ARTICLE 49: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Feminism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Feminism is often such an emotional topic that it would be almost impossible to keep arguments emotionless.

Even so, in the patriarchic academic world in which we conduct research, the female researcher who manages to keep her arguments and findings unemotional and objective will probably achieve more than those who try to compensate for inconsistent research with emotional arguments.

We cannot deny that women are different from men – even though equal.

Women will probably manage an organization differently from men, but their management style can be as effective, if not better, than that of a man.

Even though the principles and requirements for research are the same for men and women, they can still approach the research differently and be equally effective.

I discuss feminism in this post.

What is Feminism?

Feminism is grounded in feminist values and beliefs.

Philosophically speaking feminism is the movement for the political, social, economic and educational equality of women with men.

The ontology of feminism is that there is a ‘reality’ that has been created and shaped by social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic and gender-based forces.

These forces have evolved over time into social structures that are accepted as natural, cultural or in different other ways justified.

Feminist issues can be access to employment, education, childcare, contraception, abortion, equality in the workplace, changing family roles, redress, sexual harassment and the need for equal political representation.

The basic epistemological principles of feminism include the taking of women and gender as the focus of analysis; the importance of consciousness-raising; the rejection of subject and object; a concern with ethics and an intention to empower women and change power relations and inequality.

Simply stated, feminism is research done by, for and about women.

Feminism seeks to include women in the research process and to focus on the meanings that women give their world, while recognizing that research must often be conducted within universities that are sometimes still patriarchal.

Feminism is often used as the grounds for advocacy campaigns.

Research in support of the interests of women mostly aims to emancipate them and to improve their lives.

The aim of research on women is often to clarify bias and inequity in the way that women are treated in various social settings.

Examples of such settings include the workplace, universities, sport and many more.

Research on women also often include filling gaps in our knowledge about women.

Even though feminism is mostly directed at achieving equality between women and men, it also argues that women think and express themselves differently from men.

Feminism is characterized by its double dimension and diversity.

As opposed to traditional research, its objectives include both the construction of new knowledge and the production of social change.

Feminism assumes that women are oppressed in society, therefore research is used to help reduce such discrimination.

In terms of diversity, feminism can be multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary.

This means that it uses different methodologies and it is constantly being redefined by the concerns of women coming from different perspectives.

In terms of being multidisciplinary, feminism can utilize knowledge borrowed from any other discipline that is relevant to the topic and purpose of the research.

In terms of being interdisciplinary, feminism can analyze, synthesize, harmonize and ultimately link the knowledge borrowed from other disciplines to integrate and systematize findings into a coherent whole.

Transdisciplinary refers to feminist research contributing to and sharing knowledge with other disciplines.

Feminism, therefore, requires that issues such as antiracism, diversity, democratic decision-making, and the empowerment of women are addressed in any field of study where gender-related issues call for research.

In terms of research methodology feminism actively seeks to remove the power imbalance between research and subject.

It is politically motivated in that it seeks to change social inequality.

It begins with the standpoint and experiences of women.

Feminism uses a wide variety of research methods, including methods belonging with the qualitative, quantitative and mixed approaches.

A qualitative approach is mostly favored because it lends itself better to reflect the measure of human experience without focusing too strongly on males while neglecting the role of women in a particular social, economic, political or technological setting.

Feminism shares an academic as well as an affective link with neoliberalism, post-colonialism, critical theory, critical race theory, romanticism, and post-structuralism.

All these paradigms deal with inequality and discrimination.

Although feminism and structuralism deal with power relations between people, feminism seldom uses the rigorous approach to research that is typical of structuralism.

Ironically, the unemotional and clinical approach that is typical of structuralism might be what is needed to elevate feminism to a more generally accepted research paradigm.

The main objection to feminism as a research paradigm is not that it is invalid or irrelevant, as some might claim, but rather that the very supporters of the philosophy are causing damage by the emotional way it is sometimes put forward.

Some academics feel that the way in which it is applied and the spirit in which people write about feminism is sometimes overly emotional and lacking academic substance.


The ontology of feminism is that social structures evolved over time towards natural gender equality.


  • Is a movement for the equality of women with men.
  • Strives for the empowerment of women.
  • Rejects subject and object as differential concepts.
  • Is concerned with ethics.
  • Strives for consciousness raising for the status and rights of women.

A wide range of issues can be investigated by making use of feminism as a paradigm.

Research is done by, for and about women.

Women, therefore, are the focus of analysis.

Feminism can be associated with critical theory, critical race theory, post-structuralism, romanticism and neoliberalism.

Feminism is opposed to structuralism.

Feminism is sometimes criticized for lack of academic consistency and for following an over-emotional philosophy.

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