Feminist TIG Week: Kate S. McCleary on Feminist Epistemologies

Hello AEA365 readers!  I’m Kate S. McCleary, Ph.D., researcher and evaluator at The LEAD Center  within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  On March 11th, my colleagues and I gathered for an office retreat to discuss our work as a Center and also to share themes in evaluation that are important to us. I shared feminist epistemologies in relation to feminist evaluation. When I began to unpack central ideas from the literature around feminist epistemologies, based on my own positionality in this world, I came up with five central themes.

Lessons Learned: For me, feminist epistemologies focus on…

  1. Women’s lives and the oppression of women and other marginalized groups: Feminist epistemologies explore difference and seek to know and understand the lived experience of those whose voices/experiences have been marginalized. Chandra T. Mohanty’s book Feminism Without Borders explores the plurality of contemporary, global feminism.
  2. Power, authority, and hierarchy: Feminist epistemologies seek to “decenter the center.” This is the title of Uma Narayan and Susan Harding’s book that explores the way feminism is enacted across borders, and in multicultural and postcolonial contexts.
  3. Relationships: The relationship that individuals have within their homes, communities, broader society, and the world hold meaning. Carol Hanisch’s (1969) claim that “the personal is political” holds true today.
  4. Facts and findings are all “value tinged”: Knowledge and knowing is socially situated; thus no one is ever able to get rid of one’s own values.
  5. Understanding the lived, quotidian experiences of women and other individuals: In 1987, Dorothy Smith wrote a book The Everyday World As Problematic that called on researchers to be attentive to the full spectrum of what constitutes women’s, and other groups, lives.

Rad Resource: There are 16 different TED Talks categorized under the topic of feminism. Feminism can be explored through media, popular culture, and literature. Watch Roxanne Gay’s talk if you question whether you are a feminist!

Hot Tip: Organize a retreat or coffee break to discuss feminist evaluation with colleagues. When we take time to learn from each other as colleagues, there is the possibility for ongoing conversation and growth.

Rad Resources: Gloria Anzaldúa’s book Borderlands: La Frontera and bell hook’s Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center are seminal pieces, and were instrumental in my early exploration of feminism.  The Handbook of Feminist Research: Theory and Practice edited by S.N. Hesse-Biber (2012) is a great resource to ponder the connection between feminist theory and practice (hence the name). Andrea Doucet and Natasha Mauthner (2012) have a useful chapter titled “Knowing responsibly: Ethics, feminist epistemologies and methodologies” which is in Ethics in Qualitative Research (2nd edition).

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Feminist Issues in Evaluation (FIE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the FIE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our FIE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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