What is gender research?

Gender research is conducted both as a separate field and within the framework of other disciplinary domains. The field consists of a great number of theories and methods. Intersectional perspectives, or research exploring how different power structures interact with each other, have become increasingly common in recent years.

Gender research is two-faceted in nature. It is conducted both within the field of gender studies and within the realms of other subject areas, so-called integrated gender research. Gender research, similar to other types of critical research, is conducted in most subject areas. The integrated gender research poses new questions, demands new perspectives and gives rise to new analyses and understandings within the established disciplines. What do you think happens when gender researchers for example address the following questions:

  • Does the understanding of the concept of bullying include sexual harassment?
  • Can history be revised without consideration of gender?
  • How do our conceptions of masculinity and femininity affect theories and research in the field of biology?
  • What type of security is created through security policy? Security for whom?
  • Women and men face different conditions in society. How does this affect their health?
  • Who gets to voice their opinions as experts in media?

Gender research is a broad field, as reflected in the wide array of theories, methods, perspectives and research topics. There is no watertight separation between gender research and other disciplines. Gender researchers use theories and methods from other fields and researchers in other fields do the same from gender studies.

Gender research is currently characterised by a focus on intersectional perspectives and analyses, or research exploring how power structures such as race, gender, sexuality, class, age, functional variations and gender expression interact. The concept of intersectionality is rooted in American anti-racist feminism. In Sweden, the intersectionality perspective is well established in both gender research and the political discussion on power, inequality and discrimination. This makes it relevant to talk about intersectionality as a link between gender research and other critical research, such as queer research and research on racism.

Examples of focus areas in gender research

In the field of gender research, theories, methods and perspectives transcend and enrich each other. It is not uncommon for gender researchers to be involved in for example intersectional postcolonial studies, or to identify themselves as feminist postcolonial queer researchers. Below we describe some if the focus areas with gender research.

Masculinity research

Critical studies of men and masculinities, also referred to as masculinity research, make up one of the many branches within gender research. Masculinity research focuses on men’s social and cultural living conditions, lifestyles, attitudes and way of acting. The Anglo-Saxon masculinity research emerged in the 1970s, whereas in Sweden and the other Nordic countries, critical studies of men and masculinities took off in the 1990s.

Postcolonial research

Gender research based on postcolonial theory explores how the view of the Western world as enlightened, rational and modern is created by describing other parts of the world as outdated, mysterious and traditional. According to postcolonial research, this leads to depreciation of knowledge developed outside the Western world, something that has been criticised not least by feminists. Postcolonial theory is also critical of how ‘Western feminism’ tends to neglect, homogenise and/or devalue other parts of the world and the people living there.

Queer research

Similar to how postcolonial researchers bring attention to things that are often taken for granted, queer researchers too like to turn the perspectives around. Instead of studying deviations from the norm, they focus on what is considered ‘normal’, such as whiteness and the heteronorm. Queer dates back to the 1980s and the radical activist groups that called themselves queer to stress their disagreement with the heteronorm.

Feminist post-humanist research

A research field called feminist post-humanist has emerged in recent years. This field challenges the demarcation between nature and culture and shows how our views of the world and ourselves are changed when the two entities are no longer separated. This also has bearing on ethics, policy making and justice. Researchers in the field of feminist post-humanism question the idea that human beings are rational, independent and superior to nature. Instead, humans are understood as constantly influenced by the material world, which they in turn are influencing.

Author Swedish secretariat for gender research. Published 31st of March 2016
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