Analyzing women's studies dissertations: Methodologies, epistemologies, and field formation

Sally Kitch, Mary Fonow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


This study presents an in-depth analysis of women's studies doctoral dissertations produced in the United States between 1995 and 2008. We identified 117 total dissertations and coded their topics, themes, and methodologies. We found eight dominant dissertation topics: identity/subjectivity, gender norms, resistance/activism/power, cultural texts, nationalism/citizenship, harassment/violence/victimization/trauma, race, and sexuality. While humanities-based methodologies, particularly historical and representational, dominate the sample, they are often combined with qualitative or ethnographic methods, particularly interviewing. Regardless of the methods employed or discussed, reflexivity, lived experience, and agency constituted the core of feminist methodology for many dissertation writers. We analyze the successes and challenges of producing interdisciplinary dissertations in freestanding women's studies programs and provide an analysis of a select number of dissertations purposefully chosen to reflect larger trends. Challenges discussed include failure to specify (with precision) key terms such as intersectionality, interdisciplinarity, and transnationality; not providing a sufficient discussion of feminist methodology to justify the link between argumentation and evidence; not choosing topics outside of the writer's comfort zone; and not problematizing the connection between experience, identity, and knowledge. We conclude with recommendations for improving dissertation advising and promoting innovation, which range from strengthening the fundamentals of research design and writing to clarifying the unique characteristics and appropriate assumptions of the field as a whole.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-126
Number of pages28
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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