Magazine 2017
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Dr. Vatsala Shoukla1  
Political Science has evolved considerably since the beginning of the study of politics as a discipline,  
which was primarily centered around men, masculinity and maleness, and where women were considered  
apolitical and therefore, invisible. Classical canons of political theories not only argued for women’s  
apolitical and invisible status in politics but went beyond and made an attempt to validate their claim  
and justified women’s exclusion as natural. Nonetheless, women’s relentless struggles for political space  
and feminist political scientists’ persistent work highlighting women’s visible role in politics opened a  
new era in the study of politics, which definitely helped broadened the understanding of politics.  
The paper is an attempt to highlight the significance and use of feminist research methods in the study of  
politics, particularly those used in capturing women leaders’ lived experiences in municipal government  
in Mumbai in a recently concluded pilot study. In order to deal with the challenge of enumerating the role  
and challenges faced by these women leaders, the approach involved a shift from exclusive objectivity  
to privileging elements of positionality, subjectivity and intersectionality of respondents. In concise, the  
paper endeavors to draw attention towards the reality of women’s marked visibility in municipal politics,  
the significance of studying their personal and professional experiences and struggles, highlighting the  
process of their political empowerment as they are challenging and changing several political stereotypes,  
and the importance of using feminist research methods in capturing these details.  
Keywords : Women leadership, feminist research methods, women and political representation  
Political Science has evolved considerably since the beginning of the study of politics as a discipline, which  
was primarily centered around men, masculinity and maleness, and where women were considered apolitical  
and therefore, invisible. Women were not simply missing in the canonical texts, they were defined in terms of  
their disruptive sexuality, lack of justice, incapacity for reason or all of the above and more…they were cast as  
being utterly deficient in those qualities that were deemed necessary for active participation in the civic  
community. (Clarke & Lange, 1979) Nonetheless, women’s relentless struggles for political space and feminist  
political scientists’ persistent work highlighting women’s visible role in politics opened a new era in the study of  
politics, which definitely helped broadened the understanding of politics.  
Feminist scholars’ serious engagement with gender and other categories of oppression and exclusion in previously  
gender-blind field of political study provided tools for addressing the substantive questions that make political  
science a worthwhile enterprise. The innovative methods used contributed towards the understanding of  
normative, conceptual and empirical reality of the field, which often followed a non-linear process. This is  
because social and political research is inherently dynamic. Feminists goals are plural and contested and as  
such feminist research cannot be reduced to a particular normative orientation or political, ideological agenda.  
Nevertheless, a definitive shift can be witnessed in the study of politics epistemologically, methodologically  
and empirically.  
Epistemologically, conventional approach to study politics posits objectivity of observers who study atomistic  
individuals, uses neutral categories in value-free research to instruct universal theories, seeks explanations,  
tacitly assumes male as a norm. While, feminists’ practice and study of politics posit gendered observers of  
socially interdependent people, use socially constructed categories in value-encoded research to construct  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
socially contingent theories, understanding and interpretation, uncover this tacit assumption. Methodologically,  
conventional political methodology involved a particular set of methods or way of doing research, covered  
quantitative methods and survey research techniques that impose concepts and meanings on respondents, is  
considered as adequate tools to the task of capturing the most important features of people’s political lives.  
Whereas, feminist methodology is not a series of particular methods or guidelines for research, like a protocol,  
is a commitment to using a whole constellation of methods reflectively and critically, with the end aim being the  
production of data that serve feminist aims of social justice, prefers qualitative methods such as participant  
observation and intensive, open-ended interviews that do not impose concepts and meanings on people.  
Similarly, there are differences in what the two schools find empirically interesting or worth knowing about-  
conventional school is more concerned with state, stability, powerful etc. and feminists focus on change,  
consciousness, empowerment, inclusiveness etc. (Flammang, 1997)  
Critical Perspective in Feminist Research  
Feminist inquiry is known for working across disciplines. It is that critical perspective on social and political life  
that draws our attention to the ways in which social, political and economic norms, practices and structures  
create injustices that are experienced differently or uniquely by certain groups of women. Taking that view of  
feminism in the research does not require one to participate in direct social and political action or necessarily  
to label or identify oneself as a feminist. A feminist research ethic is a methodological commitment to any set  
of research practices that reflect on the power of epistemology, boundaries, relationships and multiple dimensions  
of the researcher’s location throughout the entirety of the research process and to a normative commitment to  
transforming the social order in order to promote gender justice. (Yuval-Davis, 2006) Key elements include-  
attentiveness of power, attentiveness to boundaries, intersections and normalization, attentiveness to relationships  
among all stakeholders (researcher-participants, subject-participants, translators, facilitator, communities etc),  
self-reflection at each stage of the research process. (Peterson, 1992) The critical perspective is very important  
not only to the research but to the entire process of research. In political science, the science of social science  
is highly respected and it is a challenge on the part of researcher how to keep a balance between a feminist  
research ethic and social science-oriented rigor.  
The Study  
The study is located in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), the largest and oldest municipality  
in India, established by BMC Act in 1888, where women’s massive presence (women account for sixty percent  
in MCGM) has made a revolutionary shift in the urban politics in many ways. Understanding the nature of this  
shift is very important, however getting to know about the functioning of the complex interplay of forces  
involved in the process is a challenge. Women working in different capacities as mayors, chairpersons and  
members of different municipal committees have been showcasing their confidence, competence and potential  
in decision making and implementation. They have countless accomplishments and success stories. An approach  
which facilitates highlighting those components that correspond to the actual reality in place can only be  
helpful. Therefore, the prime concern of the paper is to uncover these experiences and struggles of women and  
highlight the importance of feminist methods in capturing their voices representing a reality as perceived by  
The broad objectives of the study are a) to get fresh insights into women’s leadership experiences in urban  
governance. Does it make a difference in women’s position? b) to analyze the effectiveness of women’s reservation  
and its implications for gender equality in politics. Has it provided level playing field? c) to examine the nature  
of women’s political representation. Women are forced into lime light, Are they forced into power sharing?  
What changes/ differences has it brought in at personal and professional level? d) to evaluate women’s expanding  
personal and political spaces. What are their challenges, political concerns? What kinds of different agencies  
opened up for women and their implications for a gender-just politics? The paper is based on the pilot study  
conducted with six women councilors in municipal corporation of Mumbai, selected through non-probability  
convenience sampling method.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Capturing Women’s Political Voices- Key Challenges  
The study uses narrative technique to capture women’s experiences at personal and professional levels. Following  
the tradition in women’s studies, where gender narratives are increasingly being used to record the voices of  
women, their perceptions and perspectives, irrespective of whether the narrators are leaders, victims or participants  
in struggle, the study records women leaders’ experiences, struggles and challenges encountered using narrative  
technique and case study method. Using narrative as a technique of data collection provide a space for less  
dominating and more relational modes of interviewing, which reflect and respect participants’ ways of organizing  
meaning in their lives. (DeVault, 1999) This approach does not assume objectivity but, instead, privileges  
positionality and subjectivity of participants. (Riessman, 2008) The approach helps to build up an atmosphere  
where participants feel free to share their views and are tempted to talk on hitherto unvoiced areas of their life.  
Of course the participatory approach makes them feel they possess an important resource of knowledge.  
Researcher believes that knowledge is co-created. The objective is to create an in-depth case study without  
exerting epistemological violence, to allow a kind of conversational space that is though defined, but has no  
clear boundaries.  
Right from formulating the proposal to every stage of research process, primacy has been given to the critical  
perspective. Use of innovative ways required formulating a flexible interview schedule that provided a direction  
to the nature of data collection without imposing theoretical concepts or structured framework to be followed  
by participants, while sharing their experiences. In the process framing, reframing, fine tuning of questions  
becomes indispensable on the part of researcher as each woman’s story of struggle is unique, which is informed  
by her own location. Therefore, providing representation to every aspect of her struggle and experience in a  
holistic manner and thus highlighting political reality becomes critical. The study also makes an attempt to  
understand the deeply entrenched notions of ‘what constitutes actual politics’ and an attempt to widen our  
understanding on women providing responsive as well as indicative (proxy) representation in politics, how do  
they perceive about their accomplishments? How do they feel about this political empowerment? Insights  
provided by feminist standpoint theory become helpful in getting to know about their perceptions of political  
reality and empowerment.  
A critical approach to research which provides a space for innovation, creativity and plurality of knowledge  
resources requires application of innovative/ mixed research methods. This is very much desirable under feminist  
research objectives. The study used a flexible framework, quantitative/qualitative techniques, without  
compromising on the fundamental purpose of the study- to provide representation to women’s political voices.  
Indeed the study intended to highlight the reality of women’s political voices from their perspective and this  
determined the kind of tools and technique could be useful in highlighting their political empowerment. The use  
of participatory approach during interviews was particularly important as it enlightened both the researcher and  
the researched. This has also witnessed a shift in the power relations between them. The process itself has been  
empowering for the women who were sharing their powerful stories. There have been debates on the unequal  
power relations and the oppressive presence of data collection tools and techniques. The current research uses  
video camera and voice recorder to capture and record audio and visual data, which women respondents  
found very empowering for their story will get a voice and validation. The researcher observed that contrary to  
conventional belief about using tools (i.e. technological instruments, which are seen as oppressive, transgressing  
personal space and reflection of unequal power dynamics between researcher and researched), women enjoyed  
the presence of technology and they were very much aware of its implications and how this very tool could be  
used as a channel to provide an outreach to their story. However, they might be conscious while narrating their  
experiences, which again put limitations on the process itself. Nonetheless, they valued the process being  
democratic, open and un-hierarchical and felt empowered all through. As regards limitations on the use of  
technology and method itself, not many qualitative methods are infallible. Nevertheless, they have potential to  
widen the horizon of our social reality indeed.  
The current study uses a variety of (mainly qualitative) research techniques majorly drawn from feminist standpoint  
theories, including- i) in-depth face-to-face interview, recording oral narratives, video interviews, relevant video  
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resources, photos ii) through dialogue, constant engagement, meaning-making exercises, questions to maintain  
the flow at the same time letting directional and focused conversation iii) formulation of generative questions,  
which are both open ended and open to refinement iv) flexible interview schedule and semi-structured  
questionnaire, which allows for new stories and ways of self- and world-making to emerge, and avoids early use  
of theories and concepts v) participatory approach vi) knowledge is co-creational vii) inter-subjectivity and self-  
reflexivity- a challenge lies in finding a balance between acknowledging the researcher’s influence and avoiding  
obsessing over it, how to contextualise the research without allowing context to steal the scene. The  
trustworthiness of narrative accounts cannot be evaluated using traditional correspondence criteria as there is  
no canonical approach to validation in interpretive work. Besides, there is no standard set of procedures  
compared to some forms of qualitative analysis. Several studies underscored this issue, ‘...oral recollections,  
as we have seen have many rough edges, which create methodological problems, but then different  
criteria of credibility, must be used to judge its value, so that distortions, repetitions, exaggerations,  
silences may begin to make sense in certain instances. (Saldanha, 2006) The raw data includes- oral, written  
and visual representations, which can be in the form of researcher’s commentaries, field notes (taken  
simultaneously to facilitate indexing of each recorded interview), interview transcripts, researchers’ observations,  
copy of relevant reports and documents, photo, audio and video recordings (to preserve each woman’s story  
in her own words).  
Empirical data acquired through using feminist research methods highlights the significant facets of women’s  
personal and political struggles and challenges, and undoubtedly marked a significant shift in understanding  
women’s leadership potential, skills and accomplishments in municipal governance. The study observed detailed  
and distinct responses from women representatives with regard to expansion in their personal and political  
spaces. Responses definitely put a light on the nuances that exist in these spheres and which eventually widen  
the range of accepted notions about the tryst between personal and political spheres. The study observed  
discrete categories, such as- distinct private and public role divide, widening areas of public engagement,  
exercising political agency. Further, the study highlighted the indispensable role of education and practical  
knowledge in empowering women, the specific feminist concerns being the by-product of women’s political  
orientation and activism, the presence of several hard core feminist leaders in corporation, the need to  
mainstreaming of women role models in politics, the indispensable role of women’s increased presence in  
party, the importance of women’s critical consciousness to be pro-active in politics, the importance of an  
inclusive approach to ensure women’s quest for responsive representation.  
References :  
Clarke, Lorenne M.G. and Lynda Lange. 1979. The Sexism of Social and Political Theory: Women and  
Reproduction from Plato to Nietsche. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.  
DeVault, Marjorie. (1999). Liberating Method: Feminism and Social Research. Temple University Press  
Flammang, Janet A. (1997). Women’s Political Voice: How Women Are Transforming the Practice and  
Study of Politics, Temple University Press.  
Peterson, V. Spike. (1992) Transgressing Boundaries: Theories of Knowledge, Gender and International  
Relations. Millennium: Journal of International Studies. ISSN 0305-8298. 21 (2), 183-206  
Riessman, Catherine K. (2008). Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences. Sage publication  
Saldanha, Indra Munshi. (2006). Reconstruction of the Warli Struggle through Oral Sources. In Neera Desai  
(Ed.). Feminism as Experience- thoughts and Narratives. SPARROW  
Yuval-Davis, Nira. ( 2006, August). Intersectionality and Feminist Politics. European Journal of  
Women’s Studies.  
Assistant Professor, Research Center for Women’s Studies, SNDT WU, Mumbai.