Researcher versus advocate: Ethnographic-ethical dilemmas in feminist scholarship

Tania Jain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature of dilemmas that emerge at the theoretical and practical interfaces of ethnographic fieldwork and feminist advocacy. This is done by examining the researcher’s role in the field and the complex relationships between the researcher and the researched.

Critical self-reflections and autoethnographic analyses of fieldwork experiences in the author’s home country in South Asia are used to explore these dilemmas.

Using situated examples from a typical organisational setting involving both the oppressive and the oppressed, the researcher’s participant observation is found to be conflicted between critical participation and critical observation. Conscious and/or unconscious critical participation through enactment of feminist ethics by combining researcher and advocacy roles allows a route to assuage these conflicts. Practical strategies used to accomplish this are also discussed.

Research limitations/implications
Although the practical strategies discussed in this paper are culturally and organisationally specific and hence limited by them, it is hoped that suitable variants will emerge for readers from their discussion. Further research is needed to investigate the variety of ways in which the researcher-advocate positionality proposed in this paper can be strategically adopted conditional on cultural and organisational contexts, feminist research questions, and researchers’ abilities and constraints.

Practical implications
This paper seeks to shed light on the dilemmas of feminist ethics faced by critical feminist researchers conducting ethnographic fieldwork. It also discusses ways to enable researchers to circumvent these dilemmas in both epistemologically productive ways by collecting rich data and in ontologically enriching ways by allowing some enactment of feminist ethics. To this end, a positionality of the feminist researcher-advocate is conceptualised that does not enforce constraints of extreme positionalities of either a conventional ethnographer or an action researcher.

Social implications
Besides illustrating the need to stretch beyond traditional boundaries of participant observation, the researcher-advocate positionality also allows feminist researchers to make small, but directly tangible impact towards gender equality in their field setting. Implications for researchers’ emotional, and cognitive safety are also discussed especially when they identify with one or more minority identities.

This paper contributes to discussions on the theory of methods by highlighting the benefits of enacting feminist ethics as a way of critical participation in research settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)566-585
Number of pages20
JournalEquality, diversity and inclusion: An international Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Feminist Studies
  • feminist theory
  • Ethnography


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