You Are My Way to the Universe: Critical Collective Research Through Feminist Community Building


  • Pengfei Zhao University of Florida
  • Dajanae Palmer University of Missouri
  • Samantha Silberstein University of North Carolina Wilmington
  • Alycia Elfreich Indiana University
  • Suparna Bose Indiana University
  • Sylvia Washington Denison University
  • Pooja Saxena Cottey College
  • Lucinda Carspecken Indiana University
  • Barbara Dennis Indiana University



feminist communitarianism, research collaboration, community building, neoliberal university, feminist methodology


In this article, we draw on the scholarship of feminist communitarianism to develop a critique of the predominant neoliberal qualitative social research collaboration model. We argue that feminist theories and praxis about community building and political activism have the potential to transcend the highly institutionalized, individualistic, and managerialist collaborative culture. Feminist insights can help today's researchers navigate collaborative research and address key issues such as reflexivity, consensus formation, knowledge validation, and group solidarity. We use our own work in the Feminist Research Collective and in the WomenWeLove project to present an alternative orientation and a collective way to enact transformative research. This feminist intervention against the neoliberal research culture contributes to the ongoing reflections of how we produce knowledge via qualitative social research and why we shall do so in the current historical juncture, expands our imaginations of researchers' responsibilities, and engenders new possibilities for resistance and emancipation.


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Author Biographies

Pengfei Zhao, University of Florida

Pengfei ZHAO (PhD, Indiana University) is an assistant professor of qualitative methodology in the College of Education at the University of Florida. She works on a wide spectrum of philosophical, social, and methodological theories to formulate a praxis- and social justice-oriented qualitative research methodology. In her empirical work, she primarily uses ethnographic, narrative, and action research approaches to conduct studies in both China and the United States.

Dajanae Palmer, University of Missouri

Dajanae PALMER is an assistant professor of qualitative inquiry at the University of Missouri. Her research interests are in examining and uplifting the experiences of graduate students, exploring feminist ​methodologies, and using critical theories to analyze the systems of domination in higher education. Dajanae has experience working with Black women graduate students through her research with sista circle methodology, Black feminist thought, critical race feminism, and critical qualitative inquiry.

Samantha Silberstein, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Samantha SILBERSTEIN is a visiting assistant professor and M.Ed. coordinator for the Higher Education program in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. In her work, she explores college students' consciousness-raising in co-curricular and noncurricular spaces through creative, participant-centered methodologies. She serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Women and Gender in Higher Education

Alycia Elfreich, Indiana University

Alycia ELFREICH is a clinical professor of curriculum and instruction at Indiana University. In her scholarship, she interweaves critical theory, methodology and pedagogy across disciplines, including urban education studies, pre-service teacher preparation, qualitative inquiry, and curriculum studies. In her work, she centers a commitment to equity and justice-oriented teaching and research that is culturally responsive, praxis oriented and involves strong partnerships with K-12 schools and communities.

Suparna Bose, Indiana University

Suparna BOSE is an academic advisor and retention specialist and a doctoral candidate in literacy, culture, and language education in Indiana University Bloomington. In her dissertation research, she focuses on the stories of the funds of knowledge told by multilingual English composition students in their self-reflections. Her research interests are in the areas of English as a second language/English as a foreign language writing and teaching; diversity, equity, inclusion; and feminism.

Sylvia Washington, Denison University

Sylvia C. WASHINGTON is an associate director of the Center for Belonging and Inclusion at Denison University. Her research interests include examining the influence of popular culture on Black women's meaning making, and exploring intersectional methodologies to center on minoritized students' lived experiences. She moves her research expertise into practice to support the needs of women and LGBTQ+ communities through education, advocacy, and outreach efforts.

Pooja Saxena, Cottey College

Pooja SAXENA is an assistant professor of education at Cottey College. In her research, she examines the sociocultural aspects of education policy and interrogates power relationships, especially neoliberalism, to advance our understanding of educational equity and justice in relation to women's achievement behavior and aspirations in STEM fields. She draws on critical social theories of education, decolonizing feminist theories in science, and innovative methodologies embedded in ethics of care.

Lucinda Carspecken, Indiana University

Lucinda CARSPECKEN is a lecturer in qualitative and quantitative research methodology at Indiana University. She is interested in the non-cognitive aspects of social inquiry, and in its history. She recently edited "Love in the Time of Ethnography: Essays on Connection as a Focus and Basis for Research" (2018, Lexington Books), in which she looks at relationship as a way of knowing. She is currently working on a book about marginalized ethnographers from the 1830s to the early 2000s.

Barbara Dennis, Indiana University

Barbara DENNIS is a professor of qualitative inquiry in the Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methodology Program at Indiana University. She published on critical methodological theory and practice including a recent critical ethnography titled "Walking With strangers: Critical Ethnography and Educational Promise" (2020, Peter Lang).




How to Cite

Zhao, P., Palmer, D., Silberstein, S., Elfreich, A., Bose, S., Washington, S., … Dennis, B. . (2022). You Are My Way to the Universe: Critical Collective Research Through Feminist Community Building. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 23(3).



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