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VALUE AND VALUES: THE FEMINIST MODEL
IN SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH

Janice Stensrude
December, 1994

To even begin to speak of scientific method, a number of terms need definition. The key term is "epistemology." Sandra Harding (1987), in her editorial introduction to Feminism & Methodology, defined epistemology as "a theory of knowledge," further stating that "Sociologists of knowledge characterize epistemologies as strategies for justifying beliefs." Harding and the other feminist essayists who contributed to her collection maintained that the epistemologies, the strategies for justifying beliefs, that have been employed in social science research are androcentric or phallocentric.

If the words "androcentric" and "phallocentric" have the appearance of relationship to the male hormone "androgen" and the male appendage "phallus," it is no mere accident. Feminist scholars, most of whom are women, have not abandoned male-centered (that is to say, androcentric) science's habit of adopting uncommon words to impart scientific validity to their observations--a visual tool to separate the common-sense reasonings of those educated to science from the common-sense reasonings of those reflecting on life's vagaries from the standpoint only of personal experience. In addition to window dressing, however, words expressly created for scientific inquiry have a very practical application. Many common words have multiple meanings, thus it is a useful convenience to create new words with assigned and limited meaning.

Feminist scholar and psychotherapist Barbara DuBois (1983) stated: "To address women's lives and experience in their own terms, to create theory grounded in the actual experience and language of women, is the central agenda for feminist social science and scholarship." The essays in Harding's collection supported DuBois's assertion by proposing that little (if anything) could be learned about women with the traditional methods of social scientific inquiry, because these methods were created by men to study the activities of men. The arguments are convincing, based on the only proof that really counts in any form of inquiry, scientific or otherwise: They are reasonable, and they are reasonably related to known facts--certainly facts as they are perceived in the experience of women.

Being studied and being defined and analyzed according to someone else's view has been a source of contempt and often justifiably righteous anger among the subjects who have been the subject of observation. The character, Tashi, in Alice Walker's (1992) Possessing the Secret of Joy, commented with some rancor on a European woman's view of Africans as simple and "possessing the secret of joy":

These settler cannibals. Why don't they just steal our land, mine our gold, chop down our forests, pollute our rivers, enslave us to work on the farms, fuck us, devour our flesh and leave us alone? Why must they also write about how much joy we possess?

In the nature of the feminine (mythological, philosophical, feminist, or otherwise), the use of such words as androcentric and phallocentric creates a very personal context. And in the mid 1970s through early 1980s, the time during which the essays in Harding's (1987) collection were first written, the battle between the sexes was being fought on a highly personalized level. The battle in the popular media and in the everyday lives of men and women, polarizing male and female interests, was fought one individual at a time.

Much has changed, and the feminist struggle for equality between the sexes, which followed closely and accompanied the civil rights movement, has been joined by the movement of the nineties--the struggle for equality among the sexes. Michael Korie, librettist who collaborated with composer Stewart Wallace on several social-action operas, recently said, "The gay movement built on the progress of the anti-war movement and the women's movement, the black movement. They shared resources" (OutSmart, December 15, 1994).

With the growing number of minorities banding together in communities for the purpose of claiming recognition, respect, and equal share of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the feminist viewpoint, which has made its way into mainstream social science research, has had an impact and utility that may or may not have been foreseen by Harding's essayists (Harding, 1987). While the topics chosen for research can reflect a feminist viewpoint in even the most rigidly controlled scientific study, qualitative research, a feminist-championed social science research method, is particularly suited to inquiry into the lives and experiences of subordinate groups whose value to society has been questioned, whose very being has been made invisible, by the simple action of not listening.

Walker (1992) simply and elegantly illustrated the point through the voice of one of her characters in Possessing the Secret of Joy. Musing on the fate of certain African women, all of whom had gone through a mutilating childhood initiation rite that had crudely severed their external sexual organs, he reflected to himself, "How wearying to think nobody in this courtroom has ever listened to them."

Wearying was the stage just prior to righteous indignation, quickly followed by outrage and action, and then named the women's movement, the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement . . .

"Simply put," stated sociologist Joyce A. Ladner (1987), "the slave and his master do not view and respond to the world in the same way." Recognition that groups sharing a common viewpoint do not perceive reality in the same way as other groups sharing other common viewpoints has led to methodology, and particularly epistemology, that is capable of describing a truth that is unique to women. It is the writer's contention that the feminist effort to make science accessible to women has made, and is making, science accessible to the larger number of invisible communities as each in turn becomes vocal.

Listening: The Gift of Qualitative Research

The qualitative method that is being refined under the tutelage of feminist researchers creates a model that invites surprise. Quantitative research seeks to count frequency of responses or occurrences of events (variables), which are the subject of study; qualitative research seeks the motives and perceptions behind the responses, through eliciting a wholistic view from the subjects of the research. Sociologist Robert S. Weiss (1994), in his manual for qualitative research interviews, Learning from Strangers, stated that through qualitative interview studies, "We can learn about all the experiences . . . that constitute the human condition." Marcia Millman and Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1987), in their contribution to Harding's essay collection, declared that the "quantitative approach fails to capture the most important features of the social world."

This wholistic aspect of the qualitative method not only makes the results more complex and interesting, it also creates a more inviting womb for new knowledge. It is the well-defined nature of traditional, quantitative social science research that has made it more acceptable in its modeling of its brother, physical research (Sherif, 1987), and far less interesting than its sister, qualitative research. In the qualitative approach, the opinions and perceptions of the research subjects are the only thing that count. Such a method takes the sub out of subordinate.

Ladner (1987) commented on the relationship created between researcher and subject:

It has been argued that the relationship between the researcher and his subjects, by definition, resembles that of the oppressor and the oppressed, because it is the oppressor who defines the problem, the nature of the research, and, to some extent, the quality of interaction between him and his subjects. (Ladner, 1987)

Weiss (1994), in outlining the procedures of a good qualitative interview study, stated, "The interviewing relationship is a research partnership between the interviewer and the respondent."

The qualitative approach, then, in the keeping of a competent researcher, minimizes the "oppressed" position of the research subjects by making them participants in the study in the true sense of the word. The subject is not only given a position of honor and respect, she also contributes to something that may be of great personal importance to her (Weiss, 1994).

A case in point, and one of particular interest to this writer, is the uninformed hysterectomized woman. From 1981 through 1991, hysterectomy was the second most common surgery in this country (second to caesarean section), with 7 million women undergoing this "relatively safe" surgery. The relative safety of the surgery was defined by the low number of deaths immediately attributable to complications of surgery. With some experts now saying that 90% of all hysterectomies are unnecessary (West, 1994), it is past time to ask some hard questions.

Despite anecdotal evidence that has been accumulating for over 40 years, the vast majority of the medical profession continues to tell patients that there are no side effects from hysterectomy and, specifically, that depression, loss of libido, and other symptoms frequently reported by hysterectomized women are not related to hysterectomy (Cutler, 1988).

How is this related to feminist method in social science research? The medical community relies almost entirely on published results of medical research conducted on the androcentric physical sciences model. The experience of millions of women is not accepted as valid information by the medical establishment.

Winnifred B. Cutler, in her very thorough Hysterectomy: Before and After, stated that new technology has allowed new hormonal measurements that offer tentative validation of women's experiences with hysterectomy. A 1957 study by a British doctor has been ignored because it was based on the experiences of women rather than double-blind studies and laboratory measurements. Stated Cutler (1988), "Despite Dalton's findings more than thirty years ago, many women and their doctors today erroneously believe that the uterus has no importance beyond enabling the bearing of children." Though we frequently read of research that verifies folk medicine and "old wive's tales," the writer has yet to see a headline that reads, "Reports by 7 Million Women Proved Groundless."

In Toward a New Psychology of Women, author Jean Baker Miller (1976) described the mechanics of dominant/subordinate relationships. A common rationalization of the dominant group is that "we know 'what's best for them anyhow'" (Miller, 1976). Implicit in such a stance is that listening to subordinates is a useless activity. A pat on the hand and a knowing "trust me" response is the dominant's version of the humane reaction. Parents use this ploy with children, as do teachers with students. In the realm of adult life, this is a common dynamic between employer and employee, doctor and patient, and between domestic partners.

In qualitative research, listening is everything.

Bridging the Sciences: Quantum Theory

Scientists have shown how the strange laws of chaos lie behind many, if not most, of the things we consider remarkable about our world: the human heartbeat and human thoughts, clouds, storms, the structure of galaxies, the creation of a poem, the rise and fall of the gypsy moth caterpillar population, the spread of a forest fire, a winding coastline, even the origins and evolution of life itself. (Briggs & Peat, 1989)

In what may have been the beginning of reductionist thought in modern science, Aristotle "speculated that order is pervasive and exists in increasingly subtle and complex hierarchies" (Briggs & Peat).

What caused humankind to seek out logic in the world around them? One interesting proposal is that it was to create a sense of safety. Endorsed by Ram Dass, a man well respected in spiritual circles, a channeled entity called Emmanuel stated that humankind is intrinsically safe. He proposed that realizing this safety is the end of fear (Rodegast & Stanton, 1989). Esoterically, the supposition is that we already know everything we are trying to learn. It would then follow that, if we exert our will to accept safety as a given, we are open to incredible possibilities.

Another theory was offered in the bestselling adventure novel The Celestine Prophecy. Through his characters, author James Redfield (1993) proposed that science developed as a reaction to corruption in the medieval church. As the population lost faith in church leaders, they lost faith, too, in the teachings of the church. "In spite of the loss of certainty," said Redfield's character, "we didn't want to risk some new group controlling our reality as the churchmen had. If you had been there you would have participated in the creation of a new mandate for science" (Redfield, 1993).

The writer, watching her grandson explore the workings of a computer, is interested in simple curiosity as an explanation--knowledge for its own sake. However, the idea that children are subconsciously motivated to learn things that have no apparent relationship to their basic being, in a primal effort to achieve safety through controlling their environment, is not at all far fetched.

Whatever the motivation for the flowering of science as we know it, in less than a dot in the continuum of the existence of our planet, we have come from Aristotle's observation of a natural order to Einstein's use of nonlinear equations and the birth of quantum mechanics.

The term "reductionist" applies to scientists' belief that all matter and all events can be reduced to basic parts, and that by observing these parts in isolation, the answers will be found to explain their interaction. Despite setbacks in the advancement of the reductionist view with the mid-eighteenth-century discovery of the principle of entropy (even in a vacuum, there is an energy leak that causes eventual disintegration), reductionism held the rather simple view of chaos as "merely complexity so great that in practice scientists couldn't track it, but they were sure that in principle they might one day be able to do so" (Briggs & Peat, 1989).

In the 1870s Viennese physicist Ludwig Boltzmann observed what this writer likens to a theory of power, politics, and government in the modern world. Attempting to work entropy into Newtonian, reductionist thinking, Boltzmann observed that "In the grand scheme of things, ordered arrangements of large groups of atoms and molecules are highly improbable" and that "when such ordered relationships do occur, they will relatively quickly break down" (Briggs & Peat, 1989).

From this, humankind proposed to learn enough to "predict and control the entropy that afflicted complicated systems" (Briggs & Peat, p. 22). In other words, the search for immortality was on.

A hundred years ago, a brilliant French physicist made the first observations of a phenomenon that later became known as quantum mechanics:

[T]his was Poincaré's problem, that in taking the simple step from two to three bodies (for example, trying to include the effects of the sun on the earth-moon system), Newton's equations become unsolvable. For formal mathematical reasons, the three-body equation can't be worked out exactly; it requires a series of approximations to "close in" on an answer. Poincaré knew that the approximation method appeared to work well for the first few terms, but what about the infinity of smaller and smaller terms that followed? . . . Would they show that in tens of millions of years the orbits would shift and the solar system would begin to break apart under its own internal forces? PoincarĂ© discovered that with even the very smallest perturbation, some orbits behaved in an erratic, even chaotic way. (Briggs & Peat, 1989)

Quantum mechanics is one of the most successful theories in the history of science, responsible for the development of nuclear weapons, computer chips, and lasers (Briggs & Peat, 1989). It revealed some surprising observations, ones that dashed all reductionist hope:

[A]n elementary unit of light can behave schizophrenically like a wave or like a particle, depending on what the experimenter chooses to measure. The theory also proposed that if two quantum "particles" are separated by several meters with no mechanism for communication between them, they will nonetheless remain correlated in some mysterious fashion. As recent experiments show, a measurement performed on one such particle is correlated instantly with the result of a measurement on its distant partner. (Briggs & Peat, 1989)

Yet modern quantum theory, while denying affiliation with reductionist thought, continues to search for order, but order of an entirely different nature. Briggs and Peat (1989) referred to ancient mythology that held the clues to modern chaos theory: "The Babylonian insight that the formlessness of chaos could in fact have different faces--in other words, a kind of implicit order--would wait thousands of years to be recovered by modern science."

Imperfect science has been unable to find a way to observe without giving attention to a phenomenon. And now we know that the act of giving attention alters the results of any study.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell said:

Schopenhauer . . . points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others. (qtd. in Briggs & Peat, 1989)

Women say, I can be known and I will be known, and in the laboratories, chaos theory is born. Is it then a mere coincidence that, as science questioned reductionism, women moved out of the shadow; as science began to recognize the complexity of life, women became more visible?

Illusion, Delusion, and Truth: Objectivity and Values in Social Science Research

Carolyn Wood Sherif (1987), writing of bias in psychology, stated:

The opportunity [for bias] starts when a researcher decides what to study and it continues to widen during decisions about how to study the subject. . . . The researcher makes all of these decisions, often forgetting at times that he or she is a human being who is part of the research situation too.

If we accept the quantum view, then we can only conclude that objectivity is impossible, and further, that it is an idealistic illusion caused by a belief that parts of a whole can be observed separately and independently from their host and the observer. As we have seen in the discussion of quantum theory, it has been observed that this is not possible. The writer proposes that not only is objectivity impossible, but that just as woman was the invisible creator of man, so subjectivity is the invisible creator of objectivity. Having accepted that objectivity is an idealistic vision contrary to reality, we are faced with the admission that it is simply an illusion, and one that frequently has not served us well.

"That science played handmaiden to social values cannot be denied," stated Sherif (1987). Feminist researchers do not hold the questionable objectivity of traditional research in high regard (Harding, 1987; Sherif, 1987; Millman & Kanter, 1987; Ladner, 1987; Hartsock, 1987). Many feminists are not suggesting further attempts to eliminate bias, but rather to integrate it into the research, not as an unavoidable variable, but rather as a desirable one.

Harding (1987) stated that, in feminist analysis, the researcher declares her/his own gender, race, class, culture and how he/she suspects this shaped the project, recognizing that cultural beliefs and behaviors of researchers shape the results of their analyses. "We need to avoid the 'objectivist' stance," she wrote, "which makes researchers bias invisible."

Ladner (1987) embraced this feminist model in her own work:

I studied Black women because of my strong interest in the subject. I decided whose side I was on and resolved within myself that as a Black social scientist I must take a stand and that there could be no value-free sanctuary for me.

Defending her choice to consciously interject her values into her work, Ladner quoted sociologist Alvin W. Gouldner (1962):

If sociologists ought not express their personal values in the academic setting, how then are students to be safeguarded against the unwitting influence of these values which shape the sociologist's selection of problems, his preferences for certain hypotheses or conceptual schemes, and his neglect of others? For these are unavoidable and, in this sense, there is and can be no value-free sociology. The only choice is between an expression of one's values as open and honest as it can be, this side of the psychoanalytic couch, and a vain ritual of moral neutrality which, because it invites men to ignore the vulnerability of reason to bias, leaves it at the mercy of irrationality. (Gouldner, 1962)

Scientific objectivity, then, has been an attempt to reach an ultimate truth by breaking experience into disjointed pieces and desperately trying to watch them without watching them. Though many continue to work with the old model and struggle with the loose cannon of bias, the feminist model in qualitative research proposes to integrate bias as a necessary and desirable concomitant to the expression of values in seeking to make better the lives of those studied.

Perhaps objectivity needs to be redefined as a detached subjectivity, an attempt to see things fairly. Perhaps this new objectivity benefits most from integration of compassion. Thus objectivity would be the viewpoint that is most constructive and least destructive from a detached, yet compassionate viewpoint. Weiss (1994) stated, "Interviewers have no responsibility to benefit the people they talk with, but, like physicians, they do have a responsibility to do no harm." Perhaps at best, we can strive to detach our emotions from the work we do, while exercising compassion. At worst we can continue with the old model of objectivity and detach our values from the work we do.

"[F]or what I call the 'fertile conflict' our uncertainties express," stated DuBois (1983), "holds the beginnings of the synthesis of subjectivity and objectivity that is the source of intellectual power and responsibility--and truth."

Motivation as Bias

The writer maintains that the motivation behind the selection of a subject for research is as important, if not more important, than a researcher's unconscious cultural or personal constructs. Research can be classified by its motivations: (a) ultimate truth, (b) altruism, (c) curiosity, (d) self-interest, or (e) political gain. A cursory examination will be made here of the last two, as they relate to feminist interests. While political gain could also be interpreted as self-interest or altruism, no doubt the group gaining from the successful exercise of political power would classify their actions under ultimate truth.

A particularly interesting example of self-interest is Sherif's (1987) observation on the motivations for adopting a physical science model in conducting social science research. She stated:

The methodology promoted in psychology in its strivings for social acceptability and prestige, rested on the assumption that the causes of an event can be determined by breaking down the event into component parts, or elements, and studying those parts and their relationships to one another. The more "basic" these parts or elements are, the more "basic" is the inquiry. Thus, a physiological or biochemical part or element was defined as more basic than a belief that Eve was created from Adam's rib, not because the former can necessarily tell us more about a human individual, but because physiology and biochemistry were more prestigious than religious history or sociology. (Sherif, 1987)

The case of the drug industry involves seemingly altruistic research with an increasingly evident self-interest motive. Pouring vast sums of money into research projects to develop products for which they will have an exclusive patent (the secret to drug-company profits) and through the exercise of political and economic power, drug companies are able to market dangerous drugs. Low-cost, effective therapies are overlooked as research topics, since no patents can be issued on herbs, exercise, or Vitamin C.

The case in point for the writer is her personal experience with estrogen. Not only were the dangerous side effects not revealed to her 20 years ago, but the importance of these side effects continues to be denied by drug companies and many medical professionals.

According to the Staff of the Subcommittee on Aging in their 1993 report on unnecessary hysterectomies, hysterectomy is a $5 billion-a-year drop in the pockets of physicians and hospitals. About half of these surgeries generate new customers for drug companies selling estrogen, an interesting case of invisible (and perhaps incidental) collusion that serves profit motivation.

With thousands of suffering women's questions unanswered, the medical establishment has generated another study published as recently as April, 1994, advocating the widespread use of estrogen, not only for the millions of women who have lost their ovaries to surgery, but for all women as they approach menopause (West, 1994).

Despite, or perhaps because of, the abuse of science to serve self-interest and profit, Harding's essayists defended the use of research to accomplish political ends. Harding (1987) stated, "an oppressed group doesn't look for pure truth, but for information on change in conditions. . . . feminist research projects originate primarily . . . in women's experiences in political struggles." It is an apparent case of fighting fire with fire.

Ancient Wholism as The New Paradigm

DuBois (1983) stated, "Our scientific methods, as women, as feminists, require seeing things as they are: whole, entire, complex." Briggs and Peat (1989) noted that the paradoxes encountered by physicists attempting to find the granddaddy of all equations, the one that would explain everything,

eventually had the effect of driving a number of scientists like David Bohm to theorize that the universe must be fundamentally indivisible, a "flowing wholeness," as Bohm calls it, in which the observer cannot be essentially separated from the observed. Bohm and a growing number of other scientists have used the "koans" of quantum mechanics to challenge the long-held view of reductionism. Bohm theorizes, for example, that "parts" such as "particles" or "waves" are forms of abstraction from the flowing wholeness. In the sense that parts seem autonomous, they are only "relatively autonomous." . . . Bohm's ideas give a scientific shape to the ancient belief that "the universe is one."

This theory of wholeness is found in much of feminist social science scholarship (Sherif, 1987; DuBois, 1983). Sherif (1987) warned of the dangers of splitting events into presumably identifiable parts and labeling them variables:

The highly abstract belief that knowledge is to be gained by studying parts, elements, or variables and by seeking lawfulness in their relationships, is translated into reality during psychological research. The most prestigious way to make this translation is the experiment. In the experiment, certain selected "independent," presumably causative, elements are deliberately varied, while other possible choices are controlled or kept in a constant state. What this description of the experiment means is that in the human experiment much of what goes on is simply ignored.

When physicist Poincaré observed the principles of quantum theory in operation a hundred years before his work was ever recognized, the confusion introduced by his insistence on reductionist thinking caused him to abandon the ideas, saying, "These things are so bizarre that I cannot bear to contemplate them" (Briggs & Peat, 1989). What drove Poincar233; to distraction a hundred years before quantum theory integrated his observations is today an integral part of the qualitative method in social science research. One of the purposes of qualitative interview studies, according to Weiss (1994) "is to develop a wholistic description."

The computer, the most visible child of quantum mechanics, is generally thought to be the most removed from human behavior. Briggs and Peat (1989) offer another view:

Though we tend to think of the computer as crisp and precise, ironically the computer model with its roiling images of feedback and chaos has become a symbol of a leap the new turbulent science is taking--subordinating scientists' traditional concern with prediction, control, and the analysis of parts to a new concern for the way the unpredictable whole of things moves.

In fact, it is by giving substance to the usually vague term wholeness that the science of chaos and change is forging a revolution in our perspective. Reporter and science writer James Gleick said, in his fascinating book about the discoveries and personalities of many of the scientists who invented "chaos theory" in the 1970s and 1980s, "More and more [of them] felt the futility of studying parts in isolation from the whole. For them, chaos was the end of the reductionist program in science." A fresh understanding of the concepts of wholeness, chaos, and change is at the heart of the revolution. Chaos physicist Joseph Ford calls it "a major shift in the whole philosophy of science and the way man looks at his world."

As well it might be. One might even call it a shift to the feminist viewpoint: "Feminist scholarship reveals a different animating assumption: that the knower and the known are of the same universe, that they are not separable" (DuBois, 1983).

An intriguing and important observation of quantum physicists is synchronicity. Briggs and Peat (1989), in a characteristically esoteric "quote without comment," quote mythologist Joseph Campbell:

The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. . . . one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; . . . Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can't blame anybody for anything.

Could physics be the missing link that bridges the social sciences with the physical sciences? Briggs and Peat (1989) relate an interesting incidence of the application of quantum principles to what would be classified as a social event:

Scientists speculate that yet another form of synchronized chaos may have been at work on the infamous "Black Monday" in October 1987 when worldwide stock prices plummeted. They hypothesize that computer-programmed trading, the computer loop arrangement called portfolio insurance, and the instantaneous communication networks linking financial markets around the world created a situation in which relatively minor bad news rapidly became magnified. For one long day the random and independent behaviors of investors meshed together to create a financial calamity.

Speculating on the meaning in the seeming dissolution of the separation between "the world of chaos" and the "world of order," Briggs and Peat (1989) stated, "Perhaps it is something more beneficial and creative, a modern resurgence of the ancient sense of harmony between order and chaos."

Asking the Right Questions: The New Science

Science,as we have known it, appears to no longer apply. Indeed, one is led to wonder if science is an illusion that we have outgrown. DuBois (1983), however, saw fit, not to throw out the heritage of androcentric science, but to use it as a base from which to build a feminist science--one built upon life as it exists--complex, interacting, its parts inseparable. DuBois listed seven phases of "science-making," which she said "to some extent (especially in qualitative research) . . . can and do proceed together." These phases are: (a) posing the problem or question, (b) observation, (c) naming, (d) description, (e) explanation, (f) prediction, and (g) control of the phenomena under study.

To a researcher, posing the question to be answered by the research is the first important task in designing a good study. The statement of the question, or problem, will dictate, to a great extent, the design of the study, as well as the format of the resulting report (Weiss, 1994). The statement of the question, as has been shown earlier in this discussion, reflects the inherent bias of the researcher.

Harding (1987) stated, "Reflection on how social phenomena get defined as problems in need of explanation in the first place quickly reveals that there is no such thing as a problem without a person (or groups of them) who have this problem: a problem is always a problem for someone or other."

Harding (1987) also stated that the traditional methods of scientific research have held the scientific method to be more important than the question:

Defining what is in need of scientific explanation only from the perspective of bourgeois, white men's experiences leads to partial and even perverse, understandings of social life. One distinctive feature of feminist research is that it generates its problematics from the perspective of women's experiences. It also uses these experiences as a significant indicator of the "reality" against which hypotheses are tested.

From a feminist political, as well as altruistic stance, the topics for research would answer the question asked by Alice Walker's character in her novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy: "Adam, he would say, What is the fundamental question one must ask of the world? I would think of and posit many things, but the answer was always the same: Why is the child crying?" (Walker, 1992). The best questions, then, from the feminist stance, are those addressed to improving the human condition in such a way that the increase in life satisfaction for some group of persons would be observable.

Social science research has been strongest through the first four phases of DuBois's seven phases in science-making, losing steam as it progresses through prediction and control. The fact that physical science has been loath to recognize human behavior as an appropriate subject for scientific inquiry implies a recognition of unpredictability in human behavior, making it unfit for the rigors of scientific method. The fact that social science has persisted in its pursuit to be recognized as "real science" implies a belief in predictability (aside from Sherif's (1987) observations on the status benefit to psychologists).

Physicists have concluded that "in the nonlinear world--which includes most of our real world--exact prediction is both practically and theoretically impossible" (Briggs & Peat, 1989).

Conclusions

The principles of quantum mechanics declare that we cannot know--that the very act of seeking the truth, changes the truth (Briggs & Peat, 1989). Perhaps the esoteric principle that all knowledge is already known, that we only need to be still and listen (Rodegast & Stanton), holds a truth that needs to be reexamined.

The writer suggests that, having assigned intuition--that mysterious knowing--as a feminine characteristic, the fracturing of this creative element resulted in a science that suffered for hundreds of years under the delusion that all life could be explained by looking separately and independently at its parts. The brilliant creativity of an Einstein or a Schopenhauer clearly indicates that intuition is available without regard to gender.

The creation of a scientific model, where listening is the principal activity, may be the first step to developing and validating the inner knowing. The skill of listening is not exclusive to our relationships with others. It is essential to our relationship with Self.

The working answer is that there is no answer; there is only the search for an answer. So what is the point if science is impossible? Do we all imitate Poincaré and say, "These things are so bizarre that I cannot bear to contemplate them" (Briggs & Peat, 1989)? Observation, knowing (particularly ourselves) is essential to creativity, which, if not itself the meaning of life, is most certainly the way to its meaning.

Surely it was Pogo who stated the task of modern science so well: "Onward into the fog."

Afterthought

Listening is paying attention. Therefore the research alters reality as it proceeds. It is out of the attention an object is formed.

References

Briggs, J., & Peat, F.D. (1989). Turbulent mirror: An illustrated guide to chaos theory and the science of wholeness. New York: Harper & Row.

Cutler, W. B. (1988). Hysterectomy: Before and after. New York: Harper & Row.

DuBois, B. (1983). Passionate scholarship: Notes on values, knowing and method in feminist social science. In G. Bowles & R. D. Klein (Eds.), Theories of women's studies (pp. 105-116). London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Editorial Staff. (1994, December 15). Harvey Milk: A new opera by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie. OutSmart.

Friedan, B. (1993). The fountain of age. New York: Simon & Shuster.

Gouldner, A. W. (1962). Anti-minotaur: The myth of a value-free sociology. Social Problems, Winter, 199-213. As quoted in Ladner, J. A. (1987). Introduction to tomorrow's tomorrow: The Black woman, in S. Harding (Ed.), Feminism & methodology (pp. 72-83). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Harding, S. (Ed.). (1987). Feminism & methodology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Hartsock, N. C. M. (1987). The feminist standpoint: Developing the ground for a specifically feminist historical materialism, in S. Harding (Ed.), Feminism & methodology (pp. 159-180). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

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