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date: 27 March 2017

Quantitative Methods and Feminist Political Science

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

Definitions of feminist research are wide ranging, and incorporate an array of approaches and perspectives. While there is great diversity within feminist scholarship, the work of Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber, in particular, examines the social and institutional norms and practices that shape women’s and men’s lived experiences. Feminist researchers thus challenge disciplinary norms and practices that ignore the roles that gender and sex play in developing and testing broader theoretical frameworks. Feminist political science, in particular, seeks to incorporate sex and gender into classic political science paradigms and to use a feminist approach to offer new insights about politics.

At its heart, feminist political science is rooted in the desire to understand how men and women experience politics differently, often in ways that systematically disadvantage women. This concern with systematic disadvantages lends itself to quantitative research, which relies on statistical methods to create abstract, simplified representations of political systems and institutions in order to allow for clearer inferences. Indeed, looking at all articles published in Politics & Gender, the journal of the Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association, we see that feminist political science research has increasingly drawn on quantitative methods. While there is some fear that statistical abstraction is inadequate for understanding women’s lived political experiences, when guided by feminist research principles, quantitative methods have proven useful for the study of gender and politics.

Our analysis dispels the myth that feminist political science research is hostile to quantitative methods; to the contrary, it has embraced these tools. Building on this analysis, we then ask whether quantitative political science has similarly embraced feminist research. We look at articles published in Political Analysis, the journal of the Society for Political Methodology. We find that these articles rarely address questions of gender and politics. Though gender and politics scholars have accepted statistical methods, applied statisticians within political science have not adopted a feminist approach to studying policies. Gender and politics researchers, moreover, are using statistical tools but not spearheading the development of these techniques.

After providing this overview of the state of the discipline, we offer insights for feminist scholars aiming to conduct quantitative research, as well as for quantitative researchers who would like to conduct feminist research. We argue that quantitative methods provide support for feminist conceptions of politics—beliefs that often require quantitative data in order to be tested. Similarly, applying feminist research principles can inform quantitative work. At a minimum, a feminist approach requires quantitative methods to account for gender and sex in both experimental and observational data. Incorporating these characteristics reveals how the personal is political; failure to do so leads to an incomplete understanding of political behavior and institutions. We believe that the two frameworks can (and should) be used in tandem, resulting in theoretically and methodologically richer and more rigorous work.