Problematising race and gender in everyday research processes : a model of feminist research praxis

Gouws, Amanda (2020)

CITATION: Gouws, A. 2020. Problematising race and gender in everyday research processes : a model of feminist research praxis, in Jansen, J. & Walters, C. (eds). 2020. Fault lines : a primer on race, science and society. Stellenbosch: SUN PReSS, doi:10.18820/9781928480495/11.

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When researchers do research with human subjects, there is the hope that their findings will be taken up by, for example, government, to formulate policies; the public, for a better understanding of social, political or economic processes; or pharmaceutical companies, for new treatments. The hope is that, in the long run, everyone would benefit from the findings. But seldom is there a reflection on exactly what it means to the individuals and communities that were used as research subject-participants. More often than not, the thinking is that as long as the subjectparticipants were treated in an ethical way, they had played their role. Rarely is there any report back of the findings to the subject-participants. When our the subject-participants become aware of the findings of our research and what it means for them, we as the researchers become aware of the impact of our research. This is not the type of impact for the collective good, but the type of impact that positions the subject-participants in a certain way, especially when the findings are used to generalise about entire communities. In a country that has only recently emerged from a deeply racialised past, in which racial categories were imposed on its citizens and where “scientific research” was used to justify the racial categorisation of apartheid and exclusions based on race, researchers need to exercise caution when drawing inferences based on racial categories. In South Africa, race is often a useful explanatory variable to understand exclusions and marginalisation, but context is everything. When race as a variable is used in an essentialist way (i.e. one that assumes certain unchanging characteristics of groups and ignores how identities are socially constructed) to argue that it is the cause of perceptions and behaviour, the findings “freeze” people in their racial identities, and cause researchers to lose sight of how the treatment of racial groups through processes of colonialisation, oppression and marginalisation have positioned them to have certain attitudes or exhibit certain behaviours. When the controversy around the Sport Science article started on social media, it was to have serious repercussion for the researchers, the research community at Stellenbosch University, the women and communities from which the subjectparticipants were drawn and South Africa as a whole. At the centre of the controversy sits race and gender. In a sense, social media is a great information equaliser that can expose those who use it to research that they would not otherwise know about. It was the wrath of women from communities like the one from which the subject-participants were selected that made many a complacent researcher sit up and take note.

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