Emancipation and Epistemological Hierarchy: Why Analysis Strategies Are All the time Political

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Feminist Worldwide Relations (IR) scholarship has sometimes 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 direction of post-positivist methodologies, having largely rejected scientific and economistic strategies, which dominate IR’s mainstream. A plurality of feminisms exist inside IR, nevertheless all might be thought-about united by their focus upon “social differentiations primarily based on intercourse (presumably ‘empirical’ distinctions between embodied men and women), or extra 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 by which the subordinate place of girls, and people denigrated by their affiliation with the female, is eradicated (Benería, 2016:58; Peterson, 2004:40).

Tickner (2007:4-5) outlines 4 predominant methodological pointers 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 perform of information. Researchers’ alternative of methodology, that’s, a method or software adopted for gathering and analysing proof, proceeds from their consideration of methodology, thought-about right here to be “guiding self-conscious reflections on epistemological assumptions, ontological perspective, moral obligations, and methodology selections” (Ackerly et al, 2006:6; c.f. Tickner, 2005:3). This essay is dedicated to the virtues of methodological plurality, nevertheless it’ll argue that analysis strategies are at all times extremely political from the feminist perspective as a result of some — sometimes marginalised — strategies are extra suitable with advancing feminist analysis objectives than others.

The essay will proceed as follows: firstly it’ll argue that completely different analysis strategies possess differing levels of emancipatory potential, a key tenet within the feminist knowledge-building challenge. It’s because producing emancipatory analysis essentially requires strategies which might be ontologically destabilising, which positivist social scientific strategies should not. Secondly, it will likely be argued that it’s doable to establish the operation of a masculinised epistemological hierarchy throughout the self-discipline of IR. Underneath this hierarchy, a strict conception of what constitutes ‘legitimate’ information has afforded hegemony to strategies thought-about 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 objectives, as a result of it universalises a specific 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 large implications for the power of researchers to attain their acknowledged objectives, and real-world penalties for the lives of girls. 

Emancipatory potential

As Tickner signifies, emancipatory information 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 varied methods: the purpose is to vary it” (Marx, in McLellan, 1977:158), or in Coxian phrases, a dedication to supply concept that “permits for a normative alternative 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 analyzing the cultural, historic, symbolic, linguistic and consultant methods by which gender constitutes, and is constituted by, the apply and concept of worldwide relations. Conventional social scientific strategies, with their aim of manufacturing nomothetic statements primarily based on positivist epistemological commitments, take without any consideration typical classes and items of study, reproducing them within the course of (Jackson, 2015:945). Feminists due to this fact problematise the scientific remedy of socially and traditionally contingent phenomena — like gender, information, the state, or the financial system — as unitary, monolithic, and unproblematically identifiable, fairly than as discursive and social constructs. On this respect, the feminist method exhibits the standard ‘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 standards 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 concept and apply as mutually constitutive, thus the ontological and epistemological beginning factors that strategies undertake are extremely political. Strategies have the potential to supply sensible information, 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 essential 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

Except for the qualities of the analysis that specific strategies produce, one other approach by which analysis strategies might be thought-about political is within the qualities of the analysis course of itself. Feminist researchers establish the operation of an ‘epistemological hierarchy’ in IR, beneath 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, so as 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 keeping with the hierarchy of privileged masculine over denigrated female.

The epistemological pillars of Enlightenment pondering, rationalism and empiricism, signify the elevation of a specific, traditionally particular human expertise to a place of presumed universality — particularly, 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 at all times match with intervals that noticed progress for girls.” 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 sometimes taken situation with epistemologies which might be thought-about to ivolve the ‘demasculinisation’ of instrumental rationality, by which  feminisation is equated with degradation (Peterson, 2017:333).

Difficult the dominance of scientific strategies requires interrogation of your 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 specifically 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, reality/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 fairly 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 lack of ability to supply generalisable, systematic, or replicable hypotheses, nevertheless they reach making seen the lives of the marginalised, and replicate the fact of an ontologically unstable social world. These so-called ‘female’ methods of realizing provide enrichment to probably the most commonly-utilised ideas of worldwide relations, like ‘safety’ or ‘peace,’ and a deeper understanding of state actions on the private and sensible stage.

As soon as the historic specificity of scientific ideas like rationality is known, scientific information’s declare to objectivity and universality is solid as extremely problematic. Scientific information is “at all times, in each respect, socially located” (Tickner, 2007:11). Feminists recognise that information 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 potential 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 facility 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 information which displays androcentric pursuits. For feminists, strategies are at all times political as a result of these strategies proclaiming objectivity fail to account for the truth that they’re produced inside a specific 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, fairly than reconcile, the feminist challenge’s estrangement from typical scientific knowledge-building, due to the androcentrism inherent in scientific theoretical inquiry. Because it pertains to methodology alternative, that is clearly a political resolution: so as to have a really transformative impact on the self-discipline, feminists should embrace devalorised methods of realizing,. For the foreseeable future, this alternative 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 at all times political from the feminist perspective for a variety of causes. Firstly, the power of concept or analysis to impact sensible, emancipatory change is inherently political, thus is follows that alternative of analysis strategies with differing emancipatory potential can also be a deeply political matter. Feminist IR sometimes adopts strategies that threaten the very ontological foundations of the self-discipline, so a troublesome 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 direction of are largely excluded or denigrated by advantage of their affiliation with devalorised female traits. By figuring out your complete scientific enterprise as inherently androcentric, feminists are suspicious of particularly scientific information 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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