The Linkages Between Scholarship and Advocacy: From a feminist analysis of research on the Karachi conflict (W-80)

The Linkages Between Scholarship and Advocacy: From a feminist analysis of research on the Karachi conflict (W-80)

Publication details

  • Friday | 01 Nov, 2002
  • Ayesha Khan
  • Working Papers
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Ayesha Khan 2002 Abstract The feminist movement in Pakistan has a strong core of political and social activism. Feminist research, in turn, must confront the tension between advocacy and scholarship goals during the research process. This discussion explores this tension and related issues raised during a feminist research project based on the study of women affected by violent political conflict in Karachi. The research methodology was designed as specifically feminist: to keep women at the centre of the entire process by giving primacy to the voices of the women interviewed and including the perspectives of the researchers themselves in the process of analyzing the data. Fieldwork presented unanticipated challenges unique to working in an unresolved conflict situation. Managing the physical and psychological insecurity of the respondents, building trust in the interview process, working across class and linguistic boundaries, and realizing the depth of injustice experienced by the respondents, all contributed to an enhanced sense of participation by all researchers involved. The result was a set of interviews that were both life histories of women but also testimonies to crimes committed and the absence of justice, thus creating a sense of historical and political urgency to the research work. The findings from this critique of the research methodology presents a challenge to the feminist researcher. The author argues that the way in which we choose to present our scholarly work, and to incorporate – or dismiss -- the calls for advocacy that it has produced, are not just personal choices that we make as researchers. They will also determine the course of feminist research endeavors in the future. The study of conflict, in particular, demands a deeper understanding of what we as feminists mean by peace and security in the course of our effort to create a new and relevant discourse on peace and security in South Asia. Feminist research is an evolving field in the context of Pakistan. While a great deal of work on women’s issues and women’s development has been done, particularly in the social sectors, this research does not necessarily call itself feminist.  Research that is self-consciously feminist sometimes embraces and occasionally rejects other work on women that does not explicitly explore patriarchal structures.  Yet when it comes to advocacy on women’s issues that may arise parallel to or based on this research, the women’s movement stands more united and less questioning of the self-consciously feminist credentials of participants. While the women’s movement has sometimes glossed over ideological differences among its participants, in the small but emerging areas of feminist research another aspect of the problem needs to be addressed. Researchers of many disciplines express concern and even anxiety about the utility of their work to effect social, political or economic change for the better in their societies, but for some the matter is fairly easily resolved. For example, in the development sector in Pakistan non-government organizations fund research with a specific view to influencing the policy-making process and the programmes or projects which result.  But among feminists in Pakistan, for whom feminism involves critiquing patriarchy and its manifestations in our context, the question of how their work may contribute to redressing the oppression of women is a haunting and important one. In Pakistan the modern women’s movement was initiated through activism and protest against discriminatory legislation in the 1980s, and led in large part by women who called themselves feminists. Until today, feminists remain activists and rally women around a wide range of women’s, human rights, and governance issues. Women who have joined in awareness-raising and protests do not all call themselves feminists. But for feminists, particularly those who formed the Women’s Action Forum, activism remains a large part of their lives even as they continue to conduct research and struggle with questions of theory and methodology. This paper will focus on one feminist research project, the study of violent political conflict and its effect on women in the city of Karachi. It is an example of how the tension between feminist scholarship and advocacy emerged in the research process. The study’s methodology and findings are a useful vehicle for discussion among feminist scholars in the region, who may learn from the ambitions, disappointments and rewards of this project. I will assert here that one of the most valuable findings of this study was its insight into the tension between the roles of scholar and advocate that were brought into light through the project’s methodology. This paper will first describe the study, its methodology and purpose. It will then situate this in the context of the Karachi conflict, as a way to highlight why and how obstacles appeared in implementing this methodology. The discussion will then turn to the demands of advocacy, and how they emerged as the study progressed. Finally, I will link our attempts to incorporate these demands into the study with the original feminist goals of the research.