Review of A. Jaggar (ed.) “Just Methods: An Interdisciplinary feminist reader”

Jaggar, Alison M.(ed) Just Methods: An Interdisciplinary Feminist Reader. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008. pp 516. ISBN: 978-1-59451-204-9.

 

In Just Methods: An Interdisciplinary Feminist Reader, editor Alison Jaggar offers an excellent introduction to the field of feminist studies, a field which is diverse, and perpetually expanding. Jaggar explicitly states in the Introduction that there isn’t one, uncontested definition of feminism, and shares her conception of feminism as follows:

I take feminism to refer to activity directed toward transforming social arrangements and systems of thought that accord disproportionate honor, authority, and power to men and to whatever is categorized as masculine – and that simultaneously degrade and subordinate women and whatever is defined culturally as feminine, including many groups of men. (vii)

The collection of essays presented in Just Methods reflects this broad understandings of feminism and feminist methodology. The volume is divided into two parts for a total of thirteen chapters. Part I, titled “Feminist Critiques of Methodology,” is a tour through several disciplines in which feminist methodology has been employed. Each chapter in Part I is devoted to a different field, such as “The Humanities” (Ch. 1) and “Economics” (Ch. 3), and contains three essays from scholars utilizing some type of feminist methodology to engage with issues in that field. Part II, “Feminists Rethinking Methodology,” takes a more theoretical turn to consider different types of feminist methodological approaches, such as “Feminist Empiricism” (Ch. 8), “Feminist Standpoint Theory,” (Ch. 9) and “Feminist Ethics in Research” (Ch. 13). As with Part I, each of the chapters in Part II has three essays reflecting the chapter’s focus. Each chapter opens with an introduction by Jaggar in which she discusses or explains some aspect of the chapter’s readings. This is especially helpful in Part II where topics such as “Feminist Naturalism” (Ch. 7) and “Feminist Postmodernism” (Ch. 10) are introduced.

One of the best features of Just Methods is the care Jaggar takes in the section introductions to prepare the reader for key terms, concepts, and historical factors that influenced the development of a particular methodology. This book formed the core of my introduction to academic feminism and feminist studies, so I particularly appreciated the explanations and contextualization. Working through the volume independently, I did not have the benefit of course discussion or professorial explanation to place the readings. Perhaps because of these factors, the chapters in Part II were more challenging to absorb and contextualize. However, there is only one point in the volume where Jaggar expects the reader to be familiar with two concepts and their applications in feminist research, even though they have not been previously discussed: in the introduction to Chapter 9, “Feminist Standpoint Theory: Social Location and Epistemic Privilege,” reference is made in the first paragraph to the concepts of neopositivist objectivism and relativism. Aside from this one instance, I find Jaggar’s explanations of relevant concepts and movements to be comprehensible and useful.

Another strength of Just Methods is the breadth of perspectives represented. Readers from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds get a sense of how feminist methodology can both be employed in their specific field, as well as the elements of feminist methodology that can apply across disciplines. It also seems to me that Jaggar makes an effort to include non-Western/First world and/or non-White voices in the selections gathered here, though other readers of Just Methods with a more extensive background in feminist writings might disagree with my assessment.

There are two potential, albeit small, weaknesses of Just Methods. First is the preponderance of publications prior to 2000. Publication dates range from 1974 (Dorothy E. Smith’s “Women’s Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology”) to 2005 (Elisabeth A. Lloyd’s “Bias”), with the majority of publication dates in the late-1980s and early- to mid-1990s. I appreciate Jaggar’s inclination to provide early feminist writings (i.e. those from the 1970s) as well as showing how the issues and debates developed in the 1980s and 1990s, but surely the 2000s have produced valuable scholarship as well?

The second weakness is potentially one shared by all edited volumes of this nature – several of the essays included in Just Methods are excerpts of an original essay published elsewhere, strategically cut to fit the allotted space. While I recognize the logic behind the decision to present excerpts, it is not an ideal approach in a volume designed to introduce a subject, especially when the overarching topic is methodology. For instance, Donna Haraway’s article “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” is cut down from twenty-four pages in Feminist Studies (Vol. 14, No. 3, 1988) to barely six pages in Just Methods. Having looked up the original article published in Feminist Studies, it is a dense, theoretical essay, and Jaggar extracted the most relevant portions for the chapter in Just Methods in which it appears. It is possible, though, that another essay would have fit the chapter on Feminist Postmodernism equally well without requiring such extensive – or disorienting – cuts to the original text.

The strengths of Just Methods far outweigh the weaknesses. Jaggar provides a comprehensive overview of the many ways in which scholars have sought to apply feminist thinking to academic research and social issues. Jaggar’s introductions to each topic are concise yet informative, providing necessary historical and theoretical grounding for the following essays. As I was able to make use of this volume outside of a classroom setting, I highly recommend it for anyone wishing to educate themselves about feminist methods, as well as for educators of upper-level undergraduate and early-graduate level courses.

 

Do you have another text that you’ve used to introduce feminism (history, methodology, theory)? Leave your recommendation in the comments!

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