The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

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

Troubling the Binary

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 5:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Sandy Leotti, MSW, Doctoral Student, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Jennifer Muthanna, MSW, Doctoral Student, Portland State University, Portland, OR
This presentation seeks to trouble the accepted construction of the qualitative/quantitative divide in social work research.  Drawing on critical and postmodern theories, we explore   qualitative/quantitative as a binary construction rooted in enlightenment thought. We surmise that this is a false binary which is reified in higher education and through the publication process.  Our work seeks to join the conversation that examines how social work research can be grounded in feminist theories.  Specifically, we seek to explore the progressive possibilities for utilizing quantitative methods in a way that is consistent with feminist theories and values.  We ask the question: how can dominant social work research, which is often quantitative in nature, be transformed by feminist epistemological assumptions? We believe that feminisms can have a place in challenging hegemonic approaches to using quantitative methods in social work research. Yet, in order to adequately provide such a challenge, the focus of feminist critiques and research should lie, not just in decisions regarding methods, but in the ontological and epistemological foundations of the methods.

We believe that social work research could benefit from re-engaging feminist theories—not just in qualitative methods but in quantitative as well.  We reflect on how, traditionally, due to its empistemological and ontological assumptions, feminist theories and values have been aligned with qualitative methods and we consider how this has resulted in a lack of discussion regarding how and when quantitative research methods might be used by feminist social work researchers.  This presentation thus seeks to understand how quantitative methods might be used by feminists in a way that is epistemologically meaningful and grounded in theory, as opposed to just watered-down positivist research about “women.” 

We seek to add to the existing conversation by troubling dominant notions of what it means to be a feminist social work researcher and to use quantitative methods.  Additionally, we ask, “How is it that quantitative methods have come to be defined or owned by positivism?” and “In a field, such as social work, that is ethically rooted in social justice, how is it that quantitative research has been constructed and accepted as apolitical and atheoritical?”

We begin the presentation by positioning our discussion within our own research experiences, as well as within the larger context of feminist social work in the academy, or lack thereof. In arguing that the conversation ought to move away from dichotomous methods and toward the recognition of epistemological multichotomies, we then discuss how quantitative research can align with feminist values and epistemologies.

We conclude by wondering what might happen should the dominant binary be subverted.  That is, does the question of whether feminist social work research can use quantitative methods become moot? We posit that one’s research method ought to be determined by the research questions posed and operationalized with respect to the researcher’s values and goals.  The distinction ought not to be around methodology, but rooted in ontologoical and epistemological choices.