Feminist theory rose in prominence in educational research during the 1980s and experienced a resurgence in popularity during the late 1990s−2010s. Standpoint epistemologies, intersectionality, and feminist poststructuralism are the most prevalent theories, but feminist researchers often work across feminist theoretical thought. Feminist qualitative research in education encompasses a myriad of methods and methodologies, but projects share a commitment to feminist ethics and theories. Among the commitments are the understanding that knowledge is situated in the subjectivities and lived experiences of both researcher and participants and research is deeply reflexive. Feminist theory informs both research questions and the methodology of a project in addition to serving as a foundation for analysis. The goals of feminist educational research include dismantling systems of oppression, highlighting gender-based disparities, and seeking new ways of constructing knowledge.
Alexandra C. Gunn
Formal early childhood education is a relatively modern institution to which increasing numbers of children are routinely exposed. Since the modern invention of childhood, the early childhood years have been increasingly established as a site for public and private investment in the name of individual and community development, the achievement of educational success, increased human productivity, and ultimately labor market productivity and excellence. As various forms of early childhood education have developed around the world, each has been imbued with values, perspectives, norms, and standards of its pioneers. They have also drawn upon and reinforced certain truths, knowledges, practices, and expectations about children, childhood, education, and society. As microcosms of society whose inhabitants are largely novice members of the communities of which they are part, teachers in early childhood education are routinely addressing issues of exclusion, injustice, and inequity with children and families. French historian and poststructural philosopher Michel Foucault’s (1926–1984) interests in the nexus of power-knowledge-truth and its consequences for life offer avenues for comprehending how modern institutions, such as systems of early childhood education, invest in and bring about certain forms of knowledge and practice. His methods of genealogical inquiry and discourse analysis make visible the workings of power as it moves on, in, and through human bodies. The perspectives made visible by Foucauldian analyses show how techniques, developed and applied within institutions, form humans in particular ways. Thus, it is possible to see the interplay between power-truth-knowledge, how things come to be, and how they may change.
Queer theory is a tool that can be used to reconsider sociopolitical, historical, and cultural norms and values. Similarly, in qualitative research, queer theory tends to analyze the narratives of LGBTQ+ people and groups in ways that seek to queer everyday experiences. Both the theoretical framework and the narratives collected and analyzed in qualitative research are significant to unpacking business-as-usual in and across sociocultural contexts. This is especially true for systems of schooling, whereby LGBTQ+ people and groups are marginalized through schooling and schools, a process of exclusion that is detrimental to queer youth who are learning in spaces and places specifically designed against their ways of being and knowing. The significance of qualitative research as it meets the framework of queer theory is that it offers a practically and institutionally queered set of voices, perspectives, and understandings with which to think about the everyday in schools. This becomes increasingly important as schooling has historically been a place in which LGBTQ+ students and groups have resided at an intersection, where the sociopolitical and cultural marginalization that keeps the status quo in place crosses with contemporary values that both interrupt and reify such histories.
Qualitative research predominate in Brazilian studies on gender and education. This article points that these methodologies contribute to this field as powerful tools that break the naturalization of gender relations, uncovering the subtle forms of gender inequality in everyday life and highlighting the social construction of gender. The common effort in ethnographies to make strange what is familiar are useful in overcoming these pitfalls. Qualitative methodologies are also important in the construction of contextual analyses that avoid essentialist statements about men and women as fixed universal notions, a frequent bias in gender studies. Latin American research on gender in education has used these principles with good results and this article offers some examples, developed mainly in Brazil. It also suggests researchers use qualitative methodologies to link gender to other social determinations such as class and race, in an intersectional perspective. The challenge of constructing intersectionality finds in qualitative research methods a powerful ally because it allows investigators to understand how each form of inequality combines with the other, creating new meanings. The article also stresses that analysis based on qualitative data may help break the dichotomies between social structures and individual action, fostering the understanding of the simultaneity between actions of the subjects and social determination, between change and permanence, between individuals and society. Finally, the conclusion draws attention to the need for greater dialogue between quantitative and qualitative research in the area of gender and education studies, opening space for issues highlighted in statistical analysis to be explored in qualitative research, which in turn might generate new questions to be investigated in macro-social databases.