Written by Laura J. Shepherd and edited by the Sydney GJS Hub team.

Project: Innovative Methodologies and Methodological Innovation

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

Many of the challenges inherent in decolonial and feminist research are intrinsic to field research itself: how to manage the complexities of relationship power dynamics; how to traverse the boundary between “insider” and “outsider” (if, indeed, it is meaningful to recognise such a boundary); and how to ensure we remain accountable to our research interlocutors, collaborators, and colleagues. These challenges have a particular nuance, however, when the work at hand is intended to be explicitly decolonial and feminist in disposition. Moreover, reckoning with these challenges from within a decolonial and feminist framework raises questions about the ethical dimensions of field research as a scholarly endeavour, because it may not be possible to prise apart research from the colonial structures of power which underpin research and the academy more broadly. That said, there are specific challenges that arise in the course of decolonial and feminist research; this blog post presents four such challenges that we grapple with in different ways in the work that we do.


We are, of course, all differently positioned, with variously (in)visible privileges and disadvantages distributed unevenly and variably at different times across our collective. Nonetheless, one challenge that we all face in decolonial and feminist research relates to our positionality, specifically our proximity to Whiteness. Proximity to Whiteness is constituted, for example, through affiliation with universities (as colonial institutions of knowledge production), through access to class and social mobility, or more directly through the privilege that being light-skinned affords in a White supremacist culture. Reckoning with how proximity to Whiteness, and the advantages such proximity bestows, both informs and potentially undercuts decolonial and feminist research practices is essential to decolonial and feminist praxis, but it is neither easy nor straightforward.


A second challenge we identified relates to accountability, and the need to ensure that we are always speaking “with” our research interlocutors rather than “for” them. Ideally, decolonial and feminist research is based on the development and nurturing of deep relational connections with the communities with whom we work. Committing to being held accountable by the communities we engage in our research involves centring their voices and experiences rather than leveraging their knowledge and expertise to amplify and enrich our own. This means slowly building trust and relationships and putting in the effort to sustain those relationships, considering research as a practice of co-production, and positioning interlocutors as partners in the process – all of which takes time, energy, and funding.

Invisible labour

The additional labour and time associated with the slow process of building meaningful relationships, with the back-and-forth of establishing rapport, connections and trust with a research community is a third challenge in decolonial and feminist research. This is a risk in the neoliberal academy, where slow scholarship is considered radical, rather than sensible and ethical practice, and the pressure to innovate, publish and win grants is relentless. Moreover, this is labour that can lead to researchers being side-lined or seen as less “expert” (because they have fewer publications or are seen as too committed to their research communities and therefore too “activist”) and thus extended fewer opportunities, which can be devastating to early-career researchers. Holding space for this additional work and normalising a slower, more considered pace of scholarly endeavour is a challenge.

Institutional barriers

The fourth and final challenge is not unrelated to the question of scholarly labour and its rhythms and rewards. Decolonial and feminist practice faces numerous institutional barriers that can divert or even derail research completely. These barriers range from grant-getting and ethics approval processes, which often presume a positivist model of social science research involving the recruitment of research subjects into a predetermined research design, leaving little space for the relational work of co-production, to the timeframes imposed upon research by the institutions for which we work (both universities and funding organisations). Decolonial and feminist work can be deeply challenging to the institutions that pay for our labour, and in return, these same institutions pose challenges to us. (The remuneration we receive for research, whether in the form of grant, salary, or stipend, also raises tricky questions about both ownership and equity in the research relationship, unless we have the resources to recompense our research interlocutors, which we mostly do not.)

None of these challenges are insurmountable, but all are difficult to navigate for individual researchers in specific institutional contexts and require additional commitment and effort. In keeping with the ethos of decolonial and feminist research, then, we encourage collective engagement with, and deliberation on, these complex issues. Building community and doing the work of supporting each other is a key dimension of decolonial and feminist practice; the third and final blog post in our series outlines further strategies for consideration in our shared efforts to transform both the way we do research and the institutions within which – and for which – we do it.

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.