Troubling the Binary
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.