With the kind support of the PSA Irish Politics and Women and Politics Specialist groups, on the 7th of November the University of Ulster hosted a conversation between three leading academics on the pitfalls and possibilities of researching gender issues in ethno-nationally divided societies.
Organised by Jennifer Thomson (Queen Mary, University of London) and Claire Pierson (University of Ulster), the event brought together two academics with broad experience in researching gender in ethno-national environments – Dr Fidelma Ashe (University of Ulster), whose research expertise centres around feminist theory and gender in Northern Ireland, and Gorana Mlinarevic (Goldsmiths, University of London), whose work focuses on women’s experiences in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia. A small audience of PhD students, academics and practitioners also brought much expertise and insight.
The aims in bringing this conversation about were two-fold. One, to think through some of the issues surrounding work on gender and methodology (does gender research require a specific type of methodology? What are the differences between doing gendered research and ‘mainstream’ research? What are the specific difficulties when conducting research into gender/women/marginalised gendered communities?) And two, to situate this thinking about gender and methodology in work on divided ethno-national contexts: how are these difficulties exacerbated or overcome in contexts where gendered identity is subordinate to national identities?
The conversation shone light on both the difficulties and insights that gendered work in ethno-national contexts can bring. The feminist belief that the ‘personal is political’ still rings true in feminist academic work, with personal experiences being cited as motivation for academic research. As a result of this, both participants and the wider audience stressed the obligations they felt in ensuring that their research was not part of a ‘smash and grab’ on the community in question, but rather that enduring, permanent links were established with the groups being studied. Furthermore, the importance of challenging dominant ethno-national narratives appears central for work on gender in these contexts. Gendered research in ethno-national situations provides a new way of looking at accepted dominant narratives of conflict, and provides ways of thinking more fully about what justice and peace might look like.