“Feminist Field Research”

Diane L. Wolf’s article challenges the notion of feminist field research.  The relationship between a researcher and his/her subjects is complex and complicated.  Regardless of the researcher’s personal motivation and goals, he/she will always have a greater amount of power over the subjects.  As Wolf ultimately concludes, there is no such thing as feminist field research because this type of research contradicts the core principles of feminism.  Feminism is about achieving equality and dismantling hierarchal structures based on power and dominance.  Although the researcher may have positive intentions, the relationship will always be problematized by the researcher’s control over the subjects.   Rather than abandoning hope, researchers should recognize this “dilemma of power” (36) and work to improve their relationships with subjects.

Wolf discusses how researchers can implement this change.  Of these suggestions, I feel the most useful are action-based research and collaboration between scholars.  I strongly believe that researchers need to incorporate more activism into their research because it directly helps the subjects and offers a stepping stone towards empowerment.  Many researchers have attempted to follow this model, but they were only able to change the society temporarily.  Although the effects were short-lived, I feel this is a greater success than simply raising awareness through a book or newspaper article.  Another useful approach that Wolf suggests is collaboration between “feminist scholars from different backgrounds” (37).  I feel that this would be incredibly beneficial because each researcher would offer a unique perspective and an opportunity for feminists from different backgrounds to come together.

Although Wolf’s suggestions are valuable, I think it is important to recognize that there is no such thing as research without bias.  All people are shaped by their personal experiences and cannot dissociate their research from the rest of their lives.  Also, because feminists are not a homogenous group of people, it is not possible to generalize about the experiences of feminist in the field.  When a researcher is working in the field, there are many decisions which may compromise the researcher’s personal beliefs.  For example, if a a group of researchers studying female genital cutting in a village in Southeast Asia is invited to watch as a procedure is performed, should they accept the invitation, even if it goes against their personal beliefs?  At what point does one need to prioritize their research over their feminist principles, and vice versa?

Despite the fact that feminist researchers are not able to apply feminism into every aspect of their research, it is crucial that feminists continue going out into the field and researching the lives of different people.  First, feminists are more likely to be interested in subjects that do not attract or concern other groups of people.  For example, the article on ethnic cleansing in Thinking DIfferently discusses war rape as a form of genocide.  “War rape is pan-historical and cross cultural.  What has singled out the former Yugoslavia… is the attention paid to war rape, for,…. it happened at a time when feminism exists to recognize it” (Price 252).  Prior to feminist research, the world was oblivious to the prevalence and incidence of rape during war time.  Because of this, feminist research raises awareness about critical issues that often do not make it into mainstream news outlets.  Second, feminist researchers offer new perspectives that people may not have recognized.  If feminists were not challenging anti-choice statements about fetal rights and abortion as murder, would people understand how and why women need to be able to have abortions in the case of an unwanted pregnancy?  Lastly, feminist researchers give people the opportunity to have their voices heard.  Although this is affected by the way the researcher presents the subjects involved in the project and how the audience interprets the findings, this can be a great way to empower different groups of people.

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