Feminism, Futures Studies and the Futures of Feminist Research (1998)

Ivana Milojević[1]

In 1995, we are part of thirty years of intensive feminist research. In these thirty years, research conducted from a feminist perspective has gone into many, sometimes even surprising, directions. Women’s studies now deal with women’s issues from many different viewpoints, feminist writers and researchers are coming from many different fields, traditions, and schools of thoughts. In these article, I examine the relationship between feminist and future research and also to contemplate how feminist research might possibly look in the future.


In one respect, almost every feminist research is inevitably futuristic. As feminism is a program for social change, feminists are concerned with offering alternative visions of the future.  Change is also incorporated into the feminist understanding of social reality. Seeing, for example, norms of the objectivity, customs, law, religion, science, and other areas as historically and socially constructed, gives greater opportunity for redefinition, for reconstruction, for questioning givens, for more radical transformation, for change. What is seen as man made could be woman remade. Therefore, feminist research does not only include extrapolation, forecasting, and analysis of current trends but alternative visions, as well, even if these are seen by many as unfeasible utopias.

However, feminists tend to concentrate more on preferred visions and scenarios because extrapolation does not give us much hope for the future. If the future is just “a bit more of the same”, then feminist goals would be achieved in hundreds if not thousands (and hundred thousands) of years.

Of course, as there are many types of futures activities, the feminist movement does not correspond to all of them. In terms of specializing for different topics, or using different approaches there is a ‘division of labor’ within futures field. Some believe that futures field should be filled with analysis of trends, particularly analysis of technological developments or predictions, and even one of the most potential futuristic areas, science fiction, is predominantly derived from technological forecasting. Some futurists still believe in the ‘neutral’ role of a scientist who merely stands aside and marks, describes and predicts our nearby or distant future. On the other hand, there are more and more futurists who believe in futurism which is critical, value driven, and empancipatory, creating preferable futures.[2]  It is as much an “academic field as it is a social movement”,[3]  more concerned with creating instead of predicting the future. One of the central techniques used in this type of a futures work is empowerment. This technique is also used by many feminists. Empowering is seen as something which “involves giving people the ability, the power, to participate in the creation of their own futures”.[4]  Within this distinction feminism clearly stands on the side of those who “study likely alternatives (the probable)” and are more concerned about making ‘choices to bring about a particular future (the preferable)’.[5] The main focus is in the area of social futures, with constant critical and epistemological questioning about assumptions, paradigms, goals, values and purposes. Feminists often reject different schemes, tables and other ‘impersonal’ tools, coming closer to ancient and even ‘new age’ futurism which prefers intuition or imagination as specific subjective and qualitative research methods.[6]

There is also a clear distinction among futurists (in both approaches) who are more in favor of pessimistic visioning, so called dystopias (or counter utopias) concerned with catastrophes and decline and those who are incurably optimistic. It is quite easy to locate feminism within these two traditions. As with most other social movements (especially so called ‘modern’ ones) feminism promises us a bright future if only we follow some of its main ideological principles. Feminism not only chooses utopias consciously, it also needs them for many futures are mostly redefined  ideological values and patterns, in accordance with short and long term political, personal (with and linking relationship between the two) and social goals. Without utopias, feminist ideology and activity would lose some of its strength; while without ideology and praxis, feminist utopias would remain pure ideals, inaccessible, out of history and social reality, more or less irrelevant.[7]

In relationship to ideology, utopias, and movements, there is an important question in front of feminists. How much is feminist research and feminist output connected to the real world? And are feminist some sort of women’s elite, who actually don’t represent anyone else but themselves?  We know that there is sometimes a huge discrepancy between most ‘ordinary’ women’s and feminist’s opinions and attitudes. Here a few important points have to be made.

First, since gender roles are one of the most strongly defined among all of our roles, viewed as natural and not susceptible for a change, it is not surprising that a perspective which challenges deeply rooted believes confronts so much resistance, both by men and women (who have internalized basic patriarchal values); Second, feminism defines itself in terms of having an open approach, and feminist researchers do try and listen to the women they are researching, such that in many cases the starting hypothesis is changed and redefined (as with participatory action research); Third, most women do agree with feminist goals and ideas, but resist defining themselves as feminist since from the beginning of the feminist movement, there has been so much condemnation and sneering at feminists.

However, feminist research has proven to be ‘successful’ in uncovering hidden structural phenomena, in inquiry that goes a step further from superficial reality. After the first shock, feminism has proven to be capable of real futuristic research, since with times more and more women have accepted feminist views partly because of the positive feedback that has come through realized futures, through societal changes. Issues like sexual harrassement have become common place finding their space even in such traditional (patriarchal) areas like women’s magazines and talk shows. Apart from its roles in changing consciousness some concrete measures have also occurred as a result of feminist inquiry. After discussing ways of achieving desirable visions, feminist offer propositions that can make a difference, that can be a stimulus for social change. Some of those propositions have became property of many social movements, parties, agendas, and even UN conventions. The results of research to a certain extent has changed previous attitudes and the ways reality was seen. It has therefore influenced policy makers as well, both on local and global level. By showing the subordinated position women are in, “positive discrimination”, changes in representation quotas has resulted, thus improving conditions in many areas. That is the reason that the knowledge and research are, within feminism, repeatedly seen as means for altering facts, for altering data, for altering conditions in human societies. Both production of theory and production of knowledge are seen as political activities, moreover they are also seen as power itself.

Feminist research is supposed to be politically ‘correct’, and it is supposed to help us achieve better society. Feminists want to understand and explain but moreover they want to emancipate and transform. That is the reason that it is often stressed that research must be designed in such a way to provide insights and visions and to establish a dialogue with the future.


This dialogue between feminism and futures is something which is still missing although feminism has a futuristic note and although future studies has became more gender conscious with years. Feminists would be able to benefit largely from using some specific futures methodological tools, mainly backcasting, where utopias, and current goals are be connected more tightly, where strategy results not from means-end planning but from envisioning a desired future, believing it has occurred and then working backward to “anticipate” how it occurred. Of course, not just backcasting but any futurist’s ways of exploring future possibilities, alternatives and choices, purposes, goals and intentions, their experience in planning and decision-making, use of metaphors, emerging issues and layered causal analysis, as well as constant critical and epistemological future studies questioning of assumptions, paradigms and purposes, can only be beneficial for the feminist research. What-if questions and scenarios could help us move from the present even more dramatically and thus create the real possibilities for new futures. Futurists involved in participatory and emancipatory futures activities are concerned with the preparation of people for changing the future, and even if the changes are through technological development they are largely considered in the context of cultural goals, generated from different spheres including grassroots activities. Many futurist as well as many feminists believe that the real change begins at the grassroots and that is the preferred change in contrast to directed one from the government and power positions.  This focus on grassroots activities is a crucial point of convergence between futurists and feminists.

Feminist should consider seriously getting involved in futures reasons for some pragmatic reasons as well. Our time is characterized by increased interest for future studies, whether because of the approaching “mellinium” or because of the unprecedented nature of technological change, the future has arrived. The number of publication and members in futuristic societies are largely increasing every year, and furthermore, within almost every separate scientific discipline, the futures approach is developing either as separate area or continuumum of what has been researched.[8] Through the future studies field feminism can spread its influence to many different areas which could be otherwise closed. Through a dialogue both fields can enrich themselves.

In the next part of the article I discuss the feminist critique of the futures field and argue that futures studies should include feminist perspective in its dominant knowledge paradigm.


Future studies should have the most flexible, the most diverse, and sometimes even surprising approach since their field of study exists in the unlimited human mind rather then in already given events and data. But futrues studies also generates and follows epistemological and methodological practices from already existing social sciences. The work we are doing is inevitably limited not only because of traditional opinions in science, notions and theories which rules scientific thinking in certain periods, but also because of our own interests, values, dreams and visions.

Critics of the research in the field of future studies argues that this field is also burdened with a male-centred bias. We could start with showing what is the proportion of women and man in the field, for example, we could show their participation in World Future Society, World Future Studies Federation, as well as in government planning agencies, among policy makers and others who control important political decision.[9] We could also analyse the sexism in titles, constant use of pronoun ‘he’ and noun ‘man’ when discussing ‘universal’ issues (though lately, language has become more sensitive), lack of topics of concern to women, etc.

A deeper approach would include a critique of current methodologies and epistemologies in the field. Patricia Huckle, for example, stresses that much of future research methodologies is controlled by man and male viewpoints.[10]  She points out at the use of “experts” and the way problems are chosen in methods like Delphi technique or in developing future scenarios. Women would not chose experts but would prefer small groups, working together in an egalitarian environment to solve agreed upon problems. She further claims that not only methods closer to “science fiction” (science-fiction writing is, as she points out, also quite different when writting from feminist perspective) represents the man point of view, but that trend extrapolation, cross impact matrices, quantifiable data for identifying alternative future, simulation modeling, simulation gaming and technological forecasting also “suffer from the limits of available data and ideological assumptions”. The questions asked, the statistics collected, the larger framework of knowledge remain technocratic–and thus male in the sense that they avoid issues central to women.

However, most assumptions futurists hold about the future, feminists share as well. Those would be: that the future is not predetermined and thus not predictable; that the range of alternative futures exists, and; that the future will be (from minor to major changes) different in many respects from the present world.

However, among basic assumptions about the future belong another one which would be very problematic seen from a feminist perspective. And that is that the notion that future outcomes can be influenced by individual choices and that individuals are solely responsible for the future.[11]  While this is certainly true on one level, this assumption has to be put into social context, reinforced with the concept of power and the availability of the choices. Otherwise it would represent typical Western and male way of looking at those enpoverished women bounded by tradition, family, society, economy or politics. In its bare form it further assumes position of power, stability, democratic and moderately rich environment. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of people the future does just happen to them. Black and white, aggressor/victim theory would not contribute much to the discussion. But, for example, let us consider the future (or past which was future once) of those who were colonized. Some people attempt to avoid or resist colonization, but for most whatever they attempted to do, colonization was a given, almost like a physical force in a form of tornado. The unavailability of choices also implies to people in war zones, ordinary citizens, children abused by adults, young women sold as sex slaves, and unfortunately, many, many others. When looking at the metaphor for choices, that one of using road map to get to particular destination, it is forgotten that most people in our global world, and women especially, do not possess neither map nor a car. Furthermore, put in the mentioned situation they would not know how to read the map as it is a product limited to a particular culture and particular class. To conclude, there are many things we, as humans, or as a particular group of people, can do about the changing conditions of our lives, about influencing our future. But, there are maybe even more things, we as a particular group of people, individual or family unit, can do nothing about, since we exist within given historical social and world structures (gender, of course, being one of these historical structures).

There is also one very specific area in which many feminists see the most danger in having male-dominated future’s research and that is the area of controlled reproduction.[12] Man has been trying to control and dominate women’s participation in procreation at least since the beginning of the patriarchy, and current development of medical science might enable them to gain almost complete control over human reproduction. This would totally marginalize women, as they would be enterily removed from the reproductive biological cycle. Feminists argue that in this crucial area of future of the humanity and human evolution women’s approach must be of extreme importance. This is so not only because these are our bodies and genes involved, but as welll because women were largely responsible for human reproduction from the beginning of our species existence, our identities have become to a large extent based on this biological history. Of course, cutting this responsibility could be by some seen as liberating for women’s destinies (they would escaped childbirth and possibly childrearing), but what is worrisome is that it could further decrease woman’s say in what would be our common future. Developments in genetics are occuring without women’s voices, Bonnie Spanier argues in her Im/Partial Science: Gender Ideology in Moecular Biology[13] nongendered bacteria are described in gendered terms, often reinscribing dominant/subordinate relationships. Even the building blocks of life (and they are being transformed by new technlogies) are not immune from sexual ideology.

Unfortunately, it is not only medicine and biology where women do not have control over the research agenda. Women’s participation in science in general is still very limited, and so it is in the futures field.  However, there are many reasons why women should be included in this field.

(1)        Women’s role in many societies is changing rapidly, women are becoming more visible in many public areas. Statistically, we represent at least half of the humanity, and in the future women could significantly outnumber men (given the improvement in health and the fact of longer life expectation). The importance of physical force is decreasing with new technological changes so another argument for women’s subordinated position is disappearing.

(2)        Eleonora Masini argues that women can create alternatives for future better then men because of certain individual (flexibility, rapid response to emergency situations, superimposition of tasks, definite priorities and adaptability) and social capacities (solidarity, exchange, overcoming of barriers). She also shows the impressive range of women’s activities in many social movements such as peace, human rights and ecological movement. These activities will influence the future, less in terms of obvious revolution and more in terms of “an important, slow historical process of change”,[14] in creating a global civil society.

(3)        Many futurist perfer not to predict how the future would look like, seeing prediction as a mere extension of present data. They would rather see futures (and use such methods) which would bring better lives for the majority in the world community. As for women, wherever we look, no matter how bad conditions men are in, women’s conditions are always worse. According to data extrapolation, women will continue to suffer from poverty, violence, malnutrition, physical and mental abuse. We will also continue to be disadvantaged in employment, education, politics, health, law, and planning, i.e. in “controlling” the future. Clearly, women have an important say in how and what methods are used in understanding and creating the future, particularly in exploring partnership visions of the futures.

(4)        Most social scientist agree that we are entering a new era. The names range from ‘postindustrial’ to ‘information’ or ‘tourist, traveling’ societies but what is characteristic for the time we live in is that, like in all other major transitions in the past, we witness huge changes in almost every aspect of our lives. One of the main area where those changes are taking place is in our systems of belief and ways of knowing. Many intellectual see this era as the end of the domination of the Western civilization, which has reached its peak and which could collapse or it could be qualitatively transformed. In many respects, not only women’s but the future of the humanity does not promise much if we don’t  radically change our ways of exploiting the nature, organizing society, treating the “other”, dealing with differences. Feminist visionaries could give important contribution in making alternative ways of living and thinking, in describing the transition into this new era.

(5)        Even while there is a visionary dimension to futures studies, at the same time, the Future field is in some ways responsible for maintenance of the status quo. As Slaughter argues: “Many of the major institutional centers of futures activity have tended to maintain close links with the centers of social and economic power. Future research, forecasting, and education appear to be dependent upon government or corporate support and hence constrained to varying degrees by given definitions, imperatives, and economic structures”.[15] Slaughter also points out that the field remains strongly associated with North America and that many of the future studies institutionalized forums has became associated with the needs of relatively powerful groups. This would represent an artificial narrowing of vision, a closure rather than an expansion.[16] Extending futures field by critical approaches, feminist and others, could help remove these limitations.


Feminist researchers developed several epistemological principles for gender conscious research. Cook and Fonow summarize them in five basic ones:[18]

(1)        acknowledging the pervasive influence of gender;

(2)        focus on consciousness-raising;

(3)        rejection of the subject/object separation and assumption that personal experience is unscientific;

(4)        concern for the ethical implications of research;

(5)        emphasis on the empowerment of women and transformation of patriarchal social institutions through research.

In similar way Margrit Eichler gives four epistemological principles or rather propositions which she derives from the basic postulate of the sociology of knowledge. Those principles are:

(1)        all knowledge is socially constructed;

(2)        the dominant ideology is that of the ruling group;

(3)        there is no such thing as value-free science and the social  science so far have served and reflected men’s interests;

(4)        and because people’s perspective varies systematically with their position in society, the perspectives of men and women differ.[19]

Besides this epistemological principles feminist have made few changes within social science methodology. Methods used in feminist research are actually ones which already exist and are recognizable tools in social sciences.  What is new is the way they are applied, more precisely the thematic content they are used within. Thematic content is changed in two main ways:

(1)        already existing data and “facts” are re-examined and reinterpreted from a new perspective, and

(2)        previously non-existing phenomena or those considered of no importance are analyzed (childbirth, housework, wife abuse, rape, incest, divorce, widowhood, infertility, sexual harassment, pornography, prostitution, women’s thoughts from private letters, memoirs, diaries, journals) and stress is given to some crisis situations which demystify the assumed naturalness of patriarchy.

If futures research wants to be non-sexist or rather feminist-gender-conscious it does not have to follow all of the principles but at least a few. It is also important to pay attention and avoid sexism in titles, in language, in concepts, in research designs, in methods, in data interpretation and in policy evaluation.[20]  Future feminist research (done by those who share the values of feminism and futures studies) must take into account rapid changes and rethink some of the methods used. For example, within futures field topics such as future childbirth have been discussed but some of the very important question have not been stressed enough. We know quite a bit about possibilities for having children produced in artificial wombs, about genetic engineering and choices enabled by technological developments; however, questions such as: what would that mean for the babies and women, how would their experience look like, what would artificial upbringing mean to the relationship between mother and her children, are women still going to have the right to breastfeed, who is going to decide about how many babies is particular women going to have, and many others, have rarely been raised. Here, futures research still stays in the secure domain of technological forecasting, unable to reveal the circulation of power in particular futures.

Past and current feminist research rediscovered women’s history and their existence as people and persons rather then just in terms of their relationship to men, mostly through women’s private letters and diaries. Some questions about the future would include, for example, how would feminist research draw conclusion on women’s thoughts in the time of depersonalized personal computers, who has control over communication process and is women’s work going to disappear from hard drives and diskettes as it had disappeared through other forms of written history? Or questions about the future of the housework: If housework is going to be done with the help of robots, who is going to make the software, whose priorities within the household are going to be respected, those of men, women or children? Many other have to be raised and that is where futures feminist research should channel its energy.


In order to discuss what would be the future of feminist research I would like to quickly skim through the history and main changes in research done by feminist. When we talk about its relationship with science, feminist research has gone through three main phases. In the first phase, feminist authors discovered women’s absence from the mainstream, or, how it is sometimes called, malestream science, accusing it for being sexist, partial, biased, with strong patriarchal values incorporated into “objective” theories and data.  In the second phase, the inclusion (re)discovery of female voices, histories, thoughts, beliefs, lives and visions resulted, mostly through qualitative approaches. So after the initial deconstructionalist phase, we gained research about women done by women and for women.  The Third phase would result in some kind of synthesis, in the incorporation of feminist research into a transformed mainstream science and realization by feminists that only if they research men as well as women can they develop a feminist science. [21] In this phase deconstruction also becomes more radical by challenging the category of women (and men) itself.

Following the current efforts and inclinations we would expect that feminist research would go even more towards interdisciplinary approach, and become more and more diverse, and more future focused. In addition, to a more future focus, the last decade has seen feminism become more civilizationally and cultural sensitive. The feminist movement has become increasingly aware of overgeneralizations, especially implementations of Western feminist positions to the other parts of world. We, as women, do share similar destinies, but it has become obvious that not the same solutions can apply everywhere. Aminata Traore, for example, stresses that:

They (Western feminist) have appropriated to themselves the right to interfere in our affairs, to dissect and pass judgement on them and to draw conclusions that have sometimes become action programs against which we can do nothing…. Together they want to liberate us from our cultural realities which they regard as archaic, and from our governments which they consider to be corrupt… In Africa the greatest impediments to women’s advancement are economic and political. But international thinking merely condemns our societies and our cultures.”[22]

She also points out that many African women are determined to distinguish themselves from Western feminism, so many women’s associations insist on being regarded as “feminine” rather than “feminist”. The same implies to many other women, including Muslim women, women from former socialist countries or Chinese women who also coined a new term and would like to be seen as involved in “feminology” instead in “feminism”. Although the Western approach has been predominant so far within the feminist movement, voices of women from other traditions are increasingly heard, and are shaping the future of the feminist movement, itself. It is interesting to notice the different perception of Muslim and other women in the example of veiling. While, for most Western feminists, veiling and other forms of women’s covering could mean nothing but the horror, the ultimate in women’s oppression, for most Muslim women, the experience is quite the opposite. For them, head scarves and long sleeves may be experienced as a sensible way to dress in the hot climate, it can mean a statement of support for their religious beliefs, or an economic way to dress, the choice to live peacefully among neighbors, or the protection against sexual harassment. Embrace of fundamentalism, so scary for Westerners if it is not the fundamentalism of their own, could actually be the path to liberation for many Muslim women. They could use religion as their protection and a way of confronting men, seeing Western women as disadvantaged as they could turn only to less confining abstract morality and concrete law. [23] Inclusion of “the Other” has helped feminism see certain contradictions, like, for example, “The contradiction between liberalism (as patriarchal and individualist in structure and ideology) and feminism (as sexual egalitarian and collectivist)”. [24] So while most Western feminists start “with a recognition of freedom of choice, individuality, and ‘rights'”, these concepts are “specified in terms of the way that Patriarchy organizes racial and economic inequality”. [25]

Feminism has learned a great deal from the inclusion of other perspectives.  This has been further encouraged by the influence of postmodernism. While feminists have criticized many of the malestream theories which would claim to speak universal truths, “particularly in the early days of feminist theory, many accounts that aimed for explanations of male/female relations across large sweeps of history were proposed. Moreover, and this is a tendency that continues, many feminist writings have included statements containing terms such as man, women, sex, sexism, rape, body, nature, mothering, without any historical or societal qualifiers attached.” [26]  “The production of grand social theories, which by definition attempt to speak for all women, was disrupted by the political pressures put upon such theorizing by those left out of it – poor and working-class women, women of color, lesbians, differently-abled women, fat women, older women”.[27]  For Linda Nicholson postmodernism then “appeared as an important movement for helping feminists uncover that which was theoretically problematic in much modern political and social theory. Postmodernism was also useful in helping feminism eradicate those elements within itself that prevented an adequate theorization of differences among women”. [28] She further concludes, that what “postmodernism adds to feminism is an expansion of the widely held feminist dictum “The personal is political” to include the dictum “the epistemic is political”, as well. [29] It is interesting to point out that feminism through this embrace of postmodernism stay critical, if not sometimes sarcastic, towards some of its conceptions: “Surely it is no coincidence that the Western white male elite proclaimed the death of the subject at precisely the moment at which it might have had to share that status with the women and peoples of other races and classes who were beginning to challenge its supremacy”. [30] While feminism might “use” postmodernism for its own purposes, it tries to remain that critical note, which has been present from the very beginning in feminist research.

Futures studies, of course, have been involved in a similar broadening. While Mary Daly argues that “patriarchy appears to be ‘everywhere'”, and that “even outer space and the future have been colonized” [31], it seems that “the future” as a category in itself is being decolonized. Or at least, colonizers have been exposed. Instead of only being concerned about technological forecasting, images of the future based on discrete civilizational categories are increasingly being explored. [32]  Moreover, the field in itself has been challenged as being overly male, Western, not just in terms of its participants but in terms of the knowledge categories used.  Thus more voices are entering “the future” as they are entering “the feminism”, at one level contesting these fields and another level creatively re-making them based on different cultural histories.

The need for expanding the feminist field so it can include non-Western perspectives, Ann Curhoys has called ‘the three body problem’ of feminism (class, race and gender analysis). Since there is an infinite complexity at any level of analysis, many choose only one concept or at the most two. Trying to incorporates all three concept into research makes analysis too complex to handle. However, despite all the difficulties, incorporation of cultural and ethnic diversity as central, rather than a marginal or “added on” issue, becomes the basic task for future feminist research if it wants to form the basis for an adequate social theory. [33]

Besides the need to incorporate culture, religion, race, age and class analysis, future feminist research has to consider technological and societal changes as well. Already research by such writers as Donna Harraway in her excellent Simians, Cyborgs, and Women [34] has begun the process of locating feminism in the emerging new technologies.

More research is needed on the feminist response to current world problems such are energy crises, increase in unemployment and poverty, increase in social differentiation, in pollution, in violence, to mention just the few areas of research. How would feminism see the way out of these problem and what would be its solutions for the future? In trying to give certain visions and preferable scenarios for the future, futures feminist research would be increasingly beginning with the experience of women as central, and the traditional malestream approach as “the Other”. Up till now feminist research mostly began the other way around. For example, Kathy Ferguson titles her book, The Man Question instead of phrasing it in the traditional way (“The Women question” as socialists did). The time has come for a change, since feminism have gained so much in its strength. Even if the actual movement is not so present in the streets and mass gathering, women’s movement in West has became incorporated within most public spheres, within the categories men and women use to see. Some believe that this success means that feminism is dead, therefore we cannot speak about any future feminist research. “I realized finally that feminism, as such, was finished forever: a victim of its own success. Better that women get on with it–with working, writing, teaching, driving taxis, whatever–and stop thinking about themselves a s a special sub-species of the human race, in need of special attention.” [35]

My opinion is that this is too good to be true and that while feminism has achieved some things in some countries, as long as women continue to do two thirds of the work on this planet, earning and owning less then 10% of world’s resources, and as long as women stay discriminated in almost every single area of human life, we need a feminist research. Feminism gave us new vision on gender issues, it has became one of the central tools in gender analysis and there is no reason to abandon it at this point in history.

On the contrary, feminism is becoming a world phenomenon with a growing feminist consciousness in developing and poor countries. It does face a backlash all over the world as well, but what is more important is that feminism is increasingly becoming part of the dominant scientific paradigm, particularly in Western societies (sexism is much easier to criticise and institutions are forced to make gender changes to accomodate women). Because of its strength it can now afford to be criticized, especially from the position of non-white, non-western, non-middle/upper class women. Malestream universalism is then challenged not with another universalism but with the approach which is inherently open, more inclusive with true calls for diversity and difference. Feminism then has only few ‘givens’ and everything else is to be open for discussion and redefinition. Through all the differences, all feminist and vast majority of women concerned with improving women’s position within their societies agree that it is necessary to understand women’s subordination and to emancipate us. Analysis of causes of subordination as well as how emancipation is to be achieved vary, so we could expect to see different solution depending on a position taken. Feminist research will be different if taken from liberal, marxist, socialist, radical, reformist, black, lesbian, or anarchist feminism, and it will go in quite different directions if taken by Muslim, feminologist or within feminine approach. This diversity can only enrich current feminism and help think about how to achieve more just societies.

When we talk about changes in feminist theory and epistemology we should remember that feminist methods did not appear completely independently, out of nowhere. They represent historical development within both science and society. The stimulus from society came mostly through democratization (industrialization) of Western societies in this century and feminist movements. Within social sciences, feminist methods and principle of feminist research follow several traditions such as: hermeneutics (inclusion of the subjective into the research), critical theory (orientation towards action, social change and emancipation), empiricism (partialities and biases are correctable through methodological improvements), postmodern approach (skepticism about universal “truths” and universalizing statements based on inevitably partial knowledge), standpoint epistemology (in their view that those who are less powerful have access to more complete knowledge through so called double vision). In that sense, the future of feminist research will also be connected with the changes both in science and in wider societies. Riane Eisler sees questioning of sex roles and relations as a part of a broader movement towards greater democracy and egalitarianism. This global movement for change happens in both private and public spheres with attempts to create a world in which the principles of partnership rather than domination and submission are primary, “the world of greater partnership and peace, not only between men and women but between the diverse nations, races, religions and ethnic groups on our planet”.[36]  Most futurists, at least those within critical and emancipatory tradition, are part of this global movement. So are most feminists. In that sense it is extremely important to establish dialogue between all of those who claim to be trying to achieve more just societies. This concern, how to think and make an “ideal” society, has been present for thousands of years. Throughout our recorded history different forms of domination had been challenged. Priests and wizards, kings and chiefs, rich and white, male and old, they all had seen at least some of their powers diminished. At the same time, we are almost as far from society which would be free from injustices, victims, oppressed and discriminated, as we have ever been. There is enough data to support the view that, in terms of justice, nothing had been and cannot be done.

At least four different (philosophical) viewpoints crystallized on transformations of human societies experienced since the beginning of our history, in terms of discriminations and improvement of our societal organization:

(1)      History is linear in the sense that every new society represents different but at the same time more developed and “better” way of organizing our lives.

(2)      History is linear in the sense that every new society represents further withdrawal of who we really are.  Eventually, this direction will lead us to total distraction,  humans as a species will stop to exist.

(3)       History is cyclical: every new society is in some ways better and in some ways worst then the lost one. But there is no real  improvement in our lives, nothing is forever, i.e. everything is susceptible to change and can go either way.

(4)       History is static: there had not been any improvement in human lives, there were and will always be oppressors and oppressed, just names are changing, and different groups are getting into first or second category.

So, what could be the future of the dispowered half of the humanity that are women? Our future is seen differently from feminist and non-feminist (all others) perspective, and at the same time it will effect any research done in the future, as part of the wider societal influence. Here I will look at the four possible scenarios and what would each mean for futures feminist research.

history valued basic categories women future
linear positive improvement changes in franchise, laws, educa-tion, employ-ment, etc. women and men as equal partners
linear negative decrease fall from matriarchy women fight back for lost empire
cyclical no change or minor changes always oppressed, but within  different patterns possibility for positive change, less oppressed in the future
static no change destined by sex and biology women will continue to be “second sex”

(1)        The first scenario would be the most preferable one. It views history as the path in which basic human rights are increasingly met, and those of women in particular. Women are entering and changing most public areas, even those who were for thousands of years reserved exclusively for man. This improvement, although it could come under minor backlashes, will continue throughout our future. Future will see women and man as equal partners, it will be realizing of the utopia in which people would be seen primarily as individuals and not in the terms of their belonging to certain gender, race, class, nation or religion.

(2)        The second scenario is one of decline in which history is seen as the continuous lose from our real selves, from nature and Goddesses. The last 5, 000 years represent the continuous decline for women, their fall from matriarchy after they became the first slaves. Female deities, reflecting women’s culture and women’s power, universally accepted by humankind until the modern era of immediate pre-industrial societies are forever lost. But women should not accept this fall, they should appropriate the Amazon myth and exclude themselves from men, which would be the only way to liberate ourselves.

(3)        In the third scenario, the cycle is the most powerful metaphor. Women had been always oppressed, even in matriarchal societies, when the matriarchy purely ment that genealogy was feminine. Women’s oppression follows different patterns, it varies in different societies and different period of times, so that could give us some hope for the future. Even women will always be dominated by man, their oppression could be lessen by appropriate government or religious measures. It will also be influence by major societal changes in which the quality of life for all will be improved. The cycle promises temporary liberation, for the strong shall fall and the weak rise, but they too fill fall.

(4)        The fourth scenario is one in which changes are perceived to be minor. Women are destined by their sex and biology, and even if liberated from reproduction through technology, their physics would never allow them to gain equal status. Women’s minds are still, and will always be, in the hands of their bodies, and in that sense remaining ‘second citizens’ would be the just and only possible future.

Depending on a person’s position different scenario would be chosen as a solution for the future. Within the feminist field, different solutions would be chosen from liberal or radical position. In the example of the scientific inquiry, while liberal feminists would see futures feminist research see as incorporating a better sample and a greater number of women researchers, radical feminist would not be satisfied if every aspect of our lives is not challenged and questioned. Certainly, the future will be different for different women, and that is something futures feminist research will have to deal with. Feminism is constantly testing, constantly destabilizing social relations, challenging social conditions. Just as in emancipatory futures, the goal is to constant recreate the future, recreate new visions, create new possibilities, never end up with a utopia, since as Ashis Nandy writes, “today’s utopia is tomorrow’s nightmare.”[37].

However, for feminists, there are concrete goals that must be realized, the day to day life of girls and women (as well boys and men depend on it). Thus, to conclude, we (feminist, women, people) should hope that the future will see the realization of the first scenario. That would be of crucial importance for our common future, women’s future and the future of feminist research. As Sandra Harding points out “we will have a feminist science fully coherent with its epistemological strategies only when we have a feminist society”.[38] Futures feminist research will be shaped by its tradition and developments within feminism, science and society. Of course, since since the future is an open space, the real character of the futures feminist research is yet to be seen.


[1].         Ivana Milojević is an assistant at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia, currently on leave and living in Brisbane, Australia.  I would like to thank June Lennie and Sohail Inayatullah for providing me with research materials and editorial assistance.

[2].         For an analysis of the futurists field see, for example, Roy Amara, “Searching for Definitions and Boundaries”, The Futurist, February 1981, pages 25-29; Roy Amara, “How to Tell Good Work from Bad”, The Futurist, April 1981, pages 63-71; Roy Amara, “Which Direction Now”, The Futurist, June 1981, pages 42-46; Richard A. Slaughter, “Towards a Critical Futurism”, three articles in the World Future Society Bulletin, in following issues July/August 1984 (pages 19-25), September/October 1984 (pages 11-16 and 17-21); Somporn Sangchai, Some Aspects of Futurism, (Honolulu, Hawaii Research Center for Futures Study, 1974); and Richard A. Slaughter, editor, “The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies”, special issue, Futures, April 1993, 25(3).

[3].         Sohail Inayatullah, “Epistemologies and Methods in Futures Studies” page 3 in Richard Slaughter, ed., The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies (Melbourne, Futures Study Centre, 1995).

[4].         Martha J. Garrett, “A Way Through the Maze: What futurists do and how they do it”, Futures, April 1993, 25(3), page 271

[5].         Roy Amara, “Searching for Definitions and Boundaries”, The Futurist, February 1981, page 26.

[6].         However, some authors claim that since the feminism is a perspective and not a research method, feminist scan use a multiplicity of research methods and they, in fact, do so. See, for example, Shulamit Reinharz, Feminist Methods in Social Research, (New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992), page 240. Her analysis on feminist use of different methods is as follows: “Some feminists argue that there is no special affinity between feminism and a particular research method. Other support interpretive, qualitative research methods; advocate positivist, ‘objective’ methods; or value combining the two. Some imply ‘use what works’, others ‘use what you know’, and others ‘use what will convince’.” (page 14)

[7].         For the relationship between utopias and ideology see Herbert Marcuse, “The End of Utopia”, and Karl Manhajm, “Ideology and Utopia”, in Miodrag Rankovic, Sociologija i futurologija (Sociology and Futurology), (Belgrade, Institut za socioloska istrazivanja Filozofskog fakulteta u Beogradu, 1995).

[8].         See, for example, Richard Slaughter, ed., The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies (Melbourne, Futures Study Centre, 1995).

[9].         A glance at membership directors and the gender distribution of articles published in futures journals and magazines quickly makes this point.

[10].       Patricia Huckle, “Feminism: A Catalyst for the Future”, in Jan Zimmerman, editor, The Technological Woman (Praeger, New York, 1983).

[11].       See, for example, Geofreey H. Fletcher, “Key Concepts in the Futures Perspective”, World Future Society Bulletin, January- February 1979, pages 25-31; Roy Amara, “Searching for Definitions and Boundaries”, The Futurist, February 1981, page 25; Richard A. Slaughter, Futures: Tools and Techniques, (Melbourne, Futures Study Centre, 1995).

[12].       See, Susan Downie, Baby Making: The Technology and Ethics (London, The Bodley Head, 1988).

[13].       Bonnie Spanier, IM/Partial Science: Gender Ideology in Molecular Biology (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1995).

[14].       Eleonora Masini, Women as Builders of Alternative Futures. Report Number 11, Centre for European Studies, Universitat Trier, 1993.

[15].       Richard Slaughter, “Towards a Critical Futurism”, World Future Society Bulletin, September/October 1984, pg 13.

[16].       Ibid, July/August 1984, page 19.

[17].       Feminist literature used for the article (besides books and articles already mentioned in other footnotes): Helen Roberts, ed., Doing Feminist Research, (London and New York, Routledge, 1990); Joyce McCarl Nielsen, ed., Feminist Research Methods: Exemplary Readings in the Social Sciences, (Boulder, San Francisco, & London, 1990); Ruth Bleir, ed., Feminist Approaches to Science, (Pergamon Press, 1988); Pamela Abbott and Claire Wallace, An Introduction to Sociology: Feminist Perspectives, (London and New York, Routledge, 1992), particularly chapter 1 (Introduction: the feminist critique of malestream sociology and the way forward) and 9 (The production of feminist knowledge); Zarana Papic, Sociologija i feminizam,(Sociology and Feminism) (IIC SSOS, Belgrade 1989), Jane Butler Kahle, ed., Women in Science,  (Philadelphia and London, The Falmer Press, 1985); Margaret Alic, Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity to the Late Nineteenth Century, (London, The Women’s Press, 1990); Cheris Kramarae and Paula A. Treichler, A Feminist Dictionary, (London, Pandora, 1989); Maggie Humm, The Dictionary of Feminist Theory, (London, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989).

[18].       Judith A. Cook and Mary Margaret Fonow, “Knowledge and Women’s Interests: Issues of Epistemology and Methodology in Feminist Sociological Research:, in Joyce McCarl Nielsen, editor, Feminist Research Methods, (London, Westview Press, 1990).

[19].       Margrit Eichler, “And the Work Never Ends: Feminist Contributions”,  Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 22, 1985, pages 619-644, from Liz Stanley, editor, Feminist Praxis: Research, Theory and Epistemology in Feminist Sociology, (London, Routledge, 1990).

[20].       Magrit Eichler, Non-Sexist Research Methods, (London, Allen and Unwin, 1988), from Pamela Abbott and Claire Wallace, An introduction to sociology: feminist perspectives, (London, Routledge, 1992) pages 208-209.

[21].        Kathy E. Ferguson, The Man Question: Visions of Subjectivity in Feminist Theory, (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993).

[22].       Aminata Traore, “The South: A Joint Struggle”, in The Unesco Courier, September 1995, pages 9 and 11.

[23].       Christopher Dickey, “The Islamic World: Bride, Slave or Warrior”, in Newsweek, September 12, 1994, pages 13-17.

[24].       Zillah R. Eisenstein, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism (Boston, USA, Northeastern University Press, 1993), page 3.

[25].       Ibid.

[26].       Linda Nicholson, ‘Feminism and the Politics of Postmodernism’, in Margaret Ferguson and Jennifer Wicke, Feminism and Postmodernism, (Durhan and London, Duke University Press, 1994), pages 69-86.

[27].       Patti Lather, Getting Smart, Feminist Research and Pedagogy with/in the Postmodern, (New York, London, Routledge, 1991), page 27.

[28].       Linda Nicholson, ibid., page 76

[29].       Ibid. page 85.

[30].      Fox-Genovese, quoted in Patti Lather, Ibid. page 28.

[31].       Mary Daly, GynEcology, The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, (Boston, Beacon, 1978, page 1), quote from Zillah R. Eisenstein, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism (Boston, Northeastern University Press, 1993), page 18.

[32].       Eleonora Masini and Yogesh Atal, eds., The Futures of Asian Cultures, Bangkok, UNESCO, 1993, and Eleonora Masini and Albert Sasson, eds., The Futures of Cultures, Paris, UNESCO 1994.

[33].       Ann Curthoys, “The Three Body Problem: Feminism and Chaos Theory”, Hecate, 17(1), 1991, pages 14-21.

[34].       Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York, Routledge, 1991).

[35].       Anne Applebaum, “The Perils (yawn) of poor Naomi”, The Courier-Mail, Brisbane, Australia, October 18, 1995, page 15

[36].       Riane Eisler, “A Time for Partnership”, in The UNESCO Courier, September 1995, pages 5-7.

[37].       Ashis Nandy, Tyranny, Utopias and Traditions (Delhi, Oxford, 1987) page 13.

[38].       Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism, (Milton Keynes, England, Open University Press, 1986), page 141.