Assumptions of Feminist Paradigms

Research for women aims to emancipate women and improve their lives.  Feminist research includes research on women and research for women.  The aim of research on women is to elucidate bias and inequity in the way women are treated in various social settings and institutions and to fill-in the gaps in our knowlege about women. 

Olesen (1994) and Thompson (1992) identify three models of feminist research:

  • Feminist Empiricism - feminist concerns shape the research questions and interpretation, but researchers are committed to traditional research methods.  Feminist empiricists adhere to the standards of current qualitative and quantitative methods.  They believe that any method can be feminist.  Their ontological and epistemological stance is similar to interpretivists or realists.
  • Feminist Standpoint Research  - this approach develops from the work of Harding, Smith and Hartsock.  Research done from standpoint theory stresses taking a particular view in one's research; a view that builds on and from women's experiences in everyday life. Researchers from this feminist paradigm have beliefs similar to critical theorists:
    • Historical ontology - assumes that there is a 'reality' that has been created and shaped by social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic and gender-based forces that has been reified or crystallized over time into social structures that are taken to be natural or real. 
    • Modified transactional or subjectivist epistemology - assumes that we cannot separate ourselves from what we know and this inevitably influences inquiry. What can be known is inextricably tied to the interaction between a particular investigator and a particular object or group.
  • Postmodern Feminism - believes that in oppressive contexts one cannot produce more than a partial story of women's lives.  Postmodern feminist researchers view reality as a series of endless stories and ongoing texts that sustain the oppression of women.

Other assumptions or about the research enterprise:

  • All research is value-sustaining and feminist research is politicized inquiry.
  • The separation between the subject and the object does not lead to objectivity, and a closer connection between the two may reconcile subjectivity and objectivity.
  • Women's experience can be considered a source and justification of knowledge
  • there may be no such thing as truth and objectivity

From Thompson, L. (1992). "Feminist methodology in family studies."


  • Feminists use a wide range of research methods, including naturalistic approaches to social inquiry, quantiative methods, and dialogic methods that combine observation and interviewing with approaches that foster conversation, reflection and change with regard to the 'natural' and oppressive social order.

Views on Criteria for 'Good' Research

Criteria for research should be based on community agreement, and researchers have the responsibility to justify their work and address and answer to any tension that manifest itself in the research endeavor

Generally the complete philosophical grounds for the research decisions made during a research project cannot be articulated in a manuscript, but some attempt to should be make to articulate these briefly.  This would include a description of the researcher's "standpoint" or perspective while engaging in the research process.

Some general description of alternative research orientations, approaches or ways of seeing should be discussed to foster accountability

The research endeavor should have social import.  This may include social change, expanding people's discourses, ways of seeing and understanding the world (these are not mutually exclusive). 

This involves giving a voice to women who are otherwise marginalized in our society so that the experiences can be known and understood. 


Devault, ML. (1999). Liberating method: Feminism and social research. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Flax, J. (1990). Thinking in Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Postmoderism in Contemporary West. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Fonow, MM & Cook, JA. (eds.) (1991). Beyond methodology: Feminist scholarship as lived experience. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Haraway, DJ. (1991). Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.

Harding, S. (1991). Whose science? Whose knowledge? Thinking from Women's lives. Ithaca, New York. Cornell University Press.

Hartsock, NCM. (1983). "The feminist standpoint: Developing the group for a specifically feminist historical materialism." In S. Harding & MB Hintikka (Eds.) Discovering Reality (pp. 283-310). Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel.

Holloway, W. (1989). Subjectivity and Method in Psychology: Gender, Meaning and Science. Newbury Park, Sage.

Olesen, V. (1994). "Feminism and models of qualitative research." In NK Denzin & YS Lincoln (eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research. pp. 158-174. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Reinharz, S. (1992). Feminist Methods in Social Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thompson, L. (1992). "Feminist methodology for family studies." Journal of Marriage and the Family 54(1) pp. 3-18.

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