But is that rigorous? The politics of feminist methodology, situated knowledge, and evidence-based development

Authors: Carly Nichols*, University of Iowa
Topics: Development, Gender, Asia
Keywords: critical development, India, gender, feminist methods, empowerment
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 43
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Across the global health landscape, the language of ‘evidence-based’ practice has come to a hegemonic status. Funding agencies often require organizations addressing health or nutrition to 'rigorously' demonstrate their impact using methods such as randomized controlled trials (RCTs). While reliance on RCTs and experimental methods in global health has been broadly critiqued, these forms of evaluation remain core international funders modus operandi. Drawing on multi-year feminist, ethnographic research in India looking at an NGO-implemented agriculture-nutrition project with women's groups this paper considers the issue of epistemological translations in a development industry fixated on p-values. After first reflecting on the ontological presuppositions and social justice implications of the concept of “impact,” I highlight how feminist and ethnographic methods reveal temporal nuances that experimental quantitative methods fail to detect. Using methods attuned to sensorial and embodied knowledges can highlight how bodily fatigue/weakness and strength/wellbeing are both temporary states and inter-subjectively produced. Understanding the multiple ways that bodily health and dis-ease is experienced through these methods may not just contextualize, but also contest the knowledges from experimental evaluations. I conclude by reflecting on the points of disjuncture and convergence in bringing situated, embodied knowledges into conversation with a program managers and policy influencers who invariably want to know ‘how to fix it’. I find even the most strident “evidence ideologues” acknowledge the complex temporalities of health and wellbeing, and that more work can meld feminist and anticolonial methods into evaluation protocols to develop fuller analytics of health amongst historically marginalized communities.

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