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  • 00:13

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA: Good morning, everyone.My name is Anindita Bhattacharya.[Anindita Bhattacharya, Assistant Professor,School of Social Work and Criminal Justice,University of Washington Tacoma] And Iam an assistant professor at the School of Social Workand Criminal Justice at the University of WashingtonTacoma.Today, I will be giving a brief overview on my researchso far that has examined experiences

  • 00:34

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: of women who are living with serious mental illnessand also confronting interpersonal violence in Indiaand more recently, in the United States.In this tutorial, we will go oversome of the guiding principles of feminist research, whatit means to do feminist research in practice.But before that, just a quick introduction who I am.

  • 00:58

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: So before I entered social work academia,before I entered the doctoral program, I was a social worker.So as a social work practitioner,I have worked extensively with womenwho are living with serious mental illnessin psychiatric institutions in India.And through the course of my work,

  • 01:19

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: I developed a very nuanced understandingof how gender and other identitiesreally impact their stories and their life experiences.I have worked with women who are at the intersectionof several vulnerabilities, be it low socioeconomic status,

  • 01:39

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: experiencing gender-based violence, mental illness,institutionalization, abandonmentby families and communities.But the unfortunate reality is thatdespite these adverse social realities,women's experiences have not beenwell-documented in research.To a great extent, they are missing

  • 02:01

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: or they are misrepresented.So my research vision is really to put women's voicesat the forefront of my study, at the forefront of my researchproject with the overarching vision of developing careand developing interventions thatare gender sensitive, gender inclusive, and more

  • 02:24

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: importantly, culturally and contextually adapted.And this is really critical because a lot of my workis in the Indian context by culture,and context plays a huge role in shaping narrativesof women living with SMI.Like I said, in this tutorial, I don'twant to pay special attention to what it really

  • 02:45

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: means to do feminist research methods.As many scholars will say that there is no one feministresearch method, but it's really undertaking researchthat are grounded in feminist principles.So the two objectives into this tutorial is, number one,to discuss the significance and the importance of adopting

  • 03:06

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: qualitative studies embedded in feminist principleswhen you're working with marginalized communities.So why is it so important?And second, I will reflect on what these feminist principleshave meant in my own practice and how I have applied itin my own research with communities,particularly in India so far.

  • 03:28

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: [What are the elements of feminist research principles?]Feminist scholars and researcherssay that feminist research is moreof a perspective than a method.So you can be doing a qualitative research.You can be doing quantitative mixed methods.But some of the guiding feminist principles

  • 03:51

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: that I use in my own study is, number one,the focus on gender, as a centerpieceof inquiry in my work.The second principle is valuing and prioritizingwomen's lived experiences as forms of knowledge.They are forms of knowledge that can help us and form evidence.

  • 04:13

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: The most important element in my opinionis the consistent use of reflexivity in my methods.And then paying attention to the relationshipsthat I build with my participantsover the course of the study.And the last principle is really looking at researchnot just for knowledge production,

  • 04:34

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: but research that aims at social changeand social transformation in its overarching objective.And I can go over each of these principles and detailsand what that has looked like in my own work with womenin India.[How have you explored gender inequality as a focus

  • 04:55

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: of inquiry?]The focus on gender inequality is really in my own researchto look at women's experiences that have so far beensubjugated and marginalized.As feminist scholars call it, to uncoverthe subjugated knowledge that has not made it to documents.In my research, I look at gender as a main category of analysis.

  • 05:19

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: And I also look at other intersecting identities.Intersectionality is really, really criticalbecause it is not just gender in my own work,but it's also other identities, such as class, caste,disability, that shape of women's experiences.And then what that means is that Iuse the narratives and the stories

  • 05:41

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: that women tell me as the starting point of my knowledgebuilding and my knowledge production.So women's voices and women's perspectives,I really put at the forefront of my study.So connecting this, what it meansto focus on gender and gender inequality

  • 06:01

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: is really valuing women's lived experiencesas forms of knowledge for a long time.And I think to date, there is a lotof discourse around the politics of evidence,what counts as data, what counts as credible data.And in feminist research, we say that the stories that womenshare, they highlight not just the unique realities

  • 06:24

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: of women who are living with serious mental illness,but it also tells us something about the social, political,cultural, and historical context in which those stories areembedded.So the way that I do it in my own researchis that I ask women to tell me their life history narratives.And at the same time, I also pay attentionto how those stories are really shaped

  • 06:47

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: by the context in which they are living in.In addition to the stories that women share,I'm not just interested in the descriptive nature of women'sexperiences, but also the meaning that they make outof these experiences.So what in qualitative research we oftenterm as social constructivism.So for me, it's important just to not

  • 07:09

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: understand how the descriptions of women'sexperiences with intimate partner violence, for instance,but I also really want to understandhow women interpret that violence, howthey perceive that violence.Because I think if we don't understandcommunity's perceptions of a social PHENOMENA

  • 07:30

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: you will not really be able to build interventions that aregrounded in their realities.[What is the role of reflexivity in your research?]Reflexivity, I think, is the most critical elementof feminist research.And reflexivity has been spoken about in qualitative research

  • 07:52

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: in general.But it really has its roots in feminist research.The reason why I do what I do is no coincidence.I study gender and mental health in Indiabecause of my own experiences.First of being born and raised in a very patriarchal culture.And second being a caregiver to one of my family members

  • 08:13

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: living with mental health and howI saw how gender really played a big role in how mentalillness was experienced in the family.So reflexivity is paying attention to my own biography,and how that shapes the way I see my studies,and the way I see my projects, and the wayI carry out my projects.And at the same time, reflexivity is so much

  • 08:36

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: more than self-awareness.It's also this constant acknowledgmentof how I am being perceived in the community whereI'm doing the study.So for instance, I just conducted an in-depth studyof women's experiences of living in institutions.And one of the ways in which I practiced reflexivity

  • 08:58

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: was to constantly pay attention to,what are some of the shared experiences between meas a researcher and the women that I was interviewing?But also, what are some of the experiences that I cannotresonate with?Because in terms of gender we have a shared experience,but in terms of other identities,such as my socioeconomic status, my caste, my education,

  • 09:21

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: I have held immense privilege, so this constant movingback and forth between being an outsider and an insiderin the research process.And the two core elements of reflexivityin feminist research is really looking at the intersectionsof knowledge and power.So what this really means is that the data

  • 09:42

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: that I collect in my study is really an outcome.That data is not generated in a vacuum.The data that's produced and examinedis an outcome of the social conditionsand the relationships that I build with my participants.And that is why relationships is so central to feminist research

  • 10:05

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: because the more authentic, genuine, strong relationshipsthat I build with my women respondents,the more authentic my interviewers will be,and the closer I will be able to get to their life historynarratives.So like I said, one of the things that I think about very

  • 10:27

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: deeply in my research is, how does my researchserve to benefit the communities that I serve?And that to me is a very critical and importantquestion.And it's critical because my work so farhas been with women who I believe are really very, verymarginalized and vulnerable.I have worked with women who are living

  • 10:49

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: in psychiatric institutions for several years.They have been abandoned by their families.And I interview them as they are in the institution,really are waiting to get out into the community.So when I enter these institutions,and I tell them that I want to conduct interviews with them,and I want to understand their life history narratives, one

  • 11:11

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: of the questions that I often get asked from their side is,well, can you also help us getting out of these places?And that to me is a very, very painful questionthat I often get asked as a researcher.And I have to tell them that these interviews arefor the sole purpose of a research project.And I cannot promise that my interview is at the end will

  • 11:34

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: really help them to get out of the community.So this is a struggle.And I think this is a huge dilemmaof doing social work research with vulnerable communitiesthat--I read a very interesting articleat one point in my research careerthat said, doing no harm is not enough when you're workingwith vulnerable communities.

  • 11:54

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: So I really pay attention to process consent.And process consent is really that you can justmake informed consent at the start of this studyand then forget about it because you have documented itand your responsibility is over.For me, I check in with my women.If I do multiple interviews, I take consentat the beginning of every interview.

  • 12:17

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: [What are some of the ethical considerations for youresearch?]So for me, ethical considerations in my own workis so much more than seeking approvalfrom the Institutional review board at the university.Also, because my study is conducted in India and my study

  • 12:38

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: is reviewed by my university in the US.So when I actually carry out the study on the field,there is very, very limited supervision and oversightfrom the university or from the agency.So I have to hold myself accountable at every step.And what that means is that at no pointdo I prioritize data over my participants' safety.

  • 13:00

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: There have been several times whenI have conducted interviews with women,and they have shared the most intimate personal aspectsof their lives.And I have to constantly check in with themto see that if they are OK.Because sharing your life story is very liberating, as manyof my women respondents have said,

  • 13:22

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: but it's also emotionally taxing.So at what point do you pause the recorder, at what pointdo you stop the interview, are ethical decisionsthat I have to make.And I think as researchers, you haveto constantly stay accountable to thatto make sure that you are not violating your participants'

  • 13:42

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: rights at any point.[What is the process of conducting a feministinterview?]There is a lot that has been writtenabout the process of doing an interview especiallyin qualitative research.And in qualitative research, interviewing can be structured.

  • 14:03

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: You can follow like a list of very structured guidingquestions.In my experience, in my work so far,I tend to do more unstructured interviews.So when I meet with a woman respondent,I usually start off with, can youtell me what brought you to the institution?And that is usually the first question

  • 14:25

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: that just gets them going.And so they have the authority to decideat which point in their lives that theywant to start their stories.For some of them start sharing their storyfrom their childhood.Some of them start the starting point of their storyfrom their marriage.Some of them start telling me from when they werebrought into the institution.So really giving them agency to narrate

  • 14:48

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: the beginning, the middle, and the end of their storiesin any way that they see fit.One of the things that I have to actively work onis my listening skills.A lot of in-depth interviewing, especiallyin qualitative research, like feminist scholars would say,it's just not listening to what is saidbut also listening to what is not said.

  • 15:12

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: So one of the strengths of doing the work in the Indian contextfor me is that I'm familiar with the culture and the language.So the language that the women and the community speakis also my mother tongue.So I understand the nuances of language.I understand the pauses and what that means.So really taking the cues, paying attention

  • 15:32

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: to someone's body language.Especially now when I'm doing a similar study again,where I will be interviewing women's experienceswith domestic violence in the times of COVID,we are thinking of doing it on Zoom.But a part of me is really hesitantto do that because it doesn't helpin building the connections that I

  • 15:52

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: can build when I'm sitting in the same room with them.So like I said, listening is reallycentral to feminist interviewing and constantly to pay attentionto the relationship that I have built with my respondents.Because one of the things that I have observedis that the more authentic the relationship is,

  • 16:13

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: the more trust and rapport that I'm able to build,the more data I am able to generate.And there have been times when interviews have not gone well.And I take a lot of detailed notes on the kinds of questionsthat I'm asking, what are the kinds of follow-up questionsI'm asking, what are the kinds of probes,

  • 16:35

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: and how are those questions really shaped by my own biases.So what I do is at the end of every interview, I go back,I listen to my refinding, I pay attentionto what my role was in that conversationand try to make changes as we move along.[What should researchers keep in mind when conducing researchthat aims at social change?]

  • 16:58

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: So one of the things that really brought mein into social work and one of the reasonswhy I'm so committed to doing social work researchand feminist research in particularis because we really practice this principle of the personalis political.We've often heard of it.So my research aims at social transformation.

  • 17:20

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: I really believe that research shouldmove beyond publications.It should move beyond just collecting data.So feminist research, when we say,aims at social change and social transformation,it basically means that our role as researchersis to not just understand, but also to move a step further

  • 17:41

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: and to change social conditions.So for instance, as a researcher,I try to understand how women experience domestic violence.But a big part of my research is alsoto look at how can I design programs and interventions thatcan address to reduce violence in families.What can I do to support women so

  • 18:03

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: that they don't continue to live in these abusive relationships?And what can I do to support their mental health?And that is one of the advantages of also beinga researcher within social work because we are constantlylooking at, what does the value of our researchin our communities?And how are we translating whateverwe are finding in our research projects

  • 18:25

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: to really improve lives and social conditionsof the communities that we are doing research with?So one of the sections that we alwaysinclude in any manuscript or in any presentations is, what arethe implications of our work?And what do we do with all these storiesthat we have collected to inform change?

  • 18:46

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: So in conclusion, I would just, again,like to reiterate that there is no one feminist researchmethod, but some of the principles that I went overin the tutorial today really looks at,how do we apply these principles in your research project?One of the misunderstandings of feminist research

  • 19:06

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: is often that, well, feminist researchis only for women by women.And I think that's not true at all.I can today, if I want, I can do feminist research,but for instance, male perpetrators of violenceare men who experience intimate partner violencein their relationships.And I can still use all these principles that I laid out.

  • 19:28

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: So like I said, feminist researchis more about examining, understanding,and ultimately challenging oppressive social conditions.Oppressive social conditions has so much more than justgender-based discrimination.There is gender.There is race.There is class, caste.There are so many intersecting marginalized identities.

  • 19:51

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: So if any of you are interested in really undertaking researchguided by feminist principles, it'sreally to keep the overarching vision of social justicein mind.That the projects that you carry out,not just the ultimate outcome of the project but alsothe process of doing the project should be transformative,

  • 20:12

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: not just for you as the researcherbut also for the communities.At the end of this tutorial some of the questionsthat I want all of you to really reflect on and consideras you plan your own studies is that,how can you incorporate the feminist principlesthat I just spoke about in your own research project?

  • 20:32

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: Second, and to me, which is a very important questionis reflecting on the role of ethics in your research.And again, having a more expanded definitionof what ethics should look like.And how do you protect your study participants?And then, how can you incorporate reflexivityto enhance methodological rigor?

  • 20:54

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: Reflexivity is a very, very critical element.But one of the limitations that Ihave seen in reading research, in reviewing several studiesis that there is a lot of talk about being reflexive,but there is very limited discussionon how you use it in practice.So I really would encourage you to not just talk

  • 21:16

    ANINDITA BHATTACHARYA [continued]: about the idea of reflexivity but what that means in termsof your own methodology.What are the steps that you take to practice reflexivity?


Anindita Bhattacharya, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Tacoma, discusses guiding principles of feminist research, with an emphasis on vulnerable communities, including the role of reflexivity, ethical considerations, and conducting a feminist interview.

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Doing Feminist Research With Vulnerable Communities

Anindita Bhattacharya, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Tacoma, discusses guiding principles of feminist research, with an emphasis on vulnerable communities, including the role of reflexivity, ethical considerations, and conducting a feminist interview.

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