Written by Alba Rosa Boer Cueva and edited by the Sydney GJS Hub team

Project: Innovative Methodologies and Methodological Innovation

This is the third in a series of three blogs looking at decolonial and feminist methods in social research.

In decolonial and feminist social research, the belief in research as a driver for societal transformation is fundamental. This ethos drives a commitment to challenging entrenched power dynamics and fostering justice and equity. Central to this approach is the adoption of transformative practices, which include innovative methodologies and a recognition of participants as active agents in knowledge production. In this piece, we explore four key strategies that can aid us in this ethical imperative: positionality and reflexivity, critical engagement with power structures, community solidarity, and prioritising well-being.

Positionality, reflexivity, and ethical engagement

A crucial strategy for conducting decolonial and feminist social research involves a deep commitment to positionality, reflexivity, and ethical engagement. This means examining our positionalities: critically looking at oneself and the intersection of our privilege and power as part of broader structural relations of power in which we’re embedded and complicit. Reflexivity is a cornerstone of this approach, encouraging researchers to continually reflect on their decisions, methodologies, and the impact of their work, as well as the sites and beings they are doing the research in/on/with. Recognising that ethics are inherently political and not neutral, researchers often grapple with ethical dilemmas, especially when institutional demands may put interlocutors at risk.

Strategies to navigate these challenges include spending extended time with communities to build trust and mutual understanding; co-designing research outputs; employing visual participatory methods, like photo-voice or participatory video, which can encourage participants to share their perspectives creatively; and rethinking consent processes to ensure they are non-threatening, such as offering options for oral consent or using consent forms that are simple and transparent, and respecting participants’ comfort levels and historical traumas with bureaucracy. Our discussions around ethics and reflexivity also highlighted the inherent complexity and messiness in decolonial and feminist research, urging researchers to embrace uncertainties, understand and minimise risks, and avoid seeking overly neat solutions or resolutions.

Critical engagement with power structures

Another key strategy is critical engagement with power structures. This involves a concerted effort to dismantle colonial systems and power structures within research practices. Asking critical questions, challenging dominant narratives, and adopting decolonial methodologies are all necessary to transform the field. Integral to this approach is the interrogation and challenging of dominant academic norms and practices, including citation practices, institutional ethics processes, and standards of scholarly excellence. For instance, researchers can critique and expand the narrow metrics of academic success, such as the overemphasis on publication in high-impact journals. Instead, they can advocate for the recognition of diverse forms of knowledge dissemination, like community workshops, policy briefs, or multimedia projects, as equally valuable contributions to scholarship. By actively working to decolonise and democratise academic spaces, researchers seek to create a more equitable and inclusive environment that values diverse perspectives and knowledge systems.

Community engagement, solidarity, and collaborative knowledge production

Community engagement, solidarity, and collaborative knowledge production are also essential strategies in decolonial and feminist social research. This approach centres the communities in research, prioritising building alliances and mutual aid structures between communities and researchers. Language barriers can be overcome by using local interpreters or certain methods like photo-voice, with learning the local language being an important decolonial principle when feasible.

Additionally, making the hidden curriculum of academia visible involves sharing knowledge about grant writing, job selection criteria, producing research outputs, and thesis-to-book transformations with emerging scholars, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds. Challenging the uniformity within research institutions is also crucial and includes advocating for diverse hiring practices and inclusive research agendas. Naming interlocutors, when desired, and conveying the importance of the research to participants are also acts of resistance and agency, reinforcing the collaborative nature of knowledge production and ensuring that all voices are heard and valued.

Care, wellbeing, and emotional labour

Care, wellbeing, and emotional labour are also important strategies of decolonial and feminist social research. Self-care was positioned as a form of resistance, recognising the significant emotional labour and challenges inherent in this work. Practical strategies for self-care include setting boundaries, taking regular breaks, building community, and engaging in activities that replenish energy and morale.

There also needs to be an ethical compass at the heart of research that prioritises the well-being of both researchers and participants. This could mean creating supportive peer networks, seeking (or offering) mentorship, and fostering environments where emotional wellbeing is a shared priority. This focus on self-care and emotional well-being acknowledges the emotional demands of decolonial and feminist research and highlights the resilience of researchers and the communities they engage with in navigating and resisting oppressive systems. Emphasising care and emotional wellbeing ensures that the research process is sustainable and supportive for all involved.


Decolonial and feminist research isn’t about neat solutions or perfect outcomes. It’s messy, challenging, and recognises its own imperfections. What makes it powerful is the acknowledgment of this reality and the commitment to navigating it – our ethics and positionalities, being reflexive, and engaging critically with power structures – which together challenge dominant academic norms in community. These strategies emphasise collaboration and caring for ourselves and each other along the way. By embracing these principles, researchers can contribute meaningfully to social change and justice, ensuring that our work is grounded in ethics, inclusivity, and genuine impact.

You can access the full blog series here.


This blog post was produced as part of a collaborative workshop hosted by the Methodological Innovation stream at the University of Sydney in March 2024. The ideas presented in this blog were generated through the collective discussions of the workshop participants.

Workshop Participants

Myra Abubakar, Kirsten Ainley, Lily Atkinson, Sulagna Basu, Caitlin Biddolph, James Blackwell, Alba Rosa Boer Cueva, Felicitas Bran, Charlotte Carney, Beatriz Carrillo García, Tanja Dittfeld, Cristina Enjuto, Serena Ford, Keshab Giri, Fiona Goggins, Cait Hamilton, Jihyun Kim, Mamta Sachan Kumar, Amra Lee, Kerrie Lyons, Georgette Matthews, Philip McKibbin, Aryana Mohmood, Katherine Newman, Marcus Phillip Paul, Sian Perry, Manita Raut, Shivangi Seth, Laura J. Shepherd, Natalie Jane Thomas, Ngoc Lan Tran, Diana Tung, Nuri Widiastuti Veronika.