The Challenges of Doing Feminist Research: Reflecting on the Feminist Research Methodologies Conference

(co-written with Dr Carol Taylor)

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This one day conference was held on Friday, 30th October and hosted by my department at Sheffield Hallam University- the Sheffield Institute of Education. It provided an opportunity for postgraduate researchers to share their experiences of doing feminist research, to generate discussions around feminist research across subject areas, and to build a national network of postgraduate students doing feminist research. It was was attended by 85 doctoral and masters students from across the  
UK.

After I did the welcome, Carol introduced the day by talking about why feminism continues to be important and relevant. She argued that feminism can be an incitement to combat social injustice, and that it has always been a means to confront the abuse of privilege and power in many different contexts. As a form of activism it connects the personal with the political, and is a ‘politics of hope’. She emphasised that feminism is about taking action, however small, to gain equality.

Carol then outlined the ongoing importance of feminist methodologies.  Feminist methodologies are about innovation and practices of experimentation, so that we can do research differently. They are about producing different sorts  of knowledge and ways of knowing in order to combat gendered forms of social injustices more effectively. Feminist methodologies are about the bridge between practice and research:  they open up spaces for thinking about profound questions about being, knowing and ethics.

The event highlighted some excellent examples of the innovative feminist research being done by postgraduate students. We’d like to talk about all of them but can’t so we focus here on two presentations! Alyssa Niccolini, an Education student from Colombia University, did a presentation on glitch methodologies. ‘Glitch’ is about using an app that can be downloaded which then ‘messes up’ or scrambles an image or text. As a methodological intervention, glitch is about introducing a gap, or an interruption, into the research process to try to capture affective moments. Glitching also highlights issues of researcher power and disrupts usual ways of doing research. Alyssa’s research into censorship moments in class illustrated how glitch methodology can open up questions about how data can be analysed and presented.

In the second parallel session of the day, Ben Vincentfrom the University of Leeds spoke about non-binary transfeminist methodological considerations. They highlighted that in doing research with this group, it was crucial to reflect on issues such as access, rapport and risk and to ensure that participants’ chosen pronouns were respected. They also discussed the ways in which transfeminist perspectives have been marginalised in the academy and argued that feminism must include all those who embrace non-binary identities.

Keynote speaker Professor Jessica Ringrose of the UCL Institute of Education spoke about the resurgence in feminist methodologies. Her presentation problematised the concept of ‘research impact’, and considered the different ways in which feminist researchers could interpret and re-imagine it. She argued that it is essential for feminist research to have an impact, in terms of having ‘making a difference at its heart’. However, she questioned the impact ‘agenda’ where demonstrating the impact of your research is vital to secure funding through the Research Excellence Framework, and critiqued this agenda as being part of the neo-liberal higher education system. Reflecting on her own practice in Education, she argued that feminist researchers should aim to generate interesting data but simultaneously to make changes in the world, and that researchers should ensure that they ‘lived their feminism’.

Professor Ringrose finished her speech by highlighting some key pieces of advice for newer feminist researchers, and reflected on Emma Renolds’ five top tips for research impact:

  • Connection- having a good online and offline presence, and making and sustaining networks;
  • Communication, in making research findings accessible;
  • Conviction that our research matters;
  • Compromise in ensuring that our research has ethical integrity;
  • Collaboration with others

She also noted that doctoral researchers in particular should be making connections with key individuals to publicise their research, for example linking with journalists and university press officers. She highlighted the advantages of utilising social media to communicate research to other audiences, and recommended strategies such as blogging for targeted audiences.

The day ended  with a panel which I chaired, which featured Professor Ringrose, Dr Carol Taylor and Professor Julia Hirst, Reader and Principal Lecturer in Sociology from Sheffield Hallam University, and gave students the opportunity to ask questions about the challenges involved in doing feminist research. Professor Hirst commented on the need for both schools and universities to recognise continuing gender inequality and urged those of us doing feminist research to acknowledge the scope we have for effecting positive change.

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It really was a fantastic and inspiring day and I’m so glad it was worth all the effort of organising it! It was so good to meet other postgraduate researchers doing feminist research, and I look forward to keeping in touch with those who came along.  To see a Storify of all the tweets from the day click here. Also thanks to attendees Emily Nunn and Devina Lister who also wrote blogs about the event.

 

 

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