Liz Stanley has been central to the debates on feminist methods and methodology for 25 years. From her paper with Sue Wise (1979) to a recent overview of the debates (2000) she has raised awkward questions. Whereas Sandra Harding is a philosopher, Liz Stanley is an active sociologist, who writes about methods, methodology and epistemology from an experience of empirical research. Consequently she is much more concerned with methods than Harding who is more interested in epistemology.
Stanley argues that feminism ‘combines analytical, ethical and political dimensions’ (2000: 8) and indeed, the central tenet of feminism is that these are inseparable. Indeed, she locates the uneasy relationship between feminism and malestream academia in that central tenet. Stanley borrows the phrase ‘passionate scholarship’ from Barbara Du Bois (1983), and links it to ‘necessary research’ (Stanley, 1996): that is research carried out because of the convictions of the investigators.
Stanley argues that there are two different versions of feminist methodology in the literature: one that is actually practised by feminist researchers, and another that is created and demonised by its critics. Stanley’s conception of feminist methods, methodology and epistemology (and we must note she finds this analytic distinction unhelpful) has been presented consistently in her own writings. It is grounded in reflexivity, but not the reflexivity of qualitative methods texts. The reflexivity of Hammersley and Atkinson (1995) is called ‘descriptive’ reflexivity by Stanley (2000: 23) and is contrasted with her ‘analytical’ reflexivity. She is committed to ‘accountable knowledge’ which allows its analytic steps to be traced, re-traced, and re-analysed to produce other outcomes. Such a perspective can be taken by anyone. That person does not have to be feminist, but Stanley sees it as particularly attractive to feminists.
Work such as Harding’s and Stanley’s is not easy to read, and many ‘believers’ and ‘critics’ have failed to engage with it. Feminist methodology and epistemology have produced a violent response, and it is engagement with that response that this chapter ends. There are women, even women who claim to be feminists, who object vehemently to the very idea of feminist methods, because they are positivists who believe feminist political goals can only be achieved on the basis of objective data. Lynn McDonald (1994), for example, holds that position, and so do many liberal feminists in the UK.