188.8.131.52 Empowering or giving voice to the powerless One form of study that hovers between the critical and the phenomenological is the use of in-depth interviews to give voice to minority or oppressed groups. Where it engages structural taken-for-granteds about the nature of such poweless groups, then the study is critical; where it seeks out the perceptions of such poweless groups it is more of a phenomenological study.
Lee (2004, p. 880)
noted that there has been a growing desire in recent years to give voice, sometimes literally, to those, such as women and members of minority groups, that social science has traditionally excluded, silenced or marginalized (Atkinson, 1999; Denzin, 1989; Stanley, 1993). This has encouraged, among other things, a revival of interest in the use of personal documents (Stanley, 1993), but has also made central to qualitative research the exploration of 'elicited personal narratives' (Mishler, 1986: 77).
Feminists have tended to lead in the area of research that gives voice to minority, mainly women's, groups. Luff (1999, p. 688) generalises the feminist critique of positivism thus:
What makes feminism different from other critiques of the [positivist] research process?
It is important to note that feminist criticisms of the research process have not occurred in isolation. Others, notably Marxists and Critical Theorists, have offered criticisms of social science research similar to that of feminists, for example about the need for dialogue with research participants and for reflexivity within the research process (Hammersley 1992; Holmwood 1995). However, such perspectives have often ignored or marginalised gender, and perpetuated, albeit often unconsciously, gendered power relations within the research process. What has made feminist perspectives distinctive is the way in which they have insisted upon both gender and power, and the interplay of the two, as central to social science research. Moreover, feminists have widened debates in specific areas, notably around reflexivity in the research process. Feminist concerns with reflexivity have been twofold. Firstly, they have emphasised the need to be attentive to often unconscious assumptions about gender relations within research projects and secondly, they have stressed the importance of self-reflexivity on the part of the researcher (Maynard 1994). That is, understanding the 'intellectual autobiography' and 'personal history' of the researcher (Maynard 1994:16), including the relation of research to gendered experience, has been seen as integral to the research process.