BY YASMIN GUNARATNAM
As a part of our engagements with the effects/affects of COVID-19, we have made Feminist Review issue 115 on feminist methods free to view and download for the next two months. We hope that the issue will be a resource for educators, researchers, activists, practitioners and students. More than this, we hope that the work that we are trying to do, as we rethink feminist publishing in the time of the pandemic, will serve as small feminist flares to tell you that we are here but also that we are searching for new ways to reach and support diverse feminist work.
A theme running through the pieces in the issue is how researchers and the methods that we use are always disturbed, moved and changed in the doing of research and, perhaps, more so than ever in the pandemic. As we explore how we might do research differently, many will face agonising decisions about abandoning person-to-person fieldwork. Contract and early career researchers and those with precarious immigration status are especially vulnerable. The coronavirus means that we must reevaluate what many of us previously took for granted as the conditions of doing research. We have much to learn from disability justice researchers as we crip our methods.
The pandemic is also surfacing longstanding feminist concerns and disillusionment with the constraints of heteromasculinist and ableist approaches to bodies and subjectivity, as well as the enduring colonial and racial legacies of method and knowledge economies. “The ways in which scientific research is implicated in the worst excesses of colonialism”, Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith contends (1999: 1), “remains a powerful remembered history for many of the world’s colonized peoples. It is a history that offends the deepest sense of our humanity.”
Feminist methodologies have developed and evolved over the years. Although still dominated by whiteness and able-bodied perspectives, there have been growing engagements with affect, post-humanism, relational ontologies (Barad, 2007), feminist psychoanalysis (Cho, 2008) and indeterminism. A common feature of such disparate inflections is the recognition and explication of the intimate and inescapable exchanges between the researcher and their research participants. “Here, a new kind of object comes to attention” Patti Lather has observed (2016), an “object ‘pulled out of shape by its framings’ and, equally importantly, ‘framings pulled out of shape by the object’ (Rifkin, 2003). This challenges who you think you are as a researcher in a way that holds promise for advancing the critical edge of practice” (ibid., p. 126). What Lather alludes to are those many ways in which the world always exceeds our attempts to master and extract. This recognition necessarily comes with a certain undoing, especially as we now must take account of the impact of microbial agency in our day-to-day lives. As researchers, a stance of empirical humility seems vital, as we reassemble our methods and knowledge-making practices. I am reminded here of a poem by Lata Mani, which ends “to open on the other hand / to the gifts that our undoing brings / is to stay the course with grace and grit / to activate the alchemist”.
The coronavirus is materialising our inescapable interdependence, bringing other beings, times and spaces into our bodies, households and communities. A significant challenge is how we can develop modes of researching that are better attuned to and take care of the more chaotic and multitudinous assemblages of difference that are making their way into our different worlds. As we are inevitably being brought into greater intimacy with sickness and death, more of us will become sick. We will also have to tend to others, all the time recognising how subjectivity and bodies can withdraw into a non-relationality.
As I have long felt, feminist methods are ultimately practices of care. We hope that this focus on care continues.
Yasmin Gunaratnam is a member of the Feminist Review editorial collective.
Barad, Karen, 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Cho, Grace, 2008. Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy and the Forgotten War. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Lather, Patti, 2016. Top Ten+ List: (Re)Thinking Ontology in (Post)Qualitative Research. Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, 16(2), pp. 125-131.
Rifkin, Adrian, 2003. Inventing recollection. In Paul Bowman, ed. Interrogating Cultural Studies. London: Pluto Press, pp. 101-124.
Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books and University of Otago Press.