A guide to feminist media research: Part one, introductory papers

The exact origins of media and communications research are often debated as uncertain, and have been described as “never fully charted“. Though generally, we can say that from the 1940s onward media studies developed significantly as a recognised field of research that has distinct linkages to numerous subjects within social science and the humanities (for example, history, psychology, political science, and economics).

Feminist media research can trace its origins to the 1970s and the emergence of feminism as a global movement. Today, feminist media scholars investigate media texts, images, representations, organisations, structures and policies in order to illuminate and affect a change in the realities of our social world. Feminist media research can be, and has been at significant points in history, a form of media activism that motivates social and political movements.

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Feminist theories of discursive power motivate some international feminist movements, such as the Slut Walk. Photo credit: Studio5Graphics

Beginning this type of research means reading the essential literature and previous research, understanding the core concepts, theories and methods, and knowing how to turn this knowledge into actionable results with a social impact. This article starts from the beginning, and presents three essential introductory papers for feminist media researchers. Further readings are also listed.

#1.

Stasis and shifts in feminist media scholarship

By Carolyn M. Byerly

As a recent analysis of feminist media research, Carolyn Byerly’s paper provides a clear outline of where feminist media research began and where it is at the moment. Published in 2016, it is one of the most current papers on the development of feminist media scholarship. Importantly, as well as discussing its history the paper also critically examines the pitfalls of modern day feminist media research and suggests directions for future research.

“At the same time, we must recognize that feminist media research could be asking harder questions, questions that interrogate why so many problematic messages continue to exist to distort and misrepresent us, who is creating these messages and images, and what is being done to change the situation?”

Read the full text here: Stasis and shifts in feminist media scholarship.

#2.

Prejudice: The Role of the Media in the Development of Social Bias

By Kim Bissell and Scott Parrott

The informative relationship between media and people in society is a foundational aspect of media and communications research and is of particular importance if you are undertaking a quantitative piece of research, such as a content analysis of music videos or music magazines. A nuanced understanding of how media representations can – among a myriad of other factors – influence biases and prejudices against social groups is hugely relevant to feminist media research.

Read the full text here: Prejudice: The role of the media in the development of social bias.

#3.

Ethics, Reflexivity, and “Ethically Important Moments” in Research

By Marilys Guillemin & Lynn Gillam

All research projects should have a firm grounding in research ethics. Before you begin the research design or begin selecting the methodology, you need to ensure that the direction of your project is informed by ethically sound judgement. This paper examines the tensions and dilemmas that reside in different kinds of research ethics, the relationship between the researcher and research ethics committees, and also looks at the concept of ‘reflexivity’. While as an introductory piece of literature it is lengthy, it is also thorough and a good reference to include in your project. For those with little time on their hands, the section ‘Continuity Between Procedural Ethics and “Ethics in Practice” on page 10 is also a good starting point.

Read the full text here: Ethics, reflexivity, and “ethically important moments” in research.

Further reading:

Remembering feminists…

Kate Millett was a feminist, writer and activist. Kate authored the seminal work ‘Sexual Politics’ in 1970. She passed away in 2017.

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