The editors set out what the book seeks to trouble and what we are troubled by when speaking about feminist methodologies. We highlight the commonalities and differences across the book showcasing the many methodologies feminism has inspired and shaped. We delve into the patterns we saw woven across the chapters and the major themes that emerge in the book. We reflect on what we learned, what surprised, and what delighted us, as well as the ways in which the creative tensions and the inevitable silences invited us to reflect on what we could not do, the queer art of failure that is also part of our feminist method.
Introduction: Navigating Theory and Practice
This introduction sets out what the book is seeking to trouble and what we are troubled by when speaking about feminist methodologies (Haraway, 2016). In introducing the collection, we do not set out to define what feminist methodologies are. Rather, we highlight the commonalities and differences across the book in order to show the range of methodologies feminism has inspired and shaped. The way in which this collection evolved is itself an expression of how feminist methodologies contribute to research and practice within but also on the margins of academic scholarship. The process of putting together the book has been deliberately about not only content but also form and the process of knowledge production as our collective, feminist contributions to social, economic, ecological and cultural transitions. For over two years, the authors have been involved in a process that has been rich in collaboration in person and online. It is the excitement that underlines putting such a book together which we, as editors, hope to share with the readers.
In writing this together we had the pleasure to read and reread all the chapters in the book with time to debate what we found. In the process, the four of us delved into the patterns we saw woven across the chapters. We do not aim to capture all that is in the book, rather we give our impressions as editors of what we saw as the major themes that emerge in the book as a whole. For the spell-binding descriptions, the candid and honest reflections, the feeling and sensings, that come from the heart as much as the head, we encourage you to read the individual chapters. Here we set out what we, as editors, see as binding the chapters together, pointing to the methodological innovations the book brings to the theory and practice of feminist research. We point to what doing feminist methodology entails from the various entry points of the authors. We reflect on what we learned, what surprised, and what delighted us, as well as the ways in which the creative tensions and the inevitable silences and gaps invited us to reflect on what we could not do, the queer art of failure (Halberstam, 2011) that is also part of our feminist method.
Somewhat paradoxically, our collective willingness to acknowledge diversity and difference is what binds the book together. As explained in the preface, when we first met at our feminist methodology retreat on the shores of a lake, we were not sure if our conversations would lead to a book. Nor did we imagine much of our interaction would have to be online due to Covid-19. We gathered to share how we were doing feminist research in an informal, non-institutional environment. Little did we know how the pandemic would interrupt our plans. At first having to switch to working digitally seemed complex and limiting. However, we found that working online created unexpected possibilities. Over the two years we were able to organize, easily and inexpensively, two authors’ write-shops on Zoom and four editorial retreats. These digital encounters enabled us to exchange ideas, feedback and think through together what was emerging in the different chapters. We were able to communicate across time and space wherever we were geographically placed.
Our book is grounded in that experience of self-reflection and collaboration as we shared some of the joys and troubles of doing feminist research (Haraway, 2016). While troubling and being troubled by doing feminist methodologies in western academic institutions positions us broadly, it is important to note that the authors call on knowledge from diverse entry points: queer ecology, cultural anthropology, critical development studies, feminist political ecology, feminist science and technology studies, decolonial feminism and feminist geography (Haraway, 1988, 2003; Harding, 1992; Icaza, 2017). The book intentionally does not seek to position itself into any single literature of those boxes, nor is it quite correct to say it is transdisciplinary. The authors use a variety of insights from theory and experience to help explain and engage in their research puzzle. Similarly, while embracing feminism, the book holds many different understandings informed by diverse histories and contexts to what being a feminist doing research means. It does not attempt to label or confine feminisms. As the authors explain in the chapters, they each write as feminists from specific genealogies, embodied contexts and experiences.
The embrace of diversity positions the book in different literatures, geographies, moments in time, as well as experiences of doing research with human and more-than-human beings. The dense tapestry of the practice of feminist research weaves through and threads together each author’s storytelling from the intimate and personal to the ecological and political. What emerges is the strong, creative and powerful shaping of feminist methodologies. And, at the same time, the authors also point to what needs to be troubled around the privileges of the group, with our collective resources and freedom to study and write. As we explain below, the authors reflect with great honesty the difficulty to acknowledge privilege, whiteness and the racialized other and to move beyond dichotomies of North/South and academic/activist.
In this introduction we first map out the rich and engaging patterns that emerged in the book. After a general look at all the book achieves, we dig deeper into four creative tensions we identified by tracing how intersectionality, embodiment, relationality and emotion travel through the chapters. As part of our process of reflection we then turn to the silences, gaps and absences in the book—looking at what this collaborative process allowed, and what it did not. In this way we invite the reader to be aware of and engage with failure as a way to avoid closure and to be open to transformative knowledge production.
Mapping Out the Patterns
The book captures the contributors’ collaborative reflections on the choices and challenges of conducting feminist research. We reflect on the process of navigating theory and practice, individual and collective engagements, and the challenge of producing knowledge on the edge of academic and activist desires. In so doing, the chapters in the book aim to both contest dominant and normative notions of research as rational, disembodied and “objective”, as well as provide narratives, examples and experiences of doing research otherwise (Walsh, 2016).
Feminist methodologies are thus engaged as counter-narratives to dominant traditional models of research and science, as well as through foregrounding the experiential and embodied nature of doing research. But the chapters also go beyond a mere critique of traditional research methods by showing how feminist methodologies can entail a recognition of how knowledge is inscribed in the body, sense of self and community. Through sharing stories and making visible the negotiation of multiple identities and positionalities, ethics and the complexities of everyday research, these chapters show that knowledge is not disconnected from, but rather entwined with, emotions and experiences. The knowledge that feminist researchers produce is shaped by our lives, cultures, communities and feminisms. Departing from this recognition, the chapters in this book offer understandings of and experiences with feminist methodologies through practices of sharing, storytelling or by engaging creative and artistic mediums (Millora et al., 2020).
The role of ethics and responsibility in research—and what this means for the kinds of knowledge that is being produced—comes through in many of the chapters. Common across several chapters is a careful attention to why and for whom knowledge is sought. Marina Cadaval Narezo (Chapter 7) tackles the question of how to do collaborative research across epistemologies in the context of a scholarship program improving Indigenous Mexican women’s access to higher education. Beginning from a place that understands “thought as collective and contextual”, Marina engages in a deep discussion of the feminist and decolonial ethics that allow her to connect across differences (Wilson, 2008). Karijn van den Berg and Leila Rezvani (Chapter 2) explore negotiating plural identities and the feminist ethics of fieldwork as they bring forward more-than-human concerns within feminist research. Navigating feminist ethics in the context of a pandemic, Constance Dupuis (Chapter 3) sets out to unpack how assumptions in her research were brought to light as a result of Covid-19 and what can be learned from such oversights. Daniela Flores Golfín, Tamara Rusansky and Fleur Zantvoort (Chapter 10) unpack, by way of a dialogue, the ethics of researching alongside social movements, being deeply committed to the struggles they accompany, and the complexity of straddling the fluid divide between activism and scholarship.
Several chapters also centre the everyday and often overlooked aspects of research, being intentional about making visible the unseen and messy facets of enacting feminist methodologies, many times in the form of storytelling. The stories that emerge are often intimate. Sharing, here, serves as a way of troubling and being troubled by. Karijn and Leila share stories from their fieldwork which challenge dominant ideas about what separates the human from the non-human, and how this helps in letting go of binary positionings. Martina Padmanabhan (Chapter 6) explores the everyday possibilities and complexities that come with being accompanied by a child in field research. Martina tells stories about “mistakes, detours and fear” which revealed themselves to be important points of intellectual and emotional inquiry. Stories about maintaining the emotional, bodily and spiritual well-being of both her child and herself as a researcher and as a mother, speaks to how being accompanied can humanize a researcher. Through reflecting on her own uncommon positionality within the context she carried out research, C. Sathyamala (Chapter 8) tells stories about the subtle and overt ways in which identities and subjectivities are lived, questioned, and resisted within her research context. Rosa de Nooijer and Lillian Sol Cueva (Chapter 11) discuss storytelling as a feminist methodology through the form of written and drawn storytelling. Their chapter speaks to the methodology of feminist storytelling by way of enacting it. Emily O’Hara (Chapter 13) shares stories about her own experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV) as she tackles the topic more broadly. Daniela, Tamara and Fleur tell stories about the role their collective friendship has played in each of their individual research projects, offering insights into the role of friendships for feminist research more generally. Jacqueline Gaybor (Chapter 4) teases out the layered complexity of using a menstrual tracking application, raising questions about the unseen dimensions when intimate bodily processes meet tracking software as she shares her own journey of using this technology. Constance (Chapter 3) attempts to make visible her own clumsiness as she attempts to trouble and be troubled by the ethical commitments of feminist methodologies. The different forms of storytelling present in the book allow for an exploration of the everyday aspects of feminist research and what can be learned through deep listening.
This brings us to the different ways in which creative expression emerges across the chapters. Creativity, in other-than-conventional-academic-text form, comes out in the collection varyingly: as a companion to theorizing or fieldwork, as infusing feminism into an existing methodology, as healing, and as methodology itself. The drawings by Wendy Harcourt and Ximena Argüello Calle are a tool for their intergenerational exchange as well as an outlet. “Our drawings which accompany this chapter are also an attempt to probe beyond the academic text. We draw not as artists but as feminists who are trying to capture the sensing/feeling informing our subjectivities through these images” (Chapter 5). Mahardhika Sjamsoe’oed Sadjad (Chapter 12) uses knitting as a way for her to “check in” with herself emotionally and mentally during her fieldwork. Using different colours to denote distinct feelings, she tracks her own well-being by knitting at regular intervals and journaling about why certain colours were chosen. She also explores how the practice of knitting opened up other avenues through which she was able to connect to research participants. In the context of exploring how women navigate public transit in the city of Guadalajara, Azucena Gollaz Morán (Chapter 9) uses various forms of creative mapping to bring corporality and emotion into conversation with more conventional and sterile methods of maps. Emily speaks of the possibilities of research as healing through poetry and creative writing, interweaving her chapter with her own and others’ poetry. Rosa and Lillian explore feminist storytelling as methodology as they interweave writing and drawing. In an experimental and profoundly rich chapter, these authors push the boundaries of creativity as a way of producing knowledge. While not always theorized as creative methodology, these examples speak to the possibilities of feminist research both accompanied by creativity and beyond written academic text.
The book offers a series of reflections on how we, as feminists, shape research questions; understand our positionalities; share our research results beyond academe and produce feminist knowledge. While there are some shared notions of what the “doing” of feminist research can entail, underlying these reflections are also different understandings of and experiences with feminism.
For some of the authors, doing feminist research is focussed on people who identify as women, and/or looking at gendered experiences of certain groups. For example, Rosa and Lillian (Chapter 11) explicitly centre “women’s voices” and “women’s stories” in their engagement with storytelling as a form of feminist methodology, and Marina (Chapter 7) centres narratives and experiences of a specific group of Indigenous women in Mexico. Other authors focus on how gender, along with other identity factors, impacted research positionalities and encounters. Wendy and Ximena share auto-biographic/ethnographic stories about embodied gender and sexuality power relations, in a similar vein as the personal reflections of Mahardhika (Chapter 12) and Emily (Chapter 13) (Casas-Cortés et al., 2008). Karijn and Leila (Chapter 2) challenge the links being made between feminist research and womanhood or gender, by bringing in queer experiences and theory and emphasizing a plurality and fluidity across genders, positionalities, species and identities as central to doing feminist research (Mortimer-Sandilands, 2005). For others gender is less of an explicit issue or element in their chapters, but feminist research is foregrounded as revolving around certain research ethics, methods and responsibilities rather than studying a certain group, or taking up the question in specific ways.
These converging ways in which the relation to feminism is made explicit or is worked into these chapters then reflect that feminist methodologies are not only taken up differently, but that notions of gender and feminism also differ across the book, in ways that are sometimes in contradiction or in tension. However, the goal of this book is not to provide ready-made answers on what feminist methodologies are and how they should be “practiced” but wants to acknowledge that these methodologies can be underpinned by a variety of identities, positionalities, motivations and political, personal and gender(ed) orientations.
Intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1991) is by now a well-known feminist tool, method and way of thinking originating in the activism and research of Black women (Collins, 1986) The authors in the book recognize this tradition and perceive intersectionality as a way to visualize co-constituting identities, structures of power and oppression as well as intersecting and overlapping political issues. There are several ways intersectionality is approached in the book. For some, intersectionality is used to recognize the embodied, situated and intersectional identities of themselves as researchers looking at the changing identities that a researcher carries. Marina (Chapter 7) brings feminist methodologies of care and collaboration in order to work with the Indigenous women rather than about them. She speaks of the “strength, conviction and clarity to the methodological and epistemic mosaic of intersectional feminist proposals” that allows her as a mestizo/white woman in coalition with Indigenous women to “reveal together exclusions, inequalities, injustices of colonial patriarchy”. Wendy and Ximena (Chapter 5) describe how both of them are shaped by collective and individual feminist positionalities and how different sensations and memories “intersect” over time and space. Martina (Chapter 6) offers a personal reflection of how being accompanied by a child during fieldwork shows how “multiple identities intersect in the process of field research”, including the personal and the professional, positioning herself as a “gendered, classed and ethnic subject”. In the same candid way, Sathya (Chapter 8) scrutinizes her time in the field and shares insights into how meanings of caste, class and gender intersected and shifted in contesting understandings of her positionality in interactions with the villager people. Azucena (Chapter 9) also analyzes intersectionality in relation to identity, examining how gender, age, social class, ethnicity/skin colour, corporality, religion, sexual orientation and ability operate socially and spatially in Guadalajara. She uses intersectionality as a methodological tool by mapping out the different emotions that are experienced by women across intersections (of gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, age, religion, race, class) at different (urban) localities and time.
As well as recognizing the multiple identities of researchers or research participants, intersectionality is also used as a methodology in the book to analyze how different cultural and socio-political issues are entwined. Constance (Chapter 3) shows how intersectionality can shed light on ageing and environment, as well as what role “age” and ageing play in existing work on intersectionality and intersectional environments (Katz & Calasanti, 2015). In her use of intersectionality as a political location Constance parallels race, gender, class or ability relations, in order to underscore the importance of taking age seriously in intersectionality. Karijn and Leila bring a further political dimension to intersectionality’s concern with power and difference by asking feminist methodologies to disrupt the boundaries of human and other-than-human beings as part of an understanding of how capitalist science “oppresses women, people of colour, gender non-conforming people and other-than-human beings” (Chapter 2). Their chapter shows the importance of giving attention to how other-than-human beings intersect with human worlds and how relations among human and more-than-human worlds are implicated in feminist research. While the understandings and applications of intersectionality vary across these chapters they all attest to the importance of this feminist tool as a method and way of thinking through research processes.
Doing feminist research is necessarily an embodied practice given that bodies, embodied experiences and feelings are at the heart of feminism (Sinclair, 2018). The book follows this long tradition of feminism by inserting the embodied self into the text. Embodiment is evoked in reflections, memories, stories, illustrations and drawings as authors explore the importance of bodies and feelings in the ways feminisms shape their research and lives. The book is full of beautifully described embodied encounters—from the touch of cabbage leaves, to the warmth of an embrace, from the visceral pain of motorbike accidents to the touch of a cotton sari and the feel of gold bangles, from the fear of walking in dark streets to the hot tea served by a friend. As these snippets of description indicate, the book is a testimony to how embodiment as a concept and practice informs the book, sometimes in surprising ways, bringing agency, pleasure but also discomfort.
Constance (Chapter 3) speaks about embodiment in terms of ageing, intergenerational care and well-being, analyzing the disruption of Covid-19 materially and discursively in her research (Tronto, 1988). Karijn and Leila (Chapter 2) point to the “importance of the sensory, affective and embodied” sources of information in their reflections on how other-than-humans are active collaborators in the research process (Barad, 2003; Puig de la Bella Casa, 2017). They use embodied, interactive and processual research methods by inserting their selves—memories, feelings and senses—into their research method. In their chapter we learn how human bodies adjust to “the rhythms of other-than-human creatures” during manual labour alongside farmers and other farm workers as human work adjusts to “the dictates and rhythms of plant and animal co-workers”. The chapter moves in and out of diverse bodies and embodiment as it opens up ways for queer bodies including, “multispecies extended family of vegetables” to have “a place and be ‘natural’ in their own right”. The chapter holds the tension of various embodied identities, feminists, researchers, farmers, activists, queers, which shift in meaning in the different spaces—farms, resistance sites, academic institutions. Their writing, in its descriptive power, embraces the contradictions of what doing feminist and queer research means. Wendy and Ximena (Chapter 5) also look at queer embodiment across time and place as part of intergenerational embodied research processes. They explore how safe feminist and queer places build a sense of belonging where embodied sexuality and gender power relations can be shaped in the digital world. Their drawings present their sense/feeling of the embodied research experience. Jacqueline explores the body and embodiment in the digital world by examining menstrual apps. She records her relationship with her body “reconfigured through a self-tracking app that is powered by my personal digital traces” (Chapter 4). Her chapter reclaims her body and its “interconnected system of muscles, nerves, hormones, emotions, cycles, and actions”, illustrating how menstrual apps have become part of a web of cultural norms, power relations, beliefs, and identities that are reshaping embodiment. Self-reflection and using your body as the subject of feminist research, including menstruation as an embodied statement of gender identity, also features in Emily’s on intimate partner violence. The tensions and difficulties of self as subject resonates in her poems in what she describes as “constantly triaging. Haemorrhaging in silence” (Chapter 13). Mahardhika (Chapter 12) looks at the emotional dynamics during fieldwork triggered by her mental and physical health. Her response was to take up knitting and the resulting colours in the scarf record her fluctuating “emotions between hope and despair”.
Sensing feeling and embodied experiences of doing research reverberates throughout the book—from the care evoked by Daniela, Tamara and Fleur (Chapter 10) who speak of how their friendship enabled them to write together, to the drawings of Rosa and Lillian (Chapter 11) that give us the scent and taste of sharing food acknowledging the other-than-human beings that provided it (Degnen, 2018). Marina (Chapter 7) shares stories of food, coffee and adventures in rural Mexico as well as the care and friendship shared, built in the stories that inform her research. Her reflections as she walks in the woods in The Hague listening to the tapes of her interviews take us to the core of embodied research methodologies. Similarly, we find ourselves walking with Azucena (Chapter 9) and the women who work in crowded, racially and status divided Guadalajara, as they make their way home in the dark, in unsafe places and in crowded buses using WhatsApp to check the others’ safety. Her thick descriptions of embodiment in urban dynamics socially and spatially, suggest the everyday embodied identities of working women in a highly urban and oppressive environment. The embodied experiences of Sathya (Chapter 8) in a village in Tamil Nadu, India, are evoked as she describes the dust and heat as well as the villagers’ expressions of care towards her. Martina (Chapter 6) describes her embodied feelings as she works through her personal and the professional intersecting and entangled identities. She underlines how embodied knowledge is as important as “conventional data collection” and how auto-ethnography can reveal as much as graphs and numbers, describing how the “basic care for our bodies entangles us with the geography of our neighbourhood”. She analyzes how religion was sensed and felt—visible and audible—in her surroundings and how she navigated the different embodied cultural experiences, commenting: “feminist knowledge production is concerned with emotional, bodily, and spiritual maintenance in place making”.
From so many different perspectives, the authors pay attention to how the embodied, lived experience plays out in research interactions, their analysis and writings. These embodied experiences, whether written, visual or poetic, show how sensing, feeling, or what we feel on the skin and in the heart, and on our bodies, informs how methods shape feminist research.
In a sense, most, if not all, research is at its core about relationships—examining, looking at and unpacking connections from different perspectives. Beyond seeking out and exploring connections, relationality, as Haraway offers, requires an understanding that “beings do not pre-exist their relations” (2003: 6); “reality is relational through and through” (Escobar, 2015: 459). Karijn and Leila explain how for relational research “the unit of inquiry [becomes] not a discrete being (human or other-than), but the shifting and co-constitutive relations between them” (Chapter 2). A conversation about relationality emerges across the book helping us to refuse many taken for granted binaries by inviting us to look and feel beyond separations. “[T]hinking in and through relationality is a way of overcoming modern dichotomies and moving towards non-dualities” (Vázquez, 2012: 248, emphasis in original).
For some chapters, relationality is brought out as a way to think through research relationships differently. Karijn and Leila exchange experiences of tuning into the more-than-human dimensions of their respective relational research. Their stories explore human and more-than-human connections, bringing out the relational complexity of their work. Marina (Chapter 7) shares the relational responsibility that accompanies her cross-epistemology engagement with Indigenous Mexican women, reflecting on what accountability means in this context. Daniela, Tamara and Fleur (Chapter 10) speak to navigating relationality as researchers learning from and with social movements. They reflect on how their positionalities in relation to the movements affected the questions they were able to pose and the spaces they could access. Wendy and Ximena (Chapter 5) each reflect on their own experiences of building relational connections in digital spaces. They interweave these reflections with their methodology of relational, intergenerational dialogue.
For others, relationality emerges as a way to think through knowledge production and units of analysis differently. In Lillian and Rosa’s chapter (Chapter 11), feminist thinkers are brought together for an imagined dinner to share a meal and a conversation across time and ideas. In their playful chapter, they invite us into their relational process. In the context of isolation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, Constance (Chapter 3) discusses how a deep engagement with ethics can allow for connections to flourish. Learning across generations, she touches upon knowledge as itself relational - rooted in the relationships that produced it.
While the treatments and understandings of relationality vary, and are sometimes in tension, these chapters speak to the possibilities of research informed by relationality in important ways. Seeking out connection, the dichotomies that are challenged in this collection cross time, cross ideas that separate the human from the other-than-human, cross generations, cross epistemologies, and cross the academic/activist divide (Fuentes, 2017).
Though emotions are often dismissed as less serious or not particularly relevant to academic research, feminist research approaches have a long tradition of paying attention to emotions, grappling with the role of emotions in research and how to access and understand such forms of knowing (Cahill et al., 2007). Building on understandings of emotional geographies, emotion in feminist methodological approaches is understood not so much as an internal process bound to individual subjectivities, but as “being relationally produced between peoples and places” (Sultana, 2007: 634). While feelings and emotions were touched upon in our discussion of embodiment, it is also important to underscore the ways in which emotions are linked to the ways the authors have approached research as an integral part of feminist methodologies.
Several chapters illustrate how emotionally engaged feminist research is guided by an ethics of care (Puig de la Bella Casa, 2017). Wendy and Ximena (Chapter 5) explore how digital feminist and queer safe spaces become places for emotional connection and care between known and unknown others, who share similar concerns for a person, an issue, or a community. Marina engages in the importance of care, which for her entails “respecting the ideas of the collaborators, as well as recognizing - naming - the bodies, the stories, the contexts that build them”. She takes us to an emotional encounter with her participants, through what she calls “reflective conversations”. Marina (Chapter 7) explores emotions as departure points of inquiry. In her chapter, she is in tune with the feelings of her research participants to ask questions around her role as a researcher, her responsibilities for her research project and particularly, to the participants.
Other chapters explore how feminist ways of doing research can also be forms of healing. Authors engage in creative responses such as writing/crafting poetry and knitting, respectively. As a survivor of IPV, Emily explores how writing has provided her healing by helping “me come home to myself” (Chapter 13). Her chapter is an invitation to explore personal and political issues through emotions by looking at “how they are embodied and felt, not just measured and observed”. Mahardhika (Chapter 12) focuses on the emotional dynamics during her fieldwork in researching migration. She documents these emotional dynamics by knitting coloured yarns that represented the different emotions she felt and wrote in her fieldwork diary. While knitting became a ground wire and a “catalyst for these emotions”, it also became “a representation of the emotional labour that goes into doing research”. The exploration of emotions related to fieldwork is significant also in the process of feminist knowledge production, as echoed in the reflections brought by Martina (Chapter 6). In a beautifully written piece on her ten-month fieldwork in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in the company of her son, she reflects on the importance of “listening with care to affects and emotions” as she thinks on her son’s presence during her fieldwork.
By paying attention to the way the authors infuse emotions into the text, feminist methodologies also open possibilities for exploring alternative ways of theorizing and expressing themselves through storytelling, visual illustrations, and drawing. Rosa and Lillian (Chapter 11) justify their choice of using storytelling and illustration as these forms of expression offer possibilities to “create dimensions and movement, provide an atmosphere and give a face and emotions to the characters”. The drawings authored by Wendy and Ximena (Chapter 5) “far from remaining innocent or actionless” are powerful tools to shake “emotions and generate empathy in different ways than descriptive text”.
Across the chapters more generally, there is a focus on how we feel and what these emotions add to our research. In the sharing of a quiet look of understanding while having a coffee with a research participant, in the sinking into the listening to often-told stories, in moments of mutual support, our own and others’ emotions are brought out and their importance for the research process is examined.
In the process of how we have put together the book, even in this introduction, we have tried to be transparent about how emotions inform us. Emotions come through across the chapters in different ways, as they relate to an ethics of care, to healing and well-being, and as we try to transcend the limits of the written word.
Listening to Silences
In addition to the joys that we have found in the process of writing and putting together this volume, we have also reflected on staying with the “troubles” of doing feminist research, learning from the failures and what the inevitable gaps in the book imply. In this section we speak to some of those gaps and failures.
While the authors are from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, we are all in one way or another connected to elite European academic institutions. Our shared privilege has meant that the tensions between Global North and South has not dominated the book which might have been expected. Coming from the Global South or the Global North is not clearly discussed, rather the intersectional differences of class, caste, race, gender, age. Our privileges permitted us to dedicate time to study, do a Ph.D., conduct fieldwork, reflect, write, or connect via Zoom for our write-shops. Indeed, that privilege enabled that first trip to the magical Bolsena, in Italy, where the book began. Nevertheless, we are aware of our privileges, and uncomfortable questions come across in the book about whose voices are not there and what are the gaps.
The politics of citation is another element of the book that requires listening, which we—as contributors to the book—did not speak about together, and inevitably it has led to unevenness in the writing process. This means that some chapters intentionally cite beyond the expected feminist canon while others have paid less attention to whom they cite, particularly given the way we are related to academic privilege and institutions that build on the hierarchies of the written text, the gate keeping of certain voices through academic journal/books publication processes and the dismissal of the wisdom and knowledge of oral traditions.
Here we also have to reflect on the issue of language and the dominance of English (used synonymously with academic language). Being able to speak and write in English determined whether authors could contribute to this volume. English, as a global and academic means of communication has served as a key bridge to communicate among ourselves, carry out this collective process, and has been instrumental for the realization of this project. Its dominance implies an absence in the book of the voices that do not speak English as well as an absence of who was cited and referenced. Although the authors spoke several other languages and conversations were translated into English in many of the chapters, these multiple exchanges across the language barriers are mutely heard. For example, the experiences of the Cuir copensantes project (Chapter 5) was conducted in Spanish and translated to English for this book. Although the final written version of the project was translated by one of the copensantes (from English to Spanish), many nuances, contextual particularities and probably some experiences were lost in these translation processes. This and many other gaps can be seen in the book. The gaps that lie between the layers of language and interpretation from Indigenous language to Spanish to English and from spoken to written to digital spaces is evoked but not explored fully. The collaborative process with its multiple exchanges in other languages had to use English to enable it to happen, leading to an approximation of what could be heard in the original language. Sathya (Chapter 8) explores these tensions when narrating her visit back to Oru-oor village in India to show the photographs and her published thesis. She describes that “although almost none could read English, my book was held tenderly, flipped through, as each one tried to guess who the woman was on the cover (as I had blurred her face). With a general delight in my accomplishment, they felt that they owned it because it was, after all, their stories between the covers”.
The contributors to this volume have made important, sometimes collaborative efforts among themselves not to lose the meaning of the words in their original language and to do justice to the stories they tell us and their protagonists. This was not easy. Even among Spanish speakers from different Latin American countries, it proved challenging to understand the depth and meaning of certain words or phrases in Spanish in an effort to render them into English. The authors are aware of who and what we erase or silence in the process of translating but it was hard to give full attention, even if authors, with care, did try to do justice to the translated conversations, words, and sayings.
These questions push us to reflect on which voices (although sometimes removed from their original language) are amplified in each of the book’s chapters and, probably most importantly, how? Some delve deep into these questions and inquire about what it means to do feminist research with and for people. Daniela, Tamara and Fleur reflect on how they engaged in a collective effort to create spaces of “co-learning and reflecting” with social justice movements from Costa Rica, Brazil and The Netherlands. They discuss some of the difficulties associated with creating a collaborative process while dealing with the restrictions imposed by academic research. Constance (Chapter 3) sees her research as “not only as spending time with older people, which some colleagues have found to be a sweet but not particularly serious research focus, but also as looking for absences and listening to silences”. Through her research she wonders “How can we (re)build intergenerational bridges?” Marina (Chapter 7) develops “collaborative, respectful and caring methodological processes” through which “I have adjusted my centre to their centre and created also a common one”. In Marina’s experience, “to be able to shift the centre of a study is necessary to be flexible and humble about our limitations as researchers. It is necessary, as well, to listen, to pay attention, to care—not only about our individual academic process, but about the people involved, the processes triggered”.
Among the more subtle, if not silent, threads in the book is an exploration of failure. Karijn and Leila (Chapter 2) suggest that though things may not go as wished or planned in fact those failures can offer new possibilities, indeed surprisingly creative ways of being in the world. Martina (Chapter 6) builds intentionally on the “mistakes, detours and fears” seeing them not as mishaps or fortunes, but rather as necessary to her intellectual and emotional enquiry. As she states: “It has been an exercise of imbalances and inconsistencies, but by identifying, by naming them I have tried to balance, assume them”. Marina (Chapter 7) in her resistance to “the normative” - the western, the patriarchy, the oppressive - learns to shift the centre of her study from individual academic work to acknowledging the limitation of researchers. Jacqueline (Chapter 4) deflects her initial failed idea on how to study menstrual apps from a science and technology perspective into self-reflection about embodied reality, building into the research her doubts and concerns.
The authors are all, as part of their feminist methodologies practising the art and the politics of noticing—notably in terms of the everyday emotions around care for others, including more-than-human others, in creative and innovative ways. It is interesting to note what we were not noticing. Sexuality is decidedly muted and referred to in terms of identity not as an embodied experience. The quintessential notion of embodied femininity—motherhood—features very little in the book and mostly in relation to the need to balance the demands of work and care for children, or one mention in relation to avoiding miscarriage and another about abortion as a political struggle as well as the study of menstrual apps. This reflects the age and experience of the authors generationally, as well as being a reminder that motherhood and pregnancy figure less prominently as subjects of feminist research than they once did in the second wave of feminist writing in the late twentieth century.
While common themes and concerns run through the different chapters, we don’t write from a single understanding of feminist methodologies. The authors have different pathways into feminism and our feminisms do different things. We have mapped out some of the patterns that as editors, we are excited to see emerge across the collection. We also discuss the different ways in which intersectionality, embodiment, relationality and emotion are understood within the book as well as point to some of the silences and creative failures. Even given the widely different actors, places and emotions in the book, one thing that is clear is the desire to go beyond the academic exercise of producing knowledge for an academic audience only—these are committed stories. We have grappled with the politics of knowledge production both in the community and in academia, underscoring some of our feminist concerns. We leave you to enjoy the volume.
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Dupuis, C., Harcourt, W., Gaybor, J., van den Berg, K. (2022). Introduction: Feminism as Method—Navigating Theory and Practice . In: Harcourt, W., van den Berg, K., Dupuis, C., Gaybor, J. (eds) Feminist Methodologies. Gender, Development and Social Change. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-82654-3_1
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-030-82653-6
Online ISBN: 978-3-030-82654-3