Course applies 'feminist methodologies' to scientific research

Harvard University is offering a course next semester designed to teach students how “feminism” and “gender theory” benefit the practice of science. 

Transforming Scientific Knowledge: Science and Feminism” is a four-credit sophomore-level class taught by Professor Heather Shattuck-Heidorn, and is offered through the school’s Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality department. 

“How have feminism and gender theory influenced the practice of science? What are feminist methodologies, and how do they shape research agendas in fields such as genetics, human biology, biotechnology, and medicine?” the course description asks, explaining that “We will explore how working scientists use gender analysis to shape research choices, frame hypotheses, and re-imagine the structure of scientific inquiry.”

[RELATED: Profs call for ‘queer feminist science’ in new anthology]

“Feminist research methodologies,” as the course description suggests, refers to research strategies developed by feminist academics in their efforts to address the limits of traditional research in studying women’s experiences.

Nancy Naples, one of the leading scholars of feminist research methodologies, points out that traditional research tends to reinforce the status-quo. 

In a seminal article, she worries that “if researchers fail to explore how their personal, professional, and structural positions frame social scientific investigations, researchers inevitably reproduce dominant gender, race, and class biases.” 

To avoid this, Naples observes that feminist academics often “adopt feminist methodology[...]to create knowledge for social-change purposes.” 

While feminist research takes many forms, Naples explains that some common strategies include “participatory action,” during which researchers take part in activism instead of sitting on the sidelines, as well as when professors train community members to do feminist activism.

[RELATED: Profs warn that ‘commitment to empirical science’ hurts women]

The Harvard “Science and Feminism” course is one of a few offered by the school for students interested the field. 

The annual Harvard “Gender and Science” course, for example, explores how “gender beliefs influence the content of scientific knowledge” and how “gender [is] encoded in the practices and norms of science.” The school also offered a “Feminist Science Studies” course the past two springs, but it’s unclear whether it will be renewed. 

Campus Reform reached out to Shattuck-Heidorn and Harvard University for comment, but did not receive a response from either.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen