“Asking the Woman Question” in Case Study Research

“Asking the Woman Question” in Case Study Research

Nicoletta Policek (University of Cumbria, UK)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9429-1.ch014
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Case study research provides the researcher with the opportunity to decide the most convincing epistemological orientation. Such versatility is nonetheless embedded in the assumption of objectivity contends G. Griffin in Difference in View: Women and Modernism, which speaks of an “abstract masculinity” intended here as the assumption of universal humanity where men's and women's experiences are melted into one experience. Case study research, this contribution contends, even when about women, hinders the experience of women, an experience that is always situated, relational, and engaged. In other words, ontologically, it is argued here, the reality of women's lives is absent from the domain of case study research because the language adopted when framing case study research is still very much a language that talks about women, but it does not allow women to speak.
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In case study research, too often researchers hold the view that there is one single reality, which is independent of the individual and can be apprehended, studied and measured, through a neutral perspective (Woodside and Wilson, 2003). This contribution challenges the notion of epistemic privilege (Pinnick, 2005) which talks of abstract masculinity (Connell, 1983; 1995; see also Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005) arguing for the need to “ask the woman question” in case study research. Making knowledge claims across differences (Griffin, 1994) allows for the reproduction and co-production of hidden power relations to be dissected and for such relations to surface. Borrowing from feminist approaches (Oakley, 1981; England, 1994; Ermath, 2000), the question who has the power to know what and how power is implicated in the process of producing knowledge, takes central stage in this chapter when seeking to understand the value of case study research. Regularly facing the challenge of having to defend itself from generalisation (Yin, 2014), case study research is well positioned to call into question the power relations in the research encounter. The power to decide what difference is measured against and how the “different” is constructed, in turn leads to the problem of claiming objectivity as epistemological privilege (Guba, 1981).

The key objective of this contribution is therefore to challenge such objectivity by suggesting the adoption of a feminist standpoint (Katila and Meriläinen, 1999) which confronts a privileged social identity by making a claim that it is unfair to generalize from a single case whilst contending that each singularity has its own value and merit (Brooks, 2007). The proposed understanding of standpoint is consistent with some claims Harding (1991) makes about standpoints when she emphasizes that a standpoint is not the same as the social position occupied by an inquirer or a participant in her study. Instead, she claims that taking a standpoint is a matter of moral and political commitment, for this reason suggesting that a standpoint is a collective achievement.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Feminist Epistemology: Intended as a loosely organized approach to epistemology, rather than a particular school or theory, this is an examination of the subject matter of epistemology from a feminist standpoint. Feminist epistemology is a product and a consequence of both feminist theorizing about gender and traditional epistemological concerns.

Strong Objectivity: The notion that the perspectives of marginalized and/or oppressed individuals can facilitate more objective accounts of the social world.

Perspective: A theoretical perspective is a set of assumptions about reality that inform the questions researchers ask and the kinds of answers they arrive at as a result. In this sense, a theoretical perspective can be understood as a lens through which researchers look, serving to focus or distort what they see.

Subjectivity: Subjectivity guides everything from the choice of topic that researchers study, to formulating hypotheses, to selecting methodologies, and interpreting data.

Generalization: The act of interpretation that involves describing broad inferences from particular observations. Widely-acknowledged as a quality standard in quantitative research, this approach is more controversial in qualitative research.

Hegemonic masculinity: Practice that legitimizes men's dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of women, and other marginalized ways of being a man.

Reflexivity: This is intended as the attitude by a researcher of attending scientifically to the context of knowledge construction at every step of the research process. Among researchers, there is an assumption that bias or reflexivity in a research study is detrimental to the research endeavour.

Standpoint: A set of beliefs and ideas from which opinions and decisions are shaped.

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