Organising the necessary work
the question(s) of method(s)
he title of this chapter comes from a passage in which Kate Fansler describes how in academic life one is either ‘happily unorganised’, or ‘One kept up with it, organising the necessary work in a provocative way, one wanted to get it done’ (Cross, 1981: 119). Kate Fansler was referring to the routine tasks of writing references, doing the minutes of meetings, and refusing requests to do six impossible things before Easter. I have appropriated it to refer to social science research methods, the focus of this chapter. Specifically this chapter deals with the debates around ‘feminist methods’ in sociology. Before embarking on the debates, feminist methods need defining. The best of the many definitions of feminist methods is that provided by Virginia Olesen (2000: 215) ‘incisive scholarship to frame, direct, and harness passion in the interests of redressing grievous problems’.
The debates surrounding feminist methods encompass the biggest impact that feminism has made in sociology. Far greater than any impact feminism has made on theory, or in any empirical areas, the controversies aroused by ‘feminist methods’ have been angry, far-reaching and long-lasting. None of the attempts by feminists to reinstate founding mothers, or enthrone contemporary women thinkers have captured the attention of the discipline the way the methodological debates have. James Davis (1994: 188), for example, includes ‘feminist methodology’ in a list of infections, ‘foreign objects’, ‘bunk’, which have damaged sociology because it has ‘a weak immune system’. The list reveals Davis to be a very conservative positivist, because he also stigmatises ‘grounded theory’, ‘ethnomethodology’, ‘postmodernism’, ‘critical theory’, ‘humanistic sociology’ and ‘ethnic studies’. However, it is still startling to find feminist methodology described like botulism. The chapter deals with the methods issue in seven sections.
1 The early days (critiques of gaps and instruments), 1968-80 2 Two early sciolisms
3 Sandra Harding’s trivium
4 Liz Stanley
5 Male hysteria
6 Queer theory and methods
Issues of research methods, and of methodology have been central to feminist sociology for 30 years. There are debates among feminists, and between feminists and their critics/opponents about what topics to study, what methods to use to collect data, how to analyse those data and how to write them up. These are all categorised as methods questions in this chapter. Over-arching these debates are serious methodological and epistemological disputes about the very nature of research. Since the 1970s there has been a philosophical debate about the nature of ‘scientific’ enquiry in Western capitalist societies (see Harding, 1986) and whether its whole basis was actually contaminated by unexamined assumptions about masculinity versus femininity, male versus female, objectivity versus subjectivity, mind versus body and reason versus emotions. These debates are acutely relevant to studies of gender, because there is no neutral ground from which a scholar can investigate males and females (see Haste, 1994). Such concerns led to developing feminist research methods (Maynard and Purvis, 1994). Maynard (1994) presents the interrelated arguments over qualitative versus quantitative methods and whether feminist research must use the former to be true to the experiences of women. All sociologists need to be familiar with debates on feminist methods and epistemologies. Twenty – five years ago there was a strong claim being made for non-sexist research methods (Eichler, 1988), which has now largely dissipated, because there is much less sexism in the ordinary, non-feminist project than there was in 1980.