Emancipation and Epistemological Hierarchy: Why Analysis Strategies Are At all times Political


Feminist Worldwide Relations (IR) scholarship has usually had a troubled engagement with the mainstream of IR, with quite a lot of disagreement stemming from differing methodological commitments (e.g. Tickner, 1997; Waylen, 2006; Weber, 1994). While feminist students have fruitfully employed strategies from throughout the methodological spectrum, feminist IR has tended in the direction of post-positivist methodologies, having largely rejected scientific and economistic strategies, which dominate IR’s mainstream. A plurality of feminisms exist inside IR, nonetheless all might be thought of united by their focus upon “social differentiations based mostly on intercourse (presumably ‘empirical’ distinctions between embodied women and men), or extra just lately, gender (socially constructed distinctions between privileged masculine and devalorized female traits)” (Peterson, 2004:36). Equally, all feminist researchers might be mentioned to attempt for a extra gender-equitable society during which the subordinate place of ladies, and people denigrated by their affiliation with the female, is eradicated (Benería, 2016:58; Peterson, 2004:40).

Tickner (2007:4-5) outlines 4 important methodological tips which inform the feminist analysis perspective: (i) analysis questions are designed to be helpful and (ii) much less gender-biased than conventional inquiry; (iii) analysis affords centrality to problems with reflexivity and subjectivity of the researcher, and (iv) commits to the emancipatory operate of information. Researchers’ selection of methodology, that’s, a way or device adopted for gathering and analysing proof, proceeds from their consideration of methodology, thought of right here to be “guiding self-conscious reflections on epistemological assumptions, ontological perspective, moral obligations, and methodology decisions” (Ackerly et al, 2006:6; c.f. Tickner, 2005:3). This essay is dedicated to the virtues of methodological plurality, nonetheless it’s going to argue that analysis strategies are all the time extremely political from the feminist perspective as a result of some — usually marginalised — strategies are extra suitable with advancing feminist analysis targets than others.

The essay will proceed as follows: firstly it’s going to argue that completely different analysis strategies possess differing levels of emancipatory potential, a key tenet within the feminist knowledge-building venture. It is because producing emancipatory analysis essentially requires strategies which might be ontologically destabilising, which positivist social scientific strategies will not be. Secondly, it is going to be argued that it’s attainable to determine the operation of a masculinised epistemological hierarchy throughout the self-discipline of IR. Underneath this hierarchy, a strict conception of what constitutes ‘legitimate’ data has afforded hegemony to strategies thought of to embody masculine traits, and a correlative disqualification of historically female methods of realizing. This harmful dominance of scientific and rational knowledges is antithetical to feminist targets, as a result of it universalises a selected male expertise, to the exclusion of female experiences. In each respects, analysis strategies are extremely political from the feminist perspective, as a result of they’ve enormous implications for the flexibility of researchers to realize their acknowledged targets, and real-world penalties for the lives of ladies. 

Emancipatory potential

As Tickner signifies, emancipatory data constructing is central to the feminist analysis agenda. That’s, to make use of Marx’s adage, countering the issue that “the philosophers have solely interpreted the world, in numerous methods: the purpose is to vary it” (Marx, in McLellan, 1977:158), or in Coxian phrases, a dedication to provide principle that “permits for a normative selection in favour of a social and political order completely different from the prevailing order” (Cox, 1981:128). Feminists argue that completely different analysis strategies have various capacities to enact emancipatory change to the prevailing social and political order, as a result of there are some questions that merely “couldn’t be requested throughout the epistemological and methodological boundaries of positivist social science” (Tickner, 2005:2177).

Conducting analysis that doesn’t tacitly settle for the present order of issues requires the researcher to ask questions that problem the standard ontology of IR, and within the course of, destabilise “foundational ideas, typical dichotomies, acquainted explanations, and even the self-discipline’s boundaries” (Peterson, 2004: 42). Emancipatory feminist scholarship entails inspecting the cultural, historic, symbolic, linguistic and consultant methods during which gender constitutes, and is constituted by, the apply and principle of worldwide relations. Conventional social scientific strategies, with their purpose of manufacturing nomothetic statements based mostly on positivist epistemological commitments, take as a right typical classes and items of study, reproducing them within the course of (Jackson, 2015:945). Feminists due to this fact problematise the scientific therapy of socially and traditionally contingent phenomena — like gender, data, the state, or the financial system — as unitary, monolithic, and unproblematically identifiable, reasonably than as discursive and social constructs. On this respect, the feminist strategy exhibits the traditional ‘black field’ conception of worldwide relations to be extremely problematic: an understanding of worldwide relations as consisting of unitary, atomised states in an anarchic and asocial worldwide system results in an acceptance of the “pure violence of worldwide anarchy” (Hooper, 2001:1). Underneath this conception, it’s inevitable that the factors for profitable state behaviour or political outcomes are these conforming to the “masculine virtues of energy, autonomy and self reliance” (ibid). Feminist researchers undertake an understanding of principle and apply as mutually constitutive, thus the ontological and epistemological beginning factors that strategies undertake are extremely political. Strategies have the potential to provide sensible data, reshape political understandings of oppressively-deployed phrases like ‘safety’ or ‘violence,’ and affect nationwide international insurance policies in apply. Moreover, strategies even have political implications for the non-feminist, non-critical mainstream of IR, a self-discipline that’s “not famous for its metatheoretical rigor or crucial self-reflection” (Peterson, 2004:42). By working with unstable classes and casting doubt over the universality of IR’s long-accepted ontological foundations, the strategies adopted by feminist students are probably extremely damaging to the acquainted assumptions on the core of IR’s mainstream.

‘Masculine’ science, located gazes, and the epistemological hierarchy

Other than the qualities of the analysis that exact strategies produce, one other manner during which analysis strategies might be thought of political is within the qualities of the analysis course of itself. Feminist researchers determine the operation of an ‘epistemological hierarchy’ in IR, below which there’s a valorisation of information that’s strictly understood to be extra ‘credible.’ An exemplary occasion of this hierarchy in motion is Robert Keohane’s suggestion that, with a purpose to persuade “non-believers” of feminist IR’s “validity,” the feminist analysis programme ought to adhere to broadly scientific methodology, lest it stay marginalised (1998:196-197). This stance is extremely problematic to feminist students, who discover that the epistemological hierarchy is itself constructed in line with the hierarchy of privileged masculine over denigrated female.

The epistemological pillars of Enlightenment pondering, rationalism and empiricism, signify the elevation of a selected, traditionally particular human expertise to a place of presumed universality — specifically, the expertise of a minority subset of elite, fashionable European males (Peterson, 2004: 37). On this respect, Tickner (2005:7) notes that “the periodisation of historical past and our understanding of the timing of progressive moments don’t all the time match with durations that noticed progress for ladies.” Fittingly, the qualities epitomised and privileged in ‘scientific’ positivist and rationalist epistemologies — inter alia, systematicity, reliability, objectivity, dominance over nature — are all qualities related to masculinity. In step with the privileging of masculine traits, the mainstream of IR analysis has usually taken concern with epistemologies which might be thought of to ivolve the ‘demasculinisation’ of instrumental rationality, during which  feminisation is equated with degradation (Peterson, 2017:333).

Difficult the dominance of scientific strategies requires interrogation of the complete custom of Western metaphysics, and its reliance upon hierarchicalised, essentialised and gendered binaries by which the epistemological order is sustained. Feminist poststructuralist and deconstructionist students particularly argue that the valorisation of ‘masculine’ scientific strategies depends upon the devalorisation of non-scientific strategies related to female traits (Poovey, 1988; Colebrook, 1997:82). By deconstructing uneven binaries like rational/emotional, truth/worth, or goal/subjective, feminist methodologies are in a position to incorporate historically female methods of realizing. Feminists emphasise, as an illustration, understanding mental and emotional intelligence as mutually constitutive reasonably than oppositional, and embracing the worth of knowledges which embody non-scientific qualities like dysfunction, dependence, and feeling (Tickner, 2005:10; Peterson, 2017:332). Feminists have embraced distinctly empathetic and interpretive methodologies, using, as an illustration, narrative ethnographies, interviews, and cross-cultural case research on the micro-level, eschewing statistical evaluation of macro-level, government-generated knowledge (Tickner, 2005:14). These strategies could also be deemed scientifically insufficient of their incapacity to provide generalisable, systematic, or replicable hypotheses, nonetheless they achieve making seen the lives of the marginalised, and mirror the fact of an ontologically unstable social world. These so-called ‘female’ methods of realizing supply enrichment to essentially the most commonly-utilised ideas of worldwide relations, like ‘safety’ or ‘peace,’ and a deeper understanding of state actions on the private and sensible degree.

As soon as the historic specificity of scientific ideas like rationality is known, scientific data’s declare to objectivity and universality is forged as extremely problematic. Scientific data is “all the time, in each respect, socially located” (Tickner, 2007:11). Feminists recognise that data is deictic: it’s by no means  produced, deployed, or understood in an goal or disinterested method. Because of this, Haraway phrases science’s presumed capacity of the researcher to gaze objectively upon the article of their analysis “conquering” as a result of it “signifies the unmarked positions of Man and White” enabling the “unmarked class [to] declare the ability to see and never be seen, to signify whereas escaping illustration” (Haraway, 1988:581; Conboy, Medina, and Stanbury, 2006:282) Basically, this ‘goal’ place is in actuality extremely located, and thus is able to producing solely located data which displays androcentric pursuits. For feminists, strategies are all the time political as a result of these strategies proclaiming objectivity fail to account for the truth that they’re produced inside a selected social state of affairs, that’s “methods of meanings, social identities, roles, norms, and related behaviors, traits and virtues” (Anderson, 2000).

In response to Keohane’s problem to feminism to formulate a scientific analysis programme, Tickner (2005:4) argues that many feminists endeavour to stress, reasonably than reconcile, the feminist venture’s estrangement from typical scientific knowledge-building, due to the androcentrism inherent in scientific theoretical inquiry. Because it pertains to methodology selection, that is clearly a political determination: with a purpose to have a very transformative impact on the self-discipline, feminists should embrace devalorised methods of realizing,. For the foreseeable future, this selection will seemingly entail feminist IR’s relegation to the disciplinary margins. This additionally has severe political penalties in a tangible sense for feminist researchers, with the epistemological and methodological hierarchy equally manifest in “publishing, employment choices, promotions and tutorial acclaim” (Peterson, 2017:330; 2004:44, additionally Maliniak et al, 2013).


This essay has argued that analysis strategies are all the time political from the feminist perspective for quite a few causes. Firstly, the flexibility of principle or analysis to impact sensible, emancipatory change is inherently political, thus is follows that selection of analysis strategies with differing emancipatory potential can be a deeply political matter. Feminist IR usually adopts strategies that threaten the very ontological foundations of the self-discipline, so a tough relationship with IR’s mainstream appears inevitable. Hegemonic positivist and social scientific strategies are unattractive to feminism as a result of they lack emancipatory potential, on account of their unquestioned acceptance of the oppressive ontological givens underpinning IR’s conceptual foundations. Secondly, analysis strategies are political from the feminist perspective as a result of the strategies feminists have a tendency in the direction of are largely excluded or denigrated by advantage of their affiliation with devalorised female traits. By figuring out the complete scientific enterprise as inherently androcentric, feminists are suspicious of particularly scientific data produced by such strategies. The dominance of masculine methods of realizing has the extremely political consequence that it obscures the marginalised female expertise, which it’s a central intention of feminism to make seen.


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Written at: Durham College
Written for: Professor Ilan Baron
Date written: Might 2020

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