Doing Feminist Research in Political and Social Science

by Brooke Ackerly & Jacqui True


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An abstract articulates the core thesis of an academic argument and gives an account of how the argument is put together, noting key examples or key moves in the argument as appropriate. An abstract is a common feature of a journal article and is preferably one short paragraph, usually between 100 and 200 words.

Anti-Snowball sampling

Anti-snowball sampling is a method of identifying sources that does not track a particular system of power. Whereas in the snowball sample the researcher gets most subject- participants by the referral from another subject-participant, in the anti-snowball sample the researcher looks for less well-networked subject-participants and for subject-participants who do not know each other.

Causal Relationships

Causal relationships posit a cause-effect relationship between an independent or set of independent variables and a dependent variable. These relationships are suggested by theory and conceptualized by the researcher as testable hypotheses.


Coders are people who interpret qualitative data and transpose it into quantitative data in order to enable quantitative analysis.


Collaboration means “united labor.” In order to unite our labor and not merely travail side by side, academic collaborators must attend to a range of differences and power dynamics. These include among others, the dynamics associated with Global North-South politics, national hegemonies, disciplinary hegemonies, language domination, rank differences, others’ perceptions of differences in prestige, and others’ perceptions of differences in authenticity.

Content Analysis

In traditional content analysis, a researcher first identifies a body of material to analyze and then creates a system for recording specific aspects of it. The system often involves interpreting and coding in order to count how often certain words or themes occur. Sometimes frequencies may be statistically analyzed. With the development of software for quantitative analysis of qualitative data, keyword, concept, discourse, and frame analysis are increasingly common forms of analysis that can reveal patterns even if they cannot adequately explain them.

Convenience sample

A convenience sample describes a sample chosen for practical reasons. For example, the sample may come from a data source that already exists, from a population that selects itself by seeking services from a particular source or attending a specific meeting. A convenience sample may introduce biases and findings based on such a sample may not be generalized to a larger, more diverse population.


The significance and believability of a given piece of scholarship. Academic work gains credibility from the research design and execution. Appropriate choices in research methods and analytical tools enable findings to be convincing to other researchers.

Critical Feminist Perspective

A critical feminist perspective uses critical inquiry and reflection on social injustices, including gender analysis, to transform, and not simply explain, the social order. The perspective encourages opening new lines of inquiry, not merely “filling in gaps” in already established disciplinary terrains. Such a perspective is informed by critical, post-colonial, post-structural theories and neo-Marxist political economy. This form of feminism is the lens that guides Doing Feminist Research, but throughout the book we cite other feminists thereby exhibiting a broad range of perspectives.

Data Collection

Social scientists most commonly refer to their empirical work as “data collection,” “gathering data,” or “creating a data set.” This view does not reflect a feminist research ethic, which considers the empirical dimension of our work as “data production.” Feminist data production can be more rigorous than seemingly apolitical data collection because of its explicit consideration of the potential for the politics of knowledge to influence the form and content of data.

Data Production

‘Data production’ is often preferred over ‘data collection by feminist researchers in recognition that the phenomena we study in the social sciences are social phenomena and that the very act of measuring these phenomena may affect them or what we are able to learn about them.

Deliberative Moments

Deliberative moments are moments of decision-making during the research process. They are moments when the outcome of a decision has important consequences for the theoretical conceptualization, data collection, and analysis of the research. Deliberative moments are deliberative because they involve reflection and struggle where the interplay of the researcher's questions, theories, constraints, and challenges in the research process creates opportunities for learning. These moments may have a significant impact on the trajectory of the research requiring key research decisions to be revisited.

Dependent variable

The dependent variable is the measure of the concept the researcher is studying.

Destabilizing Epistemology

A destabilizing epistemology is a theory of knowledge that is perpetually attentive to the power dynamics manifested in an account of what we know or how we know.


An epistemology refers to one’s theory of knowledge; it is the system of rules, conditions, and beliefs that one uses to tell the difference between “knowledge” and “opinion.” A feminist epistemology includes the belief that knowledge is produced, not simply found, and that the conditions of its production should be studied, critiqued if necessary, and certainly made explicit and exposed.

Essentially Contested Concepts

Essentially contested concepts are concepts that are by their very nature unstable and difficult to define or delimit (whether politically or epistemologically) such that they are, in fact, defined by their contested status. By extension, they are concepts that are dynamic and always contingent. That dynamism is part of the concept’s meaning and efficacy rather than a limitation as a subject of study.

Ethical Review Board

An Ethical Review Board is the committee of a university or government that assesses the ethics of the research design. At US institutions this is called an “Institutional Review Board or IRB”. In Commonwealth universities it is often referred to as a “Human Subjects Research Ethics Committee”

Ethical Scholarship

Ethical scholarship is that which demands a self-reflexive commitment to revisiting deliberative moments, epistemological choices, boundaries, and relationships throughout the research process. A feminist research ethic is mindful of the gendered nature of the social phenomena being studied.


Ethnography is a term used to describe any research project which aims to give a detailed account of everyday life in a given social group. Researchers live with and observe the culture around them. While historically the term referred to the – now discredited – attempt by anthropologists to classify the world’s cultures, contemporary research tends to focus on trying to understand how particular categories and norms are generated inside a culture. In this approach, the researcher acknowledges the subjectivity of understandings.


Feminism is a critical perspective on social and political life that draws our attention to the ways in which human actions and constructs create injustices that are experienced differently or uniquely by certain groups of women or because of the ways in which norms of gender intersect with other forces of social hierarchy including race, ethnicity, geography, immigrant status, sexuality, disability, and nationality.

Feminist-informed Research

Feminist-informed research is research which takes as its point of departure feminist normative concerns combined with knowledge of the diverse and complex theoretical interplays at work in any social science research project. Feminist-informed research, consequently, is versed in multiple theoretical frameworks in order to enable the researcher to "see" those people and processes otherwise lost in gaps and margins.

Feminist Methodology

Feminist methodology is a commitment to using a whole constellation of methods reflectively and critically, with the end goal being the production of data and analysis that serve feminist purposes of social justice through rigorous research. Unlike the conventional definition of “methodology” understood is as a particular set of methods or way of doing research, a feminist methodology is not a series of particular methods or guidelines for research but rather a way of using and reflecting on methods. Rigorous feminist methodologies lead to defensible decisions made during the research process and their communication to academic peers through scholarship. This view of methodology helps us reexamine the basics of the research process in the social sciences.

Feminist Praxis

Feminist praxis is a term that may be used to refer to the practice of feminist scholarship that is informed by critical feminist normative and theoretical perspectives. Praxis is theory in action and action-oriented theory. Generally, we do not use the language of “praxis” to describe

our methodology because we don’t think it is concrete enough in its prescriptions. Although critical self-reflection is not unique to critical feminism, the scope of these reflections sets most feminist contributions apart from the mainstream social science disciplines of politics, international relations, sociology, and human geography for example and makes feminist inquiry an important partner in the more critical endeavors of those fields. See Feminist Research Ethic.

Feminist Research Ethic

A feminist research ethic is a methodological commitment to any set of research practices that reflect on the power of epistemology, boundaries,

relationships, and the multiple dimensions of the researcher’s location throughout the research process. It also presupposes a normative commitment to transforming the social order in order to promote gender justice. A feminist research ethic is an ethic in two senses: 1) it demands that we use critical reflection as a work ethic during research and 2) it points us to recognize and account for the contingency of data, the construction of knowledge by way of boundaries and categories, and the need to relate to these categories and boundaries in non-essentialist and transformative ways.

Feminist Research Maps

There are three parts to a research map: the Research Plan (an organizational plan written before research begins), the Map of the Process (an accounting of the actual process recorded during research), and the Account of Research (the exposition of research constructed after its completion as part of your publication or sharing of findings).

Field Test

A field test is used to try out elements of the research methods including interview format, coding schemes, as well as systems of logging data, and equipment such as recording devises before they are needed.

Gender Mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming is a mega-gender equality strategy. The United Nations, the international institution working in a broad range of substantive areas, defines mainstreaming as applying “a gender perspective in all policies and programmes so that, before decisions are taken, an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, respectively” (United Nations 1995: 116). The implication of this definition is that gender equality cannot be achieved if policy makers do not consider the gendered consequences of all policies, global, and local.

Heuristic Device

Heuristic devices are practical ways to facilitate problem-solving. They do not offer textbook solutions or model answers, but rather a way of thinking. A feminist research ethic functions as a compass alerting researchers to possible intended and unintended consequences of research, and providing a range of tools for researchers to think through the dilemmas they face in doing research.


Identity is a complex and important concept deployed in political and social science. Much feminist scholarship has been about the politics of identity and difference, generally focusing on political identity as a locus for politics (as in, people who share a particular identity share a particular politics). On this view political recognition relies on people sharing a political identity. This is a problematic basis for politics; feminist researchers want to attend to the varieties of ways in which gender dynamics reflect race, class, sexuality, ability, immigration status, etc. and the ways in which difference is used to divide people politically.

Independent Variable

An independent variable is a measure of the concepts that the researcher things affect or are correlated with the concept that is the focus of study, that is the dependent variable.


Interdisciplinarity is roughly synonymous with transdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary when we are talking about a space of scholarly engagement. Feminist inquiry is known for working across disciplines as conveyed by these terms. IN an interdisciplinary academic space, academics from a range of disciplines come together to share their work and their disciplinary insights. This can happen in classrooms, conferences, journals, peer workshops, and reading groups. For an individual scholar, “interdisciplinary” means working between disciplines, as in a scholar with a PhD in two disciplines.


Intersectionality as a term calls our attention to the fact that any situation, person, or research phenomena can be understood only in terms of intersecting and overlapping contexts and social forces such as race, age, gender, sexuality, income, nationality, historical moment, among many others. Consequently, attention to intersectionality provokes feminist inquiry to attend to the complexity of a problem that might serve to exclude or hide important dimensions that may be crucial to creating and/or sustaining that problem.


Intertextuality is a feature of discourse analysis that means the way texts draw upon other texts to establish meaning, legitimacy, and authority. Intertextuality is a poststructuralist concept: texts often unconsciously, implicitly invoke other texts due to the dominance of certain discourses, texts, and language norms that may be pervasive if subtly so.


Intrasubjectivity refers to the many and overlapping identities held by a research participant. For example, an identity as a performer, identity as interview subject- participant, identity as one of many research subject-participants, identity as important subject-participant, identity as a leader.

Longitudinal Data

Longitudinal data is data collected on the same phenomena at intervals of time over two or more time periods.

Matching or Twinning

Matching or twinning refers to a partnership between an experienced research organization and a less experienced organization on a project of mutual interest in order to share technical know-how and expertise.


Memoing or notetaking are techniques of data collection that facilitate description as a mode of analysis. They involve literally writing up titled and dated memos or notes throughout the research process. These may also be used during a final analytical stage.


A “multidisciplinary” scholar may work in interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary ways. The label does not tell us which, but it suggests that more than two disciplines may be involved, making us worry about how well grounded the work can be in each discipline, and yet optimistic about the potential fruits of multi-vocality on the most complicated social science dilemmas.


Literally, this means ‘many voices.’ It is a general methodogical reference to ways of increasing the kinds of perspectives informing research. It can come from multiple theoretical perspectives, multiple geopgraphies, multiple experiential perspectives in a given context, etc.

Network Maps

Network maps allow you to document and comprehend the social and political geography of your context of study. This could be formal and informal lines of authority or formal and informal lines of communication.

Non-Probabilistic Selection

The selection of subjects through a non-random method, for example snowball sampling, where one subject recommends a friend. It is important to consider what biases are introduced via your method of selection.

Non-Positivist Epistemologies

Ways of formulating knowledge which are removed from the scientific method. These are of particular import in the social sciences, where the importance of context makes extrapolating so-called scientific findings difficult if not impossible and yet where disciplinary norms for some social sciences privilege positivist epistemologies.


Operationalization refers to the process of defining and delimiting a broad concept so that it might be measured with clearly observable variables.

Oral History

‘Oral history’ refers to the collection of first person accounts, and the interpretation of historical events through the experience and opinions of the speaker.


Paradigm conveys the way a theory predetermines and a priori frames the acceptable questions one can ask within a particular realm of social science research.


Paraprofessionals are research team members who are drawn from the community or organization where the research is taking place. They receive a form of training that enables them to help with the research and that will be a community and personal resource after the research is concluded. Most often this is veterinary, medical, or nutritional training.

Participant Observation

Participant observation is a method which seeks to gain an understanding of a group of individuals and their practices through an involvement in a few or many aspects of their life and activities. A key principle in participant observation is to find a role inside the community from which to observe its members.

Photo Survey

In a photo survey, the subject-participants receive cameras and are asked to take pictures in response to questions. For example, in a food survey, they would take pictures of their food sources, preparation, and meals. Other studies might ask them to take pictures of their most important places or people.


Population refers to the entire set of those affected by or participating in the phenomena under study. Unable to study the entire population because of its size and relative inaccessibility, the social scientist selects from the population, a subset called a “sample” to study and from which to draw conclusions about the larger population.


Positionality means the specific social and temporal location of the social science researcher. Explicit attention to the positionality of the researcher enhances the credibility of the research, though norms about how to attend to positionality in written work vary by publication venue and audience.

Process Tracing

Process tracing is an analytical method within case analysis of identifying causal processes and the mechanisms that link them in order to explain a given outcome. Process-tracing can be used with historical and other data.

Purposive or Theoretical Sampling

In theoretical sampling the researcher selects particular cases to study because together these promise to give diversity on the variables that the theory indicates are important to the research question.

Random Sample

A sample selected from a population such that the differences between the sample and the larger population are those associated with chance. Random sampling is intended not to introduce any bias into research. However, random sampling by virtue of its association with scientific and statistical techniques may conceal some of the problems associated with studying social phenomena such as a selection bias introduced in the definition of the population.

Research Assistants

Research assistants are researchers working under the direction of a more experienced researcher on a research project whose questions and methodologies are defined by that experienced researcher.

Research Participant

Research participant is a generic term referring to all those who participate directly and indirectly in the research process including research assistants, subject-participants, those who facilitate introductions and arrange logistics, translators, coders, and all those who identify as part of the research team.


In social science “rigor” refers to systematic and accountable methods. For a feminist research project, the very concept of rigor is defined from a critical perspective on methodology. Feminist scholarship has standards of quality which overlap in their key features with the standards of all social sciences: that they can be defended before a jury of academic peers.


A subset of a larger phenomena (or population). From a statistical sample we expect to learn about the other cases in the population. From an illustrative sample we expect to learn about a phenomenon.

Semi-Structured Interviews

An interview that focuses on key themes rather than on specific questions, allowing the interviewee latitude in responses and allowing the interviewer to respond to what is said by the interviewee with further questions.

Single-authored Research

Research that may be produced by a research team, but is published under the name of one author.

Snowball Method

In this scenario one subject refers the researcher to one source, who refers the researcher to another source, and so on. It allows a researcher access to a network, but it can obscure the voices of those marginalized inside such networks.


Stakeholders are those people who have an interest in the social science project under discussion. These include professors, researcher- participants, subject-participants, assistant- participants, translators, facilitators, audiences, communities, etc. It is important to be aware of how decisions about how to conduct research are informed by and can impact a particular social and political location.


Subjectivity is a wide-ranging term that signals the qualities (and questions) appropriate to being a “subject” in a given moment. Attention to the subjectivity of the researcher is one way of paying attention to the political dimensions of social science research. Feminist theory engages with theories of subjectivity in order to understand how one becomes and knows oneself as a subject through questions of sexual difference, gender politics, social stratification, and political resistance.

Survey Research

Survey research involves the use of written or oral questionnaires to collect information from large groups of people. Questionnaires can reveal important insights into people’s thoughts and behaviors and they can collect factual information, such as income and gender, or focus on opinions.


A professional status of academics that enables a permanent position.

Theoretical Model

A theoretical model provides a frame of reference that guides empirical research by indicating the key variables to study, the anticipated relationships among them, and appropriate methods for measuring and evaluating these.

Theory-Seeking Research

Theory-seeking research is research which aims to generate a new theoretical framework in the course of the research process.

Theory-Testing Research

Theory-testing research is research in which the goal is to test out and refine an existing theoretical framework. Theory-testing research requires developing the theoretical argument of your question prior to generating your research plan.


Transdisciplinarity refers to scholarly engagement among academics from a range of different disciplines. A “transdisciplinary” or “crossdisciplinary” scholar works to cross disciplines. Her work may be read by a broad range of scholars who may or may not share her disciplinary expertise. See Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary.


Translators are those people who assist with oral language interpretation (sequential or simultaneous) and written language translation. Translators may be from the community of study and expected to return temporarily or permanently to that community.

Transnational feminism

Transnational feminism represents a desire to transgress the political borders dividing women who have been marginalized by hierarchies of domination without erasing the specificity of their experiences and import of social, political, and economic hierarchies including those related to imperialism, race, class, and gender in their daily lives.


Transparency in rsearch means openness about one’s research methodology with participants, colleagues, and audiences.


Triangulation in research has two meanings. In mixed-model research designs, triangulation refers to analyzing data based on two or more methods for generating similar data. Triangulation can also mean using different sources of evidence within a single research design and theoretical framework to corroborate your findings.

Unit of Analysis

The unit of analysis is the person, case or entity being studied. If we are studying people’s attitudes, the unit of analysis is the individual. If we are studying the differences in people’s attitudes across communities, the unit of analysis is the community, though we may gather data at the individual level.


When researchers present their work in small, informal venues, with the goal of refining their ideas and testing their theories.