The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Operationalizing Intersectionality in Feminist Social Work Research: Reflections and Techniques From Research With Equity-Seeking Groups

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 4:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Wendy Hulko, PhD, Assistant Professor, Thompson Rivers University, Vancouver, BC, Canada

techniques from research with equity-seeking groups

Feminist social work research responds to Lather’s (1991) call for more theoretically informed research methods: “we who do empirical research in the name of emancipatory politics must discover ways to connect our research methodology to our theoretical concerns and political commitments” (p. 172). This includes taking on board more recent theoretical innovations associated with third and fourth wave feminists like intersectionality and queer feminism.  In focusing specifically on theory and its application to research methods, this presentation addresses the need for more critical engagement with theory in social work and demonstrates ways to design research grounded in critical theory.

This presentation focuses on the application of an intersectionality and interlocking oppressions paradigm to feminist social work research based on the author’s experiences doing research with equity-seeking groups and teaching research to BSW students and community members.  Examples are drawn from the following implicitly or explicitly feminist research studies: (1) grounded theory research into the experiences of older people with dementia and intersectionality using interviews, participant observation, and photography with eight older people and members of their social worlds; (2) an exploratory study of aging in Cuba through interviews in Spanish and photography with 12 older Cubans from equity-seeking groups (women, Afro-Cubans, lesbian/gay/bisexual) living in Havana; (3) interviews and focus groups with 14 lesbian or bisexual women and seven transgender persons under the age of 30 or over the age of 50 on identifying as a sexual and/or gender minority and finding community in a small city or rural community; (4) grounded theory research on views of memory loss and memory care in later life through a series of sharing circles and interviews with 21 First Nation Elders, including four older women experiencing memory loss, and two community members; and (5) ongoing community-based research on culturally safe dementia care that involves developing teaching stories with Secwepemc Nation Elders and offering an educational intervention to front-line nurses working in home and community care and/or residential care. 

Building capacity to engage in feminist social work research is best accomplished through an experiential approach that involves socially locating oneself, continually asking the other question, trying to affect social change, and other activities that are explicitly connected to feminist theory.  A number of techniques and tools will be discussed including: being reflective and reflexive; sampling for diversity and equity; facilitating voice in data collection and analysis; sharing ownership and control; and disseminating results with an eye to social change.



Lather, P. (1991). Getting smart: Feminist research and pedagogy with/in the postmodern. New

York: Routledge.