In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Feminist Methodologies in International Relations

  • Introduction

International Relations Feminist Methodologies in International Relations
Maria Tanyag
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 April 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0235


Feminist research in international relations (IR) challenges mainstream or predominant approaches by centering women’s lives and standpoints. Beginning in the late 1980s and aligning with critical scholars, feminists have challenged narrow definitions of international security as state and militarized security. First, IR feminists have made important contributions in theorizing and empirically demonstrating how violence and social inequalities that distinctly affect women’s daily lives are rooted in global power relations. Understanding the multilevel and multidimensional impacts of gender inequality is crucial to the study of global politics. Second, feminist research demonstrates that the inclusion of a gender perspective reconceptualizes not just knowledge production in IR, but also its very practice. Doing research serves a political goal of attaining gender equality as part of a broader global justice project. The nature of feminist IR inquiry is thus to raise fundamentally different research questions from traditional IR, such as “Where are the women?” and “How does gender matter in global peace, security, and development?” Because of the distinct and varied research questions asked by IR feminists, the methodologies required and employed in feminist research have tended to be characterized as diverse, interdisciplinary, critical, reflexive, and transformative. Hence, there is not a single identifiable or prescriptive feminist methodology in IR. Whether there ought to be one is also the subject of debate, especially given the privileging of positivism in mainstream IR scholarship. The methodological pluralism that defines feminist research offers ripe lessons for students of research methods, politics, social sciences, and international relations in terms of how to creatively design research that uses quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods. Especially for those interested in qualitative and interpretivist approaches, IR feminists have also shared their fieldwork experiences as a way to help other researchers anticipate, more ethically navigate, and make meanings out of the difficulties involved in conducting feminist research. In summary, feminist scholars, in doing research, have innovated, and continue do so, in their theoretical approaches, research sites and methods, and ethics in the study of global politics.

General Overview

Students can take inspiration from a range of references on doing feminist research in IR and related disciplines. Feminist inquiry begins with reflecting on how to craft research questions and designing a research project that corresponds to those questions. It involves anticipating how to navigate practical and ethical dilemmas throughout the research process and being responsive to varied political, economic, and sociocultural contexts. Importantly, as Ackerly, et al. 2006 (cited under Books) shows, feminist research is an inherently collective, collaborative, and deliberative endeavor. Learning from other scholars and sharing in their experiences are vital for developing research that can ultimately contribute to bettering the lives of those for whom the research is undertaken. Reinharz 1992, Hesse-Biber 2014, and Wibben 2016 (all cited under Books) are excellent starting points.

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