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Feminist Methodology: Challenges and Choices

Caroline Ramazanoglu
Sage Publications: London
0761951237 (pb)

vii + 195

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Front Cover
As the number of publications on feminist epistemology, methodology and research methods has declined since the early nineties, this book represents a welcome and timely addition to recent debates. One major debate has been whether we can, and indeed should, identify a distinct feminist methodology. The authors clearly argue for feminist methodology (as the title of the book suggests) as a unique set of approaches to research bound up with the feminist political agenda. However they also point out the diverse nature of feminist contributions to knowledge production, and the disputes that have arisen from both within and outside feminist circles (hence the sub-title, Challenges and Choices). In this way, the authors attempt to draw together the contemporary debates in order to disentangle the "methodological confusion". Their introductory chapter is particularly successful in this regard, and the book is likely to be useful to students and those seeking to obtain a broad understanding of feminist methodology's contributions, past and present.

A recurrent theme of the book is the issue of linking ideas, experience and reality. This is particularly the case in Parts I and II which deal with "feminisms's enlightenment legacy and its contradictions" (including discussion of feminist standpoint theory) and "freedom, fragmentation and resistance" (contributions of postmodern thinking) respectively. However, whilst these sections deal with complex ideas in a fairly accessible manner, and will be helpful to those struggling with the challenges and contradictions inherent within feminism, especially those brought to bear by post-modern theorists, the result is a book more concerned with feminist epistemology than feminist methodology. Evidently these areas are inextricably linked and discussion of the one requires discussion of the other, but the differences/connections between the two are not always made clear. This may be particularly problematic as the book is aimed at a student readership. The discussion is dense in parts, and I feel it would have sometimes benefited from a clearer mode of exposition, along with some variations in format, less sub-headings and clearer chapter summaries.

It also appears that the book would have benefited from more concise discussions in Parts I and II and an expansion of Part III, which is concerned with the practicalities of employing a feminist approach to research. Particularly as the authors make an argument for the importance of practical investigation for furthering understandings of gender relations and the feminist political project. In fact, Part III forms an engaging and useful element of the book. The authors are successful in bringing the epistemological and methodological issues discussed in the two previous sections to bear on practical considerations when undertaking a feminist research project, taking the reader through the various stages of research from conceptualisation to writing up, and offering helpful hints along the way. Thus, although this section could well have constituted a larger contingent of the book, it offers a helpful guide to those of us attempting to define and undertake feminist research projects in, not always, conducive institutional and political contexts.

Overall, this is an important and useful text, which manages to bring together many of the current concerns and debates within feminist methodology. Of particular salience is the authors' argument that retaining an understanding of the distinctive elements of a feminist approach to research and the unique contributions of feminist critiques of social life are critical for the continuance of a feminist political agenda. However, the title of the book is somewhat misleading as it engages in-depth with both epistemological and theoretical debates within feminism as well as methodological issues. Indeed, some important methodological issues such as the role of reflexivity, are not given in-depth consideration. In addition, the authors sometimes fail to explicate arguments clearly in a concise, accessible manner that would be helpful to its intended student readership. Consequently the introductory chapter and Part III are likely to be most helpful to those seeking to understand and contribute towards current debates within feminist methodological circles.

Lydia Lewis
Health Services Research Unit, University of Aberdeen

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