I dedicated most of this week to (amongst other things) catching up on the readings for this class, so I could start on the required reflection paper as soon as possible. Here are the readings to date for all those intellectual sadists who are following along: Chapter 1 of Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber & Patricia Lina Leavy’s Feminist Research Practice: A Primer which I’m getting from a handout. I also got both Patricia Hill Collin’s Black Feminist Thought and Caroline Ramazanoglu & Janet Holland’s Feminist Methodology: Challenges & Choices from the library with no problem. From the former I’m reading Chapter 11, and from the latter I’ve read Chapters 1 through 4.
Finally, I need to read Part I of William Braud & Rosemarie Anderson’s Transpersonal Research Methods for the Social Sciences: Honoring Human Experience, so I’ve placed on hold at the library. They say they’ll send it to me as soon as it is returned — which made me wonder amusedly just who is checking this rather dry tome out just for its entertainment value. Well, that’s not entirely fair — I had to read part of the Braud & Anderson for a previous class, and it was as full of good and interesting examples as they could make it. ;)
The paper should be interesting to write, since completely aside from making sure I have mastered the required vocabulary for this work I am also being asked to think — always a pleasure. For example, I am supposed to give the requisite definitions of concepts and words like method as opposed to methodology, epistemology compared to methodology, standpoint theory, and transpersonal research… but I’m also being asked to speculate on possible common characteristics of “feminist methodologies,” and to give any other questions which the readings have raised. Answering the former is proving to be a tricky proposition, which I discuss further below. Answering the latter… well, after reading some of the arguments occurring between various feminist philosophers, where they’re getting so theoretical and rarefied that I’m having trouble following along, I’m afraid the central question raised by that particular reading for me may be nothing more eloquent than a bemused, “…huh?”
I’m guessing that’s not what my prof is looking for, somehow… ;)
Regarding the actual readings I’ve been able to consume to date, I found Collin’s work quite fascinating and enjoyable. Completely aside from the useful definitions she gave, I was intrigued to discover this chapter was full of thought-provoking ideas on both methodology and epistemology that I want to weave into my dissertation, if I can respectfully do so. I definitely want, for example, for there to be an ethics of caring underlying my research for my dissertation, and I also want to take personal and passionate responsibility for the work I produce. Further, I would absolutely love to be, as Collins puts it, a personal advocate for my material who is accountable for the consequences of my work, who has lived or experienced it in some fashion, and who enjoys engaging in dialogue about my findings with anyone who is interested (266).
My dissertation is going to explore matrifocality within the modern day. While doing so, I suspect I will need to do what Collins discusses regarding her approach to Black feminist thought, e.g.: approach matrifocality as situated within a context of domination, rather than a system of ideas divorced from everyday women’s political & economic realities. I find myself wondering, though: is matrifocality (like Black feminist thought) also a subjugated women’s knowledge, which is part of our struggle to validate ourselves and our deliberately relational, possibly also ecofeminist, positions? Will I (like Collins mentions), in my dissertation work, be presenting a partial perspective on domination — even though I do so specifically to undermine it (269)? Collins herself states in the next paragraph that “the actual contours of intersecting oppressions can vary dramatically and yet generate some uniformity in the epistemologies used by subordinate groups” (269), which I find encouraging. At the same time, I can see I will need to own my privilege if I am to even try presenting suggestions in my dissertation which are not privilege-specific — which I very much wish to do. I want what I write to be useful and accessible to any woman — or man — who needs it.
Now the “huh?!” reading. ;) I found the assigned chapters of Ramazanoglu & Holland’s book to be particularly heavy going. I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the concepts with which I’m quite unfamiliar, so I can at least understand and express them; I’ll save thoughtful critique for once I’ve mastered that first step. Bleakly, however, I find myself unwillingly embodying precisely what these authors are discussing — Collins in particular, regarding women not being considered credible witnesses for their own experiences — when I try (as a learning technique) to explain these personally new concepts in dialogue with two old, dear — and male — friends. What that means is I found myself the other night — after a long and maddening time of trying stumblingly to explain new concepts I’m still struggling mightily with, through their increasingly constant and disdainful interruptions — finally snarling at them in frustration to just not ask me about my readings again, dammit!
That was seriously not fun; I felt almost betrayed, in a way, by their impatience with what I was trying uncertainly and falteringly to express, and their deliberate shutting down of my voice. Fortunately I’ve had time to review mentally what went wrong in that conversation, and I think I know how to fix this. Basically I’ll have to set better dialogue parameters for next time, if they want to hear about what I’m reading, or if I want someone to bounce these new ideas off of. I need to explain to whomever I’m speaking with (who may or may not have done the same readings as I) that I am still trying to figure out what these philosophers actually mean. I do not have the luxury of being able to airily wave a hand and proclaim them ridiculous and senseless and illogical. Instead I need to be able to at least clearly and correctly express the philosophers’ beliefs, so that I can then give sound reasoning for why I will or will not use their epistemologies in my dissertation.
We’ll see how it works. Wish me luck! ;)