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Mining for Methods A Critical Review of the Theoretical and Methodological Contributions of Feminist Science Scholars for Biomedicine and Public Health Research



This is a critical review of the feminist science scholarship that aims to differentiate various feminist approaches to using the concepts of sex, gender, race and/or ethnicity in biomedicine and public health research. With a focus on the conceptual and methodologi-cal contributions of various feminist science scholars, we identify three distinctly different feminist methodological frameworks that can be used in the practice of science. This is not an exhaustive review, but rather seeks to identify critical patterns in methodologies used by feminist science scholars to delineate the contribution of each framework and build the capacity of biomedicine and public health researchers and policy-makers seeking to integrate the concepts of sex, gender, race, and/or ethnicity into their work.
© 2015 Budrich Unipress. 10.3224/fzg.v21i2
Mining for Methods
A Critical Review of the Theoretical and Methodological Contributions of
Feminist Science Scholars for Biomedicine and Public Health Research
Sarah Singh/Ineke Klinge
Abstract: This is a critical review of the feminist science scholarship that aims to differen-
tiate various feminist approaches to using the concepts of sex, gender, race and/or ethnicity
in biomedicine and public health research. With a focus on the conceptual and methodologi-
cal contributions of various feminist science scholars, we identify three distinctly different
feminist methodological frameworks that can be used in the practice of science. This is not
an exhaustive review, but rather seeks to identify critical patterns in methodologies used
by feminist science scholars to delineate the contribution of each framework and build the
capacity of biomedicine and public health researchers and policy-makers seeking to integrate
the concepts of sex, gender, race, and/or ethnicity into their work.
Keywords: feminism; science; gender; sex; race; methodology; biomedicine; public health.
Auf Spurensuche nach Methoden
Eine kritische Zusammenschau theoretischer und methodologischer Beiträge
feministischer Debatten für die biomedizinische und gesundheitswissen-
schaftliche Forschung
Zusammenfassung: Das Ziel dieser breiten und kritischen Sichtung feministischer Ansätze
ist es, unterschiedliche feministische Perspektiven sowie ihre Konzepte von sex, gender
und race bzw. Ethnizität insbesondere für die Forschung im Bereich Biomedizin und Public
Health nutzbar zu machen. Wir nehmen die konzeptionellen und methodologischen Bei-
träge verschiedener feministischer Forschungsrichtungen in den Blick und identizieren
drei verschiedene feministisch-methodologische Perspektiven, die genutzt werden können,
um Forschung anders zu betreiben. Dies ist kein umfassender Überblick – vielmehr identi-
zieren wir zentrale Muster in den Methodologien feministischer Forschung, um den Beitrag
der einzelnen Richtungen aufzuzeigen. Dies soll Forscher_innen aus Biomedizin und Public
Health sowie Entscheidungsträger_innen darin unterstützen, Konzepte von sex, gender,
race, bzw. Ethnizität in die eigene Arbeit zu integrieren.
Schlagwörter: Feminismus; Wissenschaft; Sex; Gender; Race; Methodologie; Biomedizin;
Public Health.
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Increasingly, scientic researchers, particularly in the health sciences, are being
required by international resolutions, funding institutions, and publishers to
consider gender, sex, race and/or ethnicity in their research (Heidari et al. 2012;
Johnson et al. 2014; Klinge 2008; Sharman/ Johnson, 2012). This is a response to
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Mining for Methods 17
the under-representation of women and minorities in public health research and
clinical drug trials (Blauwet 2011; Geller et al. 2011; Yoon et al. 2014). Yet these
policies have been introduced with little discussion about the concepts of gender,
sex, race and/or ethnicity or the methodologies and theoretical frameworks that
relate to them (Epstein 2008; Fausto-Sterling 2008; Jackson 2014; Shim 2002).
Consequently, many feminist and anti-racist scholars have documented signi-
cant conceptual confusion related to the use of these concepts in biomedical and
public health research (Braun et al. 2007; Hammarstrom/Annandale 2012; Kai-
ser 2012). Feminist researchers in the social and biological sciences have been
studying and theorizing the use of sex, gender, race and/or ethnicity concepts
in scientic research for over three decades, but have largely been ignored by
mainstream science (Ritz et al. 2014; Rosser 2005; Åsberg/Birke 2010).
In this paper, we review feminist science scholarship1 by using a combina-
tion of related search terms in Science Direct Database and Google Scholar with
the aim to identify and differentiate various feminist approaches to using the
concepts of sex, gender, race and/or ethnicity, particularly in biomedicine and
public health research. Additional references were found through bibliographic
searching. With a focus on the conceptual and methodological contributions of
various feminist science scholars, we identify three distinctly different femi-
nist methodological frameworks that can be used to guide scientic practice in
the eld. Drawing on concepts used by what we observed to be the founding
scholars of these frameworks, we named these frameworks the ‘strong objectiv-
ity framework’, ‘partial perspective framework’ and the ‘gendered innovations
framework’. We argue that these frameworks, rather than acting as competing
frameworks, offer distinctly different methodological approaches that can be
used in combination to improve the practice of science.
While the ‘strong objectivity’ and ‘partial perspectives’ framework focus on
epistemological and theoretical issues and encourage scientists to critically
evaluate concepts, methodologies, theoretical frameworks, and research priori-
ties, the ‘gendered innovations’ framework seeks to operationalize the theoretical
contributions of feminist science scholars and introduce new practical methods
that can be easily integrated into scientic practice. Many of the feminist scien-
tists referenced in this paper cross over these categorical boundaries and these
intersections are as much an indication of the intellectual development of the
individual feminist science scholars as of the eld of feminist science itself. It
should also be noted that there are several other scholars who contributed to the
formation or materialization of these frameworks that have not been mentioned
but could also be located within these frameworks. This is not an exhaustive
review, but rather seeks to identify the key feminist methodological contribu-
tions and uses examples from recent and relevant feminist science scholarship to
illustrate the contribution of each framework. In doing so, we hope to explain the
utility of feminist science scholarship and build the capacity of biomedicine and
public health researchers and policy-makers seeking to integrate the concepts
of sex, gender, race, and/or ethnicity into their work.
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Mining for Methods 17
Feminist Science Studies
Feminist scholars have conducted similar reviews of the feminist science litera-
ture. For instance, Wylie (1989) compiled a bibliography of core feminist science
literature, focusing primarily on critiques of biology that raise reexive ques-
tions about the role of gender in scientic knowledge and practice. Similarly,
Tuana (1986) provides a brief overview and bibliography of the contributions
of feminism in the natural sciences, noting that feminists have recovered the
work of women scientists, uncovered biases against women, and re-envisioned
scientic methodologies. Schiebinger (2000) documents how the social, politi-
cal and economic changes and specic feminist movements, namely liberal and
difference feminism, facilitated the entry of women into the elds of science.
She also identies how feminist inuences changed research practices, such
as biased scientic practices that excluded women as research subjects. Rosser
(2005) reviews various feminist theoretical lenses and their impact on the study
of science. Recently, Subramaniam (2014) reviewed the broad group of issues
addressed by feminist science scholars, including the practice of dening women
by their reproductive capacities, patriarchal conceptions of nature, and the roles
of colonialism and capitalism in science. While these reviews provide good sum-
maries of feminist contributions to science and the historical contexts in which
they developed, they do not differentiate or delineate the multiple conceptual
and methodological approaches within the feminist science literature.
Strong Objectivity Framework
The rst theoretical framework we identify is the ‘strong objectivity’ frame-
work, as coined by feminist philosopher Sandra Harding. According to Harding,
“strong objectivity extends the notion of scientic research to include system-
atic observations of background beliefs, and also draws attention to ideological
assumptions built into scientic research” (Harding 1991:149). In other words,
the strong objectivity framework means researchers think reexively about
social values, namely assumptions based on gender and racial norms, and how
they inform choices made at every stage of scientic inquiry. For instance, sci-
entic researchers make value based decisions in: the selection of problems to
study; the formulation of hypotheses; the methods and theories used; and in
the reporting and interpretation of research outcomes. The strong objectivity
framework does not reject the scientic method or the notion of objectivity but
rather delinks objectivity from neutrality and introduces adjustments to the sci-
entic method. In doing so, scholarship that falls under this framework seeks to
enhance the objectivity of scientic research while promoting scientic research
designs that better serve a broader range of societal needs and interests.
We identify two methodological approaches that fall under this framework,
feminist empiricism and feminist standpoint approach. Feminist empiricists, as
Harding denes them, seek to identify “bad science” that often supports sexist
and racist scientic claims (Harding 1991: 89). Harding’s denition suggests
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Mining for Methods 19
that feminist empiricism simply asks researchers to apply established scientic
methods more carefully and rigorously and offers little towards a feminist chal-
lenge to the process of scientic knowledge production (Harding 1992). Several
other feminist science scholars reject Harding’s denition of feminist empiricism,
including Campbell (1994), Nelson (1990), Longino (1990, 1993) and explain that
the crucial contribution of feminist empiricism is the introduction of feminist
political goals to the empirical study of science. Familiarity with feminist con-
cepts is essential for feminist empiricism as it provides “scrutiny over and above
the scrutiny we devote to the appropriate controls in experiments and the quality
of the statistical analysis of our results” (Longino 1988: 568). To do this, feminist
empiricists employ feminist conceptions of gender and race to critically analyze
how social beliefs about gender and race inform hypotheses, scientic theories,
measures, data collection processes, models, background assumptions, and the
interpretation of evidence. In this way, feminist empiricism seeks to adjust the
established boundaries of scientic practice by requiring researchers to critically
examine social values, specically normative beliefs about gender and race when
designing, evaluating, and interpreting scientic research projects.
An example of contemporary feminist empiricism is the recent work of
psychologist Cordelia Fine (2010). Fine’s feminist understanding of gender, as
socially constructed, makes her skeptical of scientic studies that “reect and
reinforce cultural beliefs about gender” (Fine 2010: xxvii). Specically, Fine
examines scientic studies that follow “the organizational-activational hypoth-
esis” which puts forward the idea that “the same hormone involved in building
male genitalia… also permanently ‘organizes’ the brain in a masculine way”
(Fine 2010: 101). This hypothesis proposes that differences between women and
men, specically in the elds of math, science and engineering, are a result of
hardwired differences in the brains of women and men. Fine identies several
aws in the research designs that follow from the organizational-activational
hypothesis, including unreliable methods used to measure fetal testosterone lev-
els, inconsistently operationalized denitions of the male brain’s “systematizing”
capacity, small sample sizes, a failure to control for environmental inuences
and the over interpretation of results. Fine’s research indicates that feminist
conceptions of gender and race allow members of the scientic community,
namely journal editors, granting agencies, and working scientists, to critically
review research studies and identify aws in scientic research designs and
methods that have previously gone unnoticed.
In contrast to feminist empiricism, the feminist standpoint approach calls for
starting research from the standpoint of women and other marginalized groups
so that their experiences and interests are brought to bear on the scientic
process. As Harding explains, “women’s different lives have been erroneously
devalued and neglected as starting points for scientic research and as genera-
tors of evidence for or against knowledge claims” (Harding 1991: 121). Research
from women’s lives is needed to overcome “excessive reliance on distinctively
masculine lives” and to act as “checks against the validity of knowledge claims”
(Harding 1991: 123). The emerging eld of Gender Medicine provides a con-
temporary example of efforts to bring women into biomedical and public health
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Mining for Methods 19
research to better understand sex differences in human disease (Legato 1998;
Pinn 2003, 2005). Marianne Legato, the founder of the eld, explains that most
disease research has been done using male subjects and “extrapolated to women
without modication” and so studying women is imperative to improve clinical
care (Legato 2003: 924).
The critical social analysis component of the standpoint approach, however,
is often missing in the eld of Gender Medicine, often called ‘gender specic
medicine’ (Hammarstrom/Annandale 2012). As Harding (1991: 133) explains,
“biological differences between women and men [do not] provide the resources
for feminist analysis”. The standpoint approach requires researchers to apply
a gender analysis and account for “differences between women’s and men’s
situations” (Harding 1991: 119). In other words, the standpoint approach does
not simply mean including women and other marginalized groups in scientic
research but rather starting research from the standpoint or “social location”
of historically marginalized groups (Crasnow 2008). Analyzing social condi-
tions from the perspective of women and other marginalized groups, provides
researchers insights into how the social context impacts the biological, speci-
cally how social relations of gender and race shape and limit individual behav-
iours and biological conditions. Researchers in the elds of biomedicine and
public health do not typically pay attention to social forces and so by adopting
the standpoint approach they gain access to knowledge that would otherwise be
ignored or obscured (Wylie 2003).
Harding (1990) argues that feminist empiricist and feminist standpoint
approaches offer opposing methodological approaches. We argue, however, they
both adopt the strong objectivity framework because they both use feminist
conceptions of gender and/or race in research designs, and in doing so seek to
promote better scientic research. In other words, both of these approaches
challenge the notion of the value-neutral observer and, through their critiques,
put forward methods to help researchers systematically explore the impact of
social inequalities and social values that inform the design of scientic research.
Conceptualized in this way, these approaches can be understood to be compli-
mentary and, from our example below, it will be illustrated that they could most
effectively be used in combination.
The work of biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling provides an example of how the
feminist empiricist and feminist standpoint approaches can be combined to
produce, what Intemann (2010) terms “feminist standpoint empiricism”. In her
two-part paper The Bare Bones of Sex (2005) and The Bare Bones of Race (2008)
Fausto-Sterling begins her analysis using a feminist empiricist approach and
reveals inconsistent classications of race and sex in biomedical research that
explores sex and/or racial differences in bone health. For instance, denitions
of race in bone research range from: regional categorizations, self-identication,
grandparental ancestry, genetic markers and groupings used by medical records.
Similar inconsistent measurements plague research on sex difference in bone
health because there “is a lack of standardization between instruments and sites
at which measurements are taken” (Fausto-Sterling 2005: 1493) Fausto-Sterling
suggests that bodies cannot be studied as objects existing “outside of politics,
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Mining for Methods 21
culture, and social change” and even when using consistent forms of measure-
ment sex and racial differences in bone health have been found to be “highly
context specic” (Fausto-Sterling 2005: 1495).
She proposes, researchers adopt mixed-methods study designs, informed
by the standpoint approach so that rather than categorizing different “spe-
cic anatomies and physiologies” researchers provide an understanding of how
specic anatomies and physiologies “emerge over the lifecycle as a response to
specic lived lives” (Fausto-Sterling 2008: 658). Fausto-Sterling makes the case
that such research designs will help develop an understanding of the particular
“environmental inputs and cellular responses” that contribute to racial and sex
differences in bone health so that eventually researchers can begin to piece
together the relationships among the “contributions of geographic ancestry,
individual lifecycle experiences, race, and gender to varied patterns of health
and disease” (ibid.). Using the case of bone research, Fausto-Sterling demon-
strates how feminist empiricism and feminist standpoint act as complimentary
approaches to help researchers, rst, identify knowledge gaps and, second,
develop new knowledge and approaches to research.
A key distinguishing methodological feature between feminist empiricists
and feminist standpoint theorists is not simply that they “offer different condi-
tions” for achieving strong objectivity, as suggested by Intemann (2010), but
how they employ feminist conceptions of sex, gender, and race in scientic
inquiry. Feminist empiricists encourage researchers to adopt a critical sex,
gender, and race analysis of the study design to bring attention to assumptions
about sex, gender, and race that inform the research design, namely formulat-
ing hypotheses, theories, concepts, data collection, and interpretation of results.
The feminist standpoint approach, on the other hand, encourages researchers to
use a feminist gender and race analysis of the social environment to incorporate
qualitative research into their study design and consider social inequalities of
gender and race on scientic research outcomes. As demonstrated by the work
of Fausto-Sterling, both approaches can be combined to produce new scientic
research designs, more accurate descriptions and more complex explanations
than conventional scientic research methods.
Partial Perspectives Framework
The second theoretical framework we identify is the ‘partial perspectives’
framework which is informed by post-structural feminist theory and its textual
critiques, specically how language used by scientic researchers to access and
observe the world is mediated by social power relations. The term ‘partial per-
spectives’ refers to feminist biologist Donna Haraway’s work, which encourages
feminist scientists to go beyond exposing gender and racial assumptions and
“bad science” to examine the partial perspectives of scientic researchers and
struggles over how to see such things as human biology, physiology, biological
development, and so on. Haraway challenges a notion of objectivity or what she
calls “The God Trick” that “represents while escaping representation” (Haraway
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Mining for Methods 21
1988: 580). The partial perspective does not seek to provide a more objective or
truer knowledge about the world but rather strives to achieve what Haraway
terms a “feminist objectivity” that “privileges contestation, deconstruction, pas-
sionate construction, webbed connections and hope for transformation of systems
of knowledge and ways of seeing” (Haraway 1988: 585). In this way, Haraway
distinguishes her approach from feminist scientists who fall under the strong
objectivity framework by redening the notion of partiality and situatedness to
refer to “knowledges that are self-reexive concerning the material, historical,
social conditions under which they came to being” (Prins 1995: 355). Achieving
feminist objectivity requires researchers to acknowledge their own location in
the networks of knowledge or organizational structures that allow certain con-
ceptual understandings to be produced and naturalized.
In dening “networks of knowledge”, Haraway, and other researchers who
adopt the partial perspective framework, draw on Bruno Latour’s (1987) actor-
network theory, which “argues [that] in a sociological account of science all sorts
of things are actors” (Penley et al. 1990: 9). By doing so, the partial perspec-
tives framework moves beyond a simple analysis of the social context in which
particular scientic studies were produced, and seeks to deconstruct scientic
knowledge through locating all the players and the networks of power involved
in producing the objects of science, including “any living or non-living entity
involved (for example genes, agar gels, insects, hormones, etc.)” (Roberts 1999:
133). Drawing on Latour, Roberts (1999) explains that non-human actors such
as genes and hormones “exist for a certain time within a network of forces and
practices which allow them to ourish – they are allies in the scientic process”
and often invoked to make scientic claims (ibid.). In this way, non-human actors
are conceived as active allies in the process of scientic knowledge production
rather than passive objects. Locating these power networks of knowledge pro-
duction makes visible that biology is not simply discovered nor is it produced
through a random or neutral process, but rather the biological body takes shape
in particular ways due to interactions with historically contingent webs of power
Roberts (2010, 2014) uses the partial perspective framework to critically
investigate the public health issue of early puberty. Roberts identies the “range
of techno-scientic, biomedical, popular and environmentalist discourses” that
draws on historically and culturally specic gender and racial norms to frame
the seemingly biological problem of early puberty (Roberts 2010: 429). By using
John Laws (2007) pinboard method of sticking multiple narratives produced
in different times, spaces, locations, and styles on a surface, Roberts visually
captures the juxtapositions and tensions and thereby illustrates the “diversity
of discourses jostling to dene the parameters of the problem [of early puberty]”
(ibid.: 436). Roberts locates several actors currently involved in dening the
problem of early puberty including “techno-science publications, media articles
reporting on scientic studies, and environmental websites and publications”
(ibid.: 433). Roberts explains that these various sources offer different and often
contradictory understandings of the causes of early puberty (ibid.). Roberts
also uncovers the debates among clinicians about the various indicators of early
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Mining for Methods 23
puberty and subsequent health consequences. By identifying the divergent
denitions, causes and consequences of early puberty, Roberts deconstructs the
problem of early puberty and illustrates that it has not simply been “discovered”
by researchers but rather that this constructed biological difference is made
meaningful by the temporary consolidation of various human and non-human
techno-scientic networks of power.
Yet those that adopt the partial perspectives framework not only seek to
locate discursive power struggles, but rather ask how they become inscribed
into the biological body. Haraway (1992: 298) invokes the term “apparatus of
bodily production” to explain that “organisms emerge from a discursive process”.
Haraway is careful to clarify that understanding that “biology is a discourse” is
not the same as claiming that organisms are ideological constructions. Rather
unraveling the apparatus of bodily production requires more than an analysis of
text and metaphors, it means documenting how historically specic living bod-
ies “emerge at the intersection of biological research, writing, and publishing;
medical and other business practices; cultural productions of all kinds, including
available metaphors and narratives; and technology” (ibid.). The boundaries of
nature or the body should not be understood to pre-exist “awaiting the right kind
of instrument to note them correctly” but rather seen as generated through social
power relations constituting human and nonhuman actors (ibid.). As Roberts
(1999) explains, Haraway’s apparatus of bodily production compels research-
ers to think about scientic ‘discoveries’ or the bodies of scientic investigation
as moments of “corporealization”, or rather “a particular historical and located
‘congealed’ interaction between a variety of actors” (Roberts 199: 133). Under-
standing how bodily differences become articulated through a web of historical
interactions allows researchers to recongure biological boundaries, opening
space for new possibilities of bodily constructions (Haraway 1994).
A contemporary example is the work of feminist science scholars El-Haj (2007),
Gannett (2004) and M’charek (2005, 2013). These scholars use examples from
population geneticists, DNA forensics and medical practices to trace how biologi-
cal races have been re-constituted in and through these scientic technologies and
practices. These authors denaturalize the meaning of discrete racial groupings
while locating the various powerful networks of knowledge that produce them.
For instance, Gannett (2004) explains how a typological notion of race based on
“skin colour, hair form, or facial characteristics” has been replaced with statisti-
cally based grouping made possible by genotyping technologies and DNA data
that allow researchers to map the frequency of genes (ibid: 341). Despite the fact
that these “group identities may be indeterminate and/or multiple, with people
belonging to more than one group and to any single group as a matter of degree”
(ibid.: 342), these genetic groupings continue to be presented as “static, absolute,
and discrete” biological facts (ibid.: 340). In doing so, biological scientists impose
new and old taxonomic units to delineate biological racial categories and use
genetic data to support their validity. These scholars demonstrate that current
biological divisions among racial and ethnic populations are not stable objective
facts but shifting historical and cultural constructs that have the potential to be
recongured through a new coalition of human and non-human actors.
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The methodological contribution of the partial perspectives framework is that it
proposes a feminist gender and race analysis that begins by unpacking gendered,
sexed, raced and ethnicized bodies. It requires researchers to work backwards
to locate the numerous human and non-human actors that participated in the
construction of these bodies and all the while paying attention to and accounting
for power relations between these actors. In other words, it requires researchers
to conceive of ‘gender’ or ‘race’ [not] as attributes or as properties” but rather
to ask how “‘gender,’ ‘race,’ or any structured inequality in each interlocking
specic instance gets built into the world” (Haraway 1994: 67). This gender and
race analysis proposed by the partial perspectives framework is distinctly dif-
ferent from the strong objectivity approaches, which analyzes sites and contexts
of the production and reproduction of gender and racial inequality in the eld of
science. The partial perspectives framework seeks to alter the research priorities
even before researchers consider the concepts, theories, and methods they will
use to design their research. It asks researchers to critically examine their own
communities of practice, specically the multiple actors involved in construct-
ing congurations of sex, gender, race, and/or ethnic differences in particular
disciplines, thereby destabilizing assumed biological facts and opening new pos-
sibilities for research.
Gendered Innovations Framework
The nal framework, which we call the ‘gendered innovations’ framework, as
rst coined by feminist science historian Londa Schiebinger, explores scientic
innovations produced by using feminist concepts in scientic practice.2 Schiebin-
ger argues that when feminist concepts such as gender and sex are applied “rig-
orously and creatively they have the potential to enhance human knowledge and
technical systems by opening them to new perspectives, new questions, and new
missions” (Schiebinger 2008: 4). Feminist scholars that fall under the gendered
innovations framework introduce scientists to practical methods that allow
scientists to use the concepts of sex, gender, race and/or ethnicity in new and
innovative ways. In doing so, the gendered innovations aims to support feminist
scientists practicing in the elds of biomedicine and public health and open up
opportunities for exchange and collaborations across the disciplines.
Specically, the gendered innovations framework draws on recent feminist
science scholarship that demonstrates how more attention to sex and gender
analysis in biomedical and public health research could lead to less biased
research outcomes (Heidari et al. 2012; Raz/Miller 2012; Rogers 2010). Many
of these scholars have further develop the methods of sex and gender analyses,
beyond simply identifying sex and/or gender bias, through the proposal of vari-
ous models, guidelines, and frameworks for integrating sex and gender analy-
sis in biomedical and public health research (Beery/ Zucker, 2011; Bird/Rieker,
1999; Heidari et al., 2012; Johnson et al. 2009; Kaiser 2012; Krieger 2003;
Nieuwenhoven/Klinge 2010; Springer et al. 2012). These scholars attempt to
delineate what it means to operationalize feminist conceptions of sex and gender
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Mining for Methods 25
so that they can be practically applied to produce better and more objective bio-
medical and public health research. For instance, Springer et al. (2012) present
good practice guidelines for every stage of the research cycle. Specically, they
point out that researchers need to isolate and measure sex-specic biological
mechanisms rather than use sex as a proxy for biological markers. Researchers
also need to account for cofounding variables related to socially organized forms
of gender inequality to ensure sex specic outcomes are not spurious. Essen-
tially these scholars seek to operationalize the concepts of sex and gender into
methodological tools so researchers can more accurately identify biological and
multi-level social processes that contribute to differences in health and disease
outcomes between women and men.
To ensure direct reference to both sex and gender inuences, some research-
ers have proposed using the concept “sex/gender” or “s/g” in the title and
interpretation of ndings to ensure that scientists consider both social and
biological aspects in their research designs and data analysis (Christianson et
al. 2012; Geller 2008; Jordan-Young/Rumiati, 2012). In addition to ensuring
that researchers acknowledge sex and gender factors, the introduction of these
concepts seeks to complicate understandings of sex and gender as separable
entities. Sex and gender are understood to act on each other and scientists are
encouraged to capture how the biological body reects innate as well as external
social experiences.
The gendered innovations framework also includes scholarship that critiques
this literature for silence around the concepts of race and ethnicity (Bowleg
2012; Connell 2012). Although race is no longer considered to be biologically
real, as Krieger (2012) explains “the scientic study of how discrimination
harms health” is still required and needs to be grounded in theory. Ford and
Airhihenbuwa (2010) and Gravlee (2009) take on the challenge of translating
important theoretical contributions, particularly from critical race theory, into
practical methods that can easily be integrated into research designs. Similar to
the sex/gender scholars, these scholars locate the body in context and draw off
the work of “developmental biology [that] have brought attention to the profound
importance of hierarchically embedded, multi-level, and historically contingent
biologic process” (Krieger/Davey Smith 2004: 94). Ford and Airhihenbuwa (2010:
1391) provide a four-step process which scientists can “either [use] alone as a
broad framework or in conjunction with other theories and method”. It draws
on the theoretical contributions of the previously discussed frameworks but
breaks down the process into simple steps that guide researchers through con-
ceptualizing and measuring historically specic racial relations and critically
examining previous research that might inform the research question, research
design and data interpretation. Gravlee’s (2009) ‘race becomes biology’ method
proposes using a more accurate measurement strategy that requires researchers
to rst assess the culturally, historically, and socially specic understandings
of racial relations using systematic ethnographic methods and then use the
culturally context specic models of racism derived from the ethnographic study
to measure biological impacts. In doing so, Gravlee provides researchers with
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a more accurate method of measuring the biological and health consequences
of racism.
In addition, some feminist science scholars have critiqued these approaches
for directing attention to particular forms of inequality while ignoring others
and subsequently propose an intersectional method that requires researchers
to consider the health impact of various forms of inequality. Intersectionality
requires researchers to acknowledge multiple intersecting forms of inequality
and to locate them in space and time. It proposes using qualitative research
along with a multivariate quantitative analysis to account for historically and
geographically specic intersecting forms of social inequality and within group
differences in health outcomes (Hankivsky 2012; Kelly 2009; Shields 2008).
What distinguishes scholarship that falls under the gendered innovations
framework from the work of previous frameworks is that it seeks to translate
often abstract and theoretical contributions of feminist science scholarship into
plain language and practical tools that can be readily employed by scientists. In
essence, scholars that adopt this framework attempt to illustrate how concepts
such as sex, gender, race and/or ethnicity can be easily integrated into every step
of the scientic research process. In doing so, these scholars synthesize various
methodological contributions and shortcomings of scientic research that uses
the concepts of sex, gender, race and/or ethnicity and thereby promote collabora-
tion to improve these forms of analyses across multiple disciplines. This creates a
shared language that allows these concepts to travel across multiple disciplines
as they are re-conceptualized, facilitating new approaches to understanding not
only the biological but the social world (Hird 2009). In addition, synthesizing
this research not only provides a shared intellectual space for collaboration, but
provides clear examples of how improving methods of sex, gender, race and/or
ethnicity analysis could advance scientic knowledge.
Further developing innovative methods of sex, gender, race and/or ethnicity
analyses will depend on the skills and creativity of the research team concerned
and will require multidisciplinary collaborations. It has been argued that to
“develop truly innovative methodologies” there needs to be changes across both
the social science and applied science disciplines (Åsberg/Birke 2010: 414). Faus-
to-Sterling has called for a two-way exchange where “women’s studies scholars
teach about science or require their students to learn about it” and that “sci-
ence faculty teaches science where it rightfully belongs – in its social context”
(Fausto-Sterling 1992: 339). Schiebinger and Klinge (2013) call for a number
of institutional changes to facilitate the production of gendered innovations
scholarship that includes three denitive actions. Namely, training practicing
researchers and evaluators in gender methodology; ensure that those evaluat-
ing publications, grant proposals and job applications are familiar with sex and
gender analysis; and provide a curriculum and materials to learn about sex and
gender analysis. These recommendations would introduce institutional supports
that will facilitate the advancement of cross-disciplinary collaborations and have
the potential to produce new radical reformulations of the biological and social
world. Recent announcements made by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
in the U.S. indicate a promising move in this direction (Clayton/Collins 2014).
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The future of feminist science
Our critical review of feminist science literature, specically in the elds of
biomedicine and public health research, introduces three key theoretical and
methodological feminist approaches that improve scientic practice and uses
examples to illustrate the application of each framework in the practice of sci-
ence. First, the strong objectivity framework argues that part of the scientic
process must require researchers to think reexively about the cultural context
and socially constructed values about gender and race that have informed their
own research designs or research that they rely on to formulate their research
questions. The feminist empirical and feminist standpoint approaches provide
researchers and evaluators methodological and conceptual tools to do this work.
The second approach the partial perspectives framework maintains that
the biological world is not simply presented to researchers but rather is his-
torically produced through a network of human and non-human actors. And so,
the partial perspective requires scientic researchers to deconstruct biological
sexed, raced, gendered and ethnic bodies and objects prior to the conception
of the research project and by doing so opens new avenues for research in the
biomedical and health sciences. Finally, the ‘gendered innovations’ framework
makes the case that researchers in the social and biological sciences need to work
more collaboratively to produce more innovative knowledge and more complex
understandings. By developing practical methods through cross-disciplinary
collaborations, this framework provides a multitude of new scientic research
designs that open new avenues for novel research outcomes.
Policies that require the integration of concepts of gender, sex, race, and/or
ethnicity into biomedicine and public health research, present an opportunity for
new research designs and pathways that could lead to better science. The con-
cepts of gender, sex, race, and/or ethnicity if simply added to research designs as
variables have the potential to produce sexist and racist science. These concepts
are related to rich theoretical frameworks that require researchers to re-concep-
tualize their research designs and practices. By delineating these frameworks,
we hope to give greater coherence to the valuable insights of feminist science
scholars and provide policy-makers with the methodological tools to critically
assess the science that is used to inform and shape scientic and public health
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1 Feminist science “scholarship” was lim-
ited to feminist scientists and feminist
science studies scholars in the fields of
biomedicine and public health. These
scholars explicitly indicate that they
use feminist approaches to science or
use feminist conceptions of gender, sex,
race and/or ethnicity in their work.
2 Schiebinger developed the gendered
innovations website (Schiebinger et al.
2011). The gendered innovations website
is a project that first began in 2009 at
Stanford University under the direction
of Schiebinger and by 2011 transformed
into an international project co-funded
by the European Commission, Director-
ate-General for Research and Innova-
tion. In 2012 the U.S. National Science
Foundation also provided a supplemen-
tary grant. Over the course of 2011 and
2012, the gendered innovations project
brought together Canadian, European
and US scholars from various disci-
plinary backgrounds, including health
sciences, social sciences, engineering,
nutrigenomics, and technology studies,
together with gender experts, to articu-
late methods of sex and gender analyses
and develop case studies that provide
concrete examples of how these meth-
ods can produce innovative scientific
research (Schiebinger/ Klinge 2013).
Korrespondenzadressen/correspondence addresses
Sarah Singh
Department of Health, Ethics and Society, Maastricht University or
Ineke Klinge
Institute of Gender in Medicine (GiM)/Charité, Universitätsmedizin
Berlin Chair H2020 Advisory Group on Gender
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... The incorporation of sex and gender considerations into health research and policy is not a monolithic enterprise. Although there are certain shared goals and concepts, there are distinctive and evolving modes of engagement within the broader field [13]. We believe it is useful to continue to articulate these explicitly. ...
... Ignoring one aspect in either case, is to ignore reality, real world experiences and inequities. Crossand trans-disciplinarity is vital to progressing sex and gender science [13]. ...
Full-text available
Including sex and gender considerations in health research is considered essential by many funders and is very useful for policy makers, program developers, clinicians, consumers and other end users. While longstanding confusions and conflations of terminology in the sex and gender field are well documented, newer conceptual confusions and conflations continue to emerge. Contemporary social demands for improved health and equity, as well as increased interest in precision healthcare and medicine, have made obvious the need for sex and gender science, sex and gender-based analyses (SGBA+), considerations of intersectionality, and equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives (EDI) to broaden representation among participants and diversify research agendas. But without a shared and precise understanding of these conceptual areas, fields of study, and approaches and their inter-relationships, more conflation and confusion can occur. This article sets out these areas and argues for more precise operationalization of sex- and gender-related factors in health research and policy initiatives in order to advance these varied agendas in mutually supportive ways.
... Our approach can be located in the context of the 'Gendered Innovations Framework' [46]. In accordance with this framework, our aim was to illustrate how concepts such as sex and gender can be integrated into the different stages of the research process [46]. ...
... Our approach can be located in the context of the 'Gendered Innovations Framework' [46]. In accordance with this framework, our aim was to illustrate how concepts such as sex and gender can be integrated into the different stages of the research process [46]. The 'Gendered Innovations' website [87] offers information for sex/gender sensitive methodological principles in biomedical and public health research and has recently been adopted by the EU Horizon 2020 funding scheme [88]. ...
Full-text available
Background During the last decades, sex and gender biases have been identified in various areas of biomedical and public health research, leading to compromised validity of research findings. As a response, methodological requirements were developed but these are rarely translated into research practice. The aim of this study is to provide good practice examples of sex/gender sensitive health research. Methods We conducted a systematic search of research articles published in JECH between 2006 and 2014. An instrument was constructed to evaluate sex/gender sensitivity in four stages of the research process (background, study design, statistical analysis, discussion). ResultsIn total, 37 articles covering diverse topics were included. Thereof, 22 were evaluated as good practice example in at least one stage; two articles achieved highest ratings across all stages. Good examples of the background referred to available knowledge on sex/gender differences and sex/gender informed theoretical frameworks. Related to the study design, good examples calculated sample sizes to be able to detect sex/gender differences, selected sex/gender sensitive outcome/exposure indicators, or chose different cut-off values for male and female participants. Good examples of statistical analyses used interaction terms with sex/gender or different shapes of the estimated relationship for men and women. Examples of good discussions interpreted their findings related to social and biological explanatory models or questioned the statistical methods used to detect sex/gender differences. Conclusions The identified good practice examples may inspire researchers to critically reflect on the relevance of sex/gender issues of their studies and help them to translate methodological recommendations of sex/gender sensitivity into research practice.
Recent international top-down initiatives invoke the integration of sex and gender into the governance of all fields of science and technology, from funding to research and development to publication policies, and to the assessment of the impact of scientific knowledge and technical products in society. But how can these initiatives be assessed relative to the call for a new governance of science and technology by inter-disciplinary research? The Gendered Innovations project is a main resource for these governmental actions. This article elaborates on contents and concepts of ‘gendered innovations’ in relation to the findings and scope of knowledge available from feminist science and technology studies. It contrasts the separation of sex and gender in this project with current changes in dialogue between feminist science and technology studies, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields that can guide transdisciplinary exchange and the acknowledgement of research for sex/gender interactions and intersectional categories. Finally, the strategic invocation of innovation is questioned and the article offers approaches to include feminist epistemologies and postcolonial perspectives in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.