Feminist empiricism is a perspective within feminist research that focuses on combining the objectives and observations of feminism with the research methods and philosophical underpinnings of empiricism. Feminist empiricism is typically connected to mainstream notions of positivism. Feminist empiricism proposes that feminist theories can be objectively proven through evidence.[tone][why?] Feminist empiricism is a distinct perspective, critiquing what it perceives to be inadequacies and biases within mainstream research methods including positivism.
In international relations politics, rationalist feminism employs feminist empiricism to explain the political landscape. Rationalist feminism examines state, transnational and institutional actors, and specifically looks at causal relationships between these actors and gender issues. Quantitative data is used to explain gender's involvement in these relationships. This may be directly by correlating gender data to specific state behaviors, or indirectly by examining a "gender gap" through indirect causal relationships. Popular perspectives often linked to rationalist feminism within international relations include conventional constructivism and quantitative peace research.
Among other criticisms, standpoint feminism critiques feminist empiricism for its use of norms related to positivist methodology. In particular, standpoint feminism argues that feminist empiricism cannot explain the way the political world works because the foundations on which it is built are based on the same gendered assumptions all mainstream scientific inquiries face. Feminist empiricism argues that, because of its epistemological outlook, it can tackle this inherent gender bias within scientific inquiry.
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Feminist empiricism favors an approach closer to positivism, while post-structural/post-modern feminist epistemology is entirely discursive, seeking to maintain an understanding through social analysis; to interpret rather than explain feminist theories in the political world.
Feminist empiricism is more likely to favor qualitative data. Objective measurements are seen as important to eliminating the gender bias that exists. Post-structuralism is inherently opposed to the idea of an objective truth in the social sciences. The belief is that those who study within the human sciences are ensnared by the same structures that affect the society in which they study. Post-structural feminism critiques the belief that any viewpoint is impartial; knowledge is not found but constructed. A specific result of this disagreement is the way in which the two theories view gender: feminist empiricism claims that gender variables are based on biological sex, while post-structural/post-modern feminism sees gender as a socially constituted entity.
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