The Feminist International Relations (IR) Fellowship has typically had a problematic engagement with mainstream IR, with large disagreements due to different methodological commitments (e.g. Tickner, 1997; Waylen, 2006; Weber, 1994). While feminist scholars have made fruitful use of methods from the entire methodological spectrum, feminist IR tended towards postpositivist methods and largely rejected scientific and economist methods that dominate mainstream IR. There is a multitude of feminisms within the IR, but all of them can be viewed as united when looking at “social differentiations based on gender (presumably” empirical “distinctions between embodied men and women) or, more recently, gender ( socially constructed distinctions between privileged men and women) concentrated devalued female traits) ”(Peterson, 2004: 36). It can also be said that all feminist researchers strive for a more gender equitable society in which the inferior position of women and those who are denigrated by their association with the feminine are eliminated (Benería, 2016: 58; Peterson, 2004: 40) . .
Tickner (2007: 4-5) outlines four methodological guidelines that influence the feminist research perspective: (i) research questions are useful and (ii) less gender-specific than conventional research; (iii) Research offers questions of the researcher’s reflexivity and subjectivity a central role and (iv) commits itself to the emancipatory function of knowledge. The researchers’ choice of method, ie a technique or tool for collecting and analyzing evidence, is based on their consideration of methodology, which is seen here as “a guide to self-conscious reflection on epistemological assumptions, ontological perspective, ethical responsibilities and methodological decisions” becomes ”(Ackerly et al., 2006: 6; cf. Tickner, 2005: 3). This essay is committed to the virtues of methodological plurality, but will argue that research methods are always very political from a feminist point of view, as some – typically marginalized – methods are more compatible with promoting feminist research goals than others.
The essay will proceed as follows: First, it is argued that different research methods have different emancipatory potential, a central principle in the feminist knowledge-building project. This is because producing emancipatory research necessarily requires methods that are ontologically destabilizing, but positivist social science methods are not. Second, it is argued that it is possible to identify the workings of a masculinized epistemological hierarchy within the IR discipline. Under this hierarchy, a strict conception of what constitutes “valid” knowledge has given methods that embody male characteristics a hegemony and a correlative disqualification of traditionally female modes of knowledge. This dangerous dominance of scientific and rational knowledge runs counter to feminist goals, as it universalizes a particular male experience to the exclusion of female experiences. In both respects, research methods are very political from a feminist perspective, as they have tremendous implications for the ability of researchers to achieve their stated goals and real consequences for women’s lives.
As Tickner points out, building emancipatory knowledge is at the heart of the feminist research agenda. That is, to use Marx’s proverb to counter the problem that “the philosophers have just interpreted the world in different ways: the point is to change it” (Marx, in McLellan, 1977: 158) or in Cox’s Conceptualized an obligation to create a theory that “enables a normative choice in favor of a social and political order that differs from the prevailing order” (Cox, 1981: 128). Feminists argue that different research methods have different abilities to bring about an emancipatory change in the prevailing social and political order, because there are some questions that simply “could not be asked within the epistemological and methodological limits of positivist social science” (Tickner, 2005: 2177)).
To conduct research that does not tacitly accept the current order of things, the researcher must ask questions that challenge the traditional ontology of IR, destabilizing “fundamental concepts, conventional dichotomies, familiar explanations, and even the boundaries of the discipline” ( Peterson), 2004: 42). Emancipatory feminist science involves the study of the cultural, historical, symbolic, linguistic, and representative ways in which gender defines and is constituted by the practice and theory of international relations. Traditional social science methods with the aim of creating nomothetic statements on the basis of positivistic epistemological obligations take conventional categories and units of analysis for granted and reproduce them in the process (Jackson, 2015: 945). Feminists therefore problematize the scientific treatment of socially and historically conditioned phenomena – such as gender, knowledge, state or economy – as uniform, monolithic and unproblematic identifiable and not as discursive and social constructs. In this respect, the feminist approach shows that the conventional “black box” conception of international relations is extremely problematic: an understanding of international relations, which consist of unitary, atomized states in an anarchic and anti-social international system, leads to an acceptance of the “Natural” violence of international anarchy “(Hooper, 2001: 1). According to this view, it is inevitable that the criteria for successful state behavior or political outcomes are those that correspond to the “male virtues of power, autonomy and self-reliance” (ibid.). Feminist researchers assume an understanding of theory and practice as mutually constitutive, so the ontological and epistemological starting points that methods adopt are very political. Methods have the potential to produce practical knowledge, to change the political understanding of suppressive terms such as “security” or “violence” and to influence national foreign policy in practice. In addition, methods also have political implications for the non-feminist, uncritical mainstream IR, a discipline “not known for its metatheoretical rigor or critical self-reflection” (Peterson, 2004: 42). By working with unstable categories and casting doubts about the universality of the long-accepted ontological foundations of IR, the methods employed by feminist scholars can potentially severely destroy the well-known assumptions that are at the core of the IR mainstream.
“Masculine” Science, Localized Glances, and the Epistemological Hierarchy
Aside from the qualities of research that particular methods produce, another way that research methods can be viewed as political lies in the qualities of the research process itself. Feminist researchers identify the workings of an “epistemological hierarchy” in IR, below the one Knowledge is valorized, which is strictly understood as “more credible”. A prime example of this hierarchy in action is Robert Keohane’s suggestion to do so. The “Feminist Research Program” was designed to convince “infidels” of the “validity” of feminist IR and to adhere to a largely scientific methodology so that it is not marginalized becomes (1998: 196-197). This attitude is extremely problematic for feminist scholars who find that the epistemological hierarchy itself is structured according to the hierarchy of privileged masculinity versus denigrated femininity.
The epistemological pillars of thought, rationalism and empiricism of the Enlightenment represent the elevation of a certain, historically specific human experience to a position of presumed universality – namely the experience of a minority of modern European elite men (Peterson, 2004: 37). . In this context, Tickner (2005: 7) notes that “the periodization of history and our understanding of the timing of progressive moments do not always match periods in which progress has been made for women”. Fittingly, the qualities that are embodied and privileged in “scientific” positivistic and rationalistic epistemology – including systematics, reliability, objectivity, dominance over nature – are all qualities associated with masculinity. Consistent with the privileging of male traits, mainstream IR research has typically dealt with epistemological theories that are viewed as the “demasculinization” of instrumental rationality, equating feminization with degradation (Peterson, 2017: 333).
To question the dominance of scientific methods requires questioning the entire tradition of Western metaphysics and its dependence on hierarchical, essential and gender-specific binary files that maintain the epistemological order. Feminist poststructuralist and deconstructivist scholars in particular argue that the valorization of “male” scientific methods depends on the devaluation of non-scientific methods associated with feminine characteristics (Poovey, 1988; Colebrook, 1997: 82). By deconstructing asymmetrical binaries such as rational / emotional, fact / value, or objective / subjective, feminist methods can traditionally incorporate feminine types of knowledge. Feminists, for example, emphasize understanding intellectual and emotional intelligence as constitutive rather than oppositional and accepting the value of knowledge that embodies nonscientific properties such as disorder, dependency and emotion (Tickner, 2005: 10; Peterson, 2017: 332). . Feminists have devoted themselves to extremely empathetic and interpretive methods, using, for example, narrative ethnographies, interviews, and intercultural case studies at the micro level to avoid statistical analysis of government-generated data at the macro level (Tickner, 2005: 14). . These methods can be considered scientifically inadequate as they are incapable of generating generalizable, systematic, or reproducible hypotheses. However, they manage to make the life of the marginalized visible and to reflect the reality of an ontologically unstable social world. These so-called “feminine” insights provide an enrichment for the most frequently used concepts of international relations such as “security” or “peace” and a deeper understanding of government measures on a personal and practical level.
As soon as the historical specificity of scientific concepts such as rationality is understood, the claim of scientific knowledge to objectivity and universality is classified as extremely problematic. Scientific knowledge is “always socially located in every respect” (Tickner, 2007: 11). Feminists recognize that knowledge is deictic: it is never produced, used, or understood objectively or with disinterest. For this reason, Haraway describes the scientist’s presumed ability of the researcher to look objectively at the object of his research as “conquering” because it “denotes the unmarked positions of man and white”, which enables the “unmarked category” [to] claim the power to see and not be seen, to represent while escaping representation ”(Haraway, 1988: 581; Conboy, Medina and Stanbury, 2006: 282) In essence, this“ objective ”position is in reality high and high thus highly capable of producing only localized knowledge that reflects androcentric interests. For feminists, methods are always political because these methods that proclaim objectivity do not take into account the fact that they are produced in a particular social situation, ie “systems of meaning, social identities, roles, norms and related behaviors, traits and virtues”. (Anderson, 2000).
In response to Keohane’s challenge to feminism to formulate a scientific research program, Tickner (2005: 4) argues that many feminists seek, rather than emphasize, the alienation of the feminist project from the conventional construction of scientific knowledge due to science’s inherent androcentrism to reconcile theoretical investigation. In terms of method choice, this is clearly a political choice: in order to have a truly transformative effect on the discipline, feminists must embrace degraded forms of knowledge. For the foreseeable future, this election will likely result in the descent of feminist IR into disciplinary boundaries. This also has serious political consequences in the concrete sense for feminist researchers, whereby the epistemological and methodological hierarchy manifests itself equally in “publications, employment opportunities, promotions and academic recognition” (Peterson, 2017: 330; 2004: 44, also Maliniak et al., 2013).
This paper has argued that research methods are always political from a feminist perspective for a number of reasons. First, the ability of theory or research to bring about practical emancipatory change is inherently political. It follows that the choice of research methods with different emancipatory potential is also a deeply political matter. Feminist IR usually employs methods that threaten the very ontological foundations of the discipline. Hence, a difficult relationship with mainstream IR seems inevitable. Hegemonic positivistic and sociological methods are unattractive for feminism because they lack the emancipatory potential due to their undisputed acceptance of the oppressive ontological conditions that underlie the conceptual foundations of IR. Second, research methods are political from a feminist perspective, as the methods feminists tend to be largely excluded or denigrated because of their association with devalued feminine traits. By identifying the entire scientific enterprise as inherently androcentric, feminists are suspicious of the specific scientific knowledge obtained through such methods. The dominance of male modes of knowledge has the most political consequence that it obscures the marginalized female experience that is a central goal of feminism, to make visible.
Ackerly, B. A., Stern, M. and True, J. (2006) “Feminist Methods for International Relations,” in Ackerly, B. A., Stern, M. and True, J. (Eds.) Feminist Methods for International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-16.
Anderson, E. (1995). Feminist Epistemology: An Interpretation and a Defense. Hypatia, 10 (3), pp. 50-84.
Anderson E. Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science. In: Zalta EN, editor. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2004 edition).
Benería, L., Berik, G. and Floro, M. (2016). Gender, Development and Globalization. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
Colebrook, C. (1997). Feminist Philosophy and the Philosophy of Feminism: Irigaray and the History of Western Metaphysics. Hypatia, 12 (1), pp. 79-98.
Conboy, K., Medina, N. and Stanbury, S., 2006. Writing about the body: female embodiment and feminist theory. New York: Columbia University Press.
Cox, R. W. (1981). Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond The Theory of International Relations. Millennium, 10 (2), pp. 126-155
Gracia, E., 2004. Unreported Cases of Domestic Violence Against Women: Towards an Epidemiology of Social Silence, Tolerance, and Inhibition. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 58 (7), pp. 536-537.
Haraway, D. (1988) Located Knowledge: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14 (3), pp. 575-599.
Harding, S. (1991). Whose science? Whose knowledge? Ithaca, N.Y .: Cornell University Press.
Himmelweit, S., 2002. Making the hidden economy visible: The argument for a gender-specific analysis of economic policy. Feminist Economics, 8 (1), pp. 49-70.
Hooper, C. (2001). Male states. New York: Columbia University Press.
Hudson, V.M., Ballif-Spanvill, B., Caprioli, M., and Emmett. C. F. (2012) Sex and World Peace. New York: Columbia University Press.
Jackson, P. T. (2015). Do international relations have to be a science? Millennium, 43 (3), pp. 942-965.
Keohane, R. O. (1998). Beyond the Dichotomy: Conversations Between International Relations and Feminist Theory. International Studies Quarterly 42, pp. 193-198.
King, G., Keohane, R. O., Verba, S. (1994). Designing Social Investigations: Scientific Conclusions in Qualitative Research. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Maliniak, D., Powers, R. and Walter, B. F. (2013) “The Gender Citation Gap in International Relations”, International Organization. Cambridge University Press, 67 (4), pp. 889-922.
McLellan, D. Karl Marx: Selected Writings. (Oxford, Oxford University Press).
Peterson, V.S. (2004). Feminist theories inside, outside and outside the IR. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 10 (2), pp. 35-46.
Peterson, V.S. (2017). Think, return, reflect. Alternatif Politika, 9 (3), pp. 325-342.
Poovey, M. (1988). Feminism and Deconstruction. Feminist Studies, pp. 14 (1), 51-65.
Stanley, L & Wise, S 1993, Breaking Again: Feminist Ontology and Epistemology. 2nd ed. Edn, Routledge, London.
Suganami, H. (2013) “Meta-Jackson: Patrick Thaddeus Jacksons Investigative Behavior Rethinking”, Millennium, 41 (2), pp. 248–269.
Sylvester, C. (1987). Some dangers of merging feminist and peaceful projects. Alternatives, 12 (4), pp. 493-509.
Tickner, J. (2005). What is your research program? Some feminist answers to methodological questions about international relations. International Studies Quarterly, 49 (1), pp. 1-21.
Tickner, J. (1997). They just don’t get it: Troubled relationships between feminists and IR theorists. International Studies Quarterly, 41 (4), pp. 611-632.
Waring, M. When Women Count: A New Feminist Economy. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Weber, C., 1994. Good Girls, Little Girls, and Bad Girls: Male Paranoia in Robert Keohane’s Critique of Feminist International Relations. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 23 (2), pp. 337-349.
Waylen, G. (2006). They still don’t understand why there are still problematic engagements between feminists and (critical) IPE. Review of International Studies, 32 (1), pp. 145-164.
Written To: Durham University
Written for: Professor Ilan Baron
Date written: May 2020
Further reading on E-International Relations