline methodologies are applied. Feminist study makes considerable use of focused group discussions. Along with the traditional in-depth interview techniques, oral histories are also frequently used. Numerous frameworks have been produced and are still being developed for use in feminist research as a method of study. Gender analysis frameworks and gender equity indicators and indices are now common in macrostudies (Moser, 1993; Kabeer, 2003). Action research and participatory techniques are also used in feminist research. All of the techniques are, in general, adaptable, and the tools can be changed to suit the specific situations and experiences of the research participants.

Standpoints, intersectionality and situatedness of knowledge in feminist research methodology

In focusing on the situatedness and intersectional character of knowledge, feminist research stands out. The contextual location or positioning of the researcher within a variety of, frequently interacting ontological or epistemological circumstances is related to the situatedness of knowledge. The researcher is always embedded in a variety of realities, such as geographic places, cultural norms, and political stances (Harding, 2010). Researchers have a variety of intersecting perspectives from which they create information, including history, beliefs, cultural values, and political standing. The idea of having comprehensive knowledge is frequently contested because there are numerous elements that might affect a researcher's situatedness, and knowledge is based on the perspective from which it is being formed, developed, or researched. Multiple research perspectives should not be viewed as being in opposition to the process of knowledge creation. Instead, viewpoints in feminist research define and prioritise women's ways of knowing through subjectivity, personal experiences, and identity politics (Haraway 2004). The researcher's perspectives encompass her conscious and unconscious subjectivity as well as the intersections of her identities.

Ethics in Feminist Research Methodology

Feminism is a thought, but it is also a type of ethics that needs to direct how information is produced (Wickramasinghe, 2010). Feminism conveys two things: first, a dedication to exposing and eliminating power imbalances and disparities between and among women and men; and second, the ethics that should be taken into account when using methods to carry out this commitment.

Feminist ethics in research methods can be summarized as below (Wickramasinghe, 2010):

  1. Responsibilities and accountability: The researcher has responsibility and accountability to the feminist politics on the broader level and to the participants at the level of the research process. The researcher needs to be responsible for her choice of ontology, theory, ideology, epistemology, etc. she needs to be accountable for the consequences of her research process and outcomes. Further, importantly, researcher is responsible to the people that enable the research, like family, friends or funders.
  2. Sensitivity to the respondents: More often than not, women are facing vulnerable life satiations and various forms of oppression. While working with them, the researcher must be sensitive to their needs, concerns and words. The research itself has emotional consequences for the respondents. The researcher needs to be conscious of this and must work in a manner that minimizes this. The sensationalisation should be avoided and the reporting should ensure that respondents do not face any retaliation or harm by the ‘oppressors’. While recording the narratives of the participants, the researcher needs to downplay the clash that might arise between participant’s perspective or experience of a certain phenomenon and the researcher’s epistemological standpoint. The imposing of ideological standpoints and research frameworks should be avoided in representation of participants. Many a times, participants are manipulated to yield data that is required by the research question. Though research objective cannot be kept aside, the researcher must strive to strike a balance between sensitivity and pragmatism during data collection.
  3. Responsibility to the epistemic community: the community of feminists, local as well as from across the world, though different in their approaches, has the commonality of outcome. The researchers should give regard to the local feminists’ work and beliefs. Plagiarism of other feminists’ work should be avoided to give due respect to their efforts at creation of knowledge. 
  4. Confidentiality: Confidentiality is critical to develop and maintain trusting relationship with the participants. While working with people in oppressive and threatening life circumstances, one must keep the information shared confidential. This is necessary for the security of both the participant as well as the researcher. In many instances, it becomes important to set at the outset that the information shared by the participant will be kept confidential. However, maintaining confidentiality is not always desirable and it depends on the particular contextual needs.


Men have historically excluded women from many knowledge-making processes. Only men's interests are served by male-centric information (Webb, 2000). Feminist research fundamentally challenges such knowledge production employing a few fundamental components. It is defined by knowledge production and social change. It focuses on the interpretations women have of their surroundings and is based on feminist principles. This study methodology, which is both transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary, covers numerous challenges from many angles. Although not able to speak for all women, feminist research has been developing new information based on women's experiences and realities that promises to provide a strong foundation for implementing structural reforms in society.


  1. Alcoff, Linda. “The Problem of Speaking for Others” Just Methods: An Interdisciplinary Feminist Reader. Ed. Alison M. Jaggar. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008. 484-495. 
  2. Collins, P.H. (1991). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. London: Routledge. 
  3. Cook, J.A. and Fonow, M.M. 1986. `Knowledge and women's interests: issues of epistemology and methodology in feminist sociological research' Sociological Inquiry 56, 1:2-29. 
  4. Creswell, J.W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among !ve approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 
  5. Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14:575–99 
  6. Haraway, D. J. (2004/1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. In S. Harding (Ed.), The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies (pp. 81-101). New York and London: Routledge.
  7. Harding, S. (1987). Introduction: Is there a feminist method? In S. Harding (Ed.), Feminism and methodology (pp. 1–14). Bloomington, MI: Indiana University Press


Thank You