Feminism refers to ideologies and philosophies that focus on gender, sexual orientation and the equality promoting them. Historically, feminism has been divided into four “waves”, in which different issues and priorities related to their own time have emerged. The First Wave of feminism – often also called mainstream/liberal feminism – in the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on equality work and women’s rights, such as women’s right to vote. The Second Wave of feminism is considered to have begun in the 1960s, with the division of power between genders and women’s right to self-determination as key issues. Beginning in the 1990s, the Third Wave of feminism in turn questioned “womanhood” as a single category and highlighted differences between women, focusing on, in particular, intersectionality. With the advent of the Fourth Wave in the 2000s, the discourse turned increasingly to such topics as sexual harassment, sexist hate speech, gender diversity and BIPOC[1] issues.

In artistic research, feminism can be understood in several different ways. Artistic research can address feminist themes or questions raised in feminist debate, such as equality or the lack of it, accessibility, queer issues, subject, agency or identity. Feminism in artistic research can also be understood methodologically, in which case the methods utilised in research draw on feminist knowledge theory. In addition, there are many common interests and methodological similarities between arts pedagogy and feminist pedagogy.

In principle, artistic research and feminism can be seen to have much in common methodologically, even though these similarities have rarely been written into of the theory of artistic research. For example, the concepts situated knowledge, dismantling the subject-object dichotomy in research, experientiality and corporeality of research are often important to both feminist research and artistic research. Several of the concepts that often come up in artistic research, such as intersectionality, have emerged in connection with feminist research, and have since spread more widely in academic research.

One of the key similarities between artistic research and feminist theory is related to the concept of knowledge and the idea of situated knowledge. Feminist research has given plenty of consideration to how knowledge is produced, who can know, and how the presence of the knowing one affects the process of producing knowledge. The basis of the feminist epistemology is that no information is value-free, but rather research questions and modes of research basically carry with them certain perceptions of a given worldview. In the process of producing knowledge, the concepts being used, the rules being followed and the people being quoted (i.e., who is considered an authority) influence what kind of knowledge will be created (see Haraway 1988; Koivunen & Liljeström 1996, 272; Porkola 2014, 42–43). Feminist research emphasises context sensitivity, i.e. understanding the different interdependencies of things, and reflecting on the researchers’ own starting points (ibid.). Similarly, situating knowledge in artistic research, i.e., discussing and reflecting on the starting points of the research is essential (Hannula et al. 2014; Borgdorff 2006; Porkola 2014; Varto 2017).

According to the feminist epistemologist Sandra Harding, knowledge is always contextualised and socially situated. By this she means that experience, and living in a particular social place, shape the understanding of how meanings and reality are construed. In other words, gender, class, ethnic background and culture affect how a human being experiences the world and how they interpret it. Harding highlights the connection between experience and knowledge, stating that all social sites are equally good and that knowledge or knowing cannot only belong to the privileged. She also emphasises the link between knowledge and experience; knowledge based on another kind of experience produces another perception of the world (Ronkainen 2020, 174). This epistemological perspective can also be adapted to artistic research, prompting the question: What kind of special, experiential knowledge does the artist have? How does an artist produce knowledge through their own experiences? What kind of experientiality is associated with art; both the processes related to making it and the completed work and its reception? How are experience-based meanings construed in artistic work, and how are they in relation to the surrounding society?

Intersectionality is a concept introduced by American legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. The concept of intersectionality refers to how not only gender, but also various factors, such as social class, ethnic background or sexual orientation, affect power relations in society. According to Crenshaw intersectionality is “a prism through which one can look at the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all these, and their experience is not just the sum of its parts.”[2].

The aim of intersectional feminism is to understand different forms of discrimination and their relationships and overlaps. Understanding the concept of intersectionality is useful in considering the relationship between meaning systems and ideologies, ethnicity, gender, or epistemologies organised sexually (Ilmonen 2011; Saresma 2018). According to Ilmonen, “The researchers who designate their work as intersectional often consider, for example, how socially and culturally modified categories of meaning are linked to one another in society and inform different relationships in communities that foster inequalities.” (Ilmonen 2011). Understanding intersectionality also makes it possible to reflect on one’s own agency and identity.

Conducting research involves different epistemologies which carry power relations. The basics of knowledge production are also discussed a great deal in artistic research. Conducting research is always political, in the sense that choices are made and existing knowledge is applied building on different worldviews, views on humanity, and ideologies.

The importance of sensory and corporeal experience in artistic research has often been emphasised (Varto 2017, 90; Heimonen 2009), regardless of the field of art research. While scientific traditions include concepts and abstract knowledge, in artistic research, research tools and outcomes are often sensory in nature (Varto 2017, 19). A visual artist, dance artist, musician or performance artist can have different perspectives on what corporeality or embodiment means in their own work, but often, knowledge is constructed precisely in relation to corporeal activities. Similarly, in feminist theory, corporeality also plays a key role in knowledge production. It stems from an understanding of the gendered nature of knowledge, where many of the issues and questions defined as feminine that pertain to emotion, maternity, nursing or everyday practices have remained invisible in history (Matero 1996). Later, corporeal knowledge has meant not only different, often experiential knowledge of groups of people who often considered marginalised, but also various perspectives related to the era, ranging from criticism of body ideals presented by the media, and the corporeal nature of work, to criticism of heteronormativity. However, corporeality does not only involve a theoretical formulation of a question, but also relates to practical research methods.

In my opinion, art pedagogy and feminist pedagogy have a lot in common, based on the knowledge concept described above, in which the author of knowledge and the subject of knowledge are not separate from each other, but rather intertwined. Both perspectives also often emphasise an understanding of the experiential, corporeal, situated, dialogical and collaborative nature of knowledge. Several thinkers who are important for feminist pedagogy, such as Paulo Freire and bell hooks representing critical pedagogy, have brought critical social thinking also into art pedagogy. In practice, similarities can be found, for example, in a classroom situation where the teacher does not see themself transferring existing knowledge to their students, but knowledge is rather seen as emerging in different interaction processes. Understanding intersectionality is also useful in teaching – students come from different backgrounds and are often also in different life situations, all of which affect learning. What can be seen to unite the feminist and the pedagogical perspective is an openness and an interest in new kinds of experiments and in developing the methods (see e.g. Laukkanen et al. 2018).


1 BIPOC is an acronym for “Black, Indigenous and People of color”.

2 unwomen.fi/uutiset/intersektionaalinen-feminismi-mita-silla-tarkoitetaan-ja-miksi-se-on-tarkeaa-juuri-nyt/ 6.11.2021


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Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14(3): 575–99. doi.org/10.2307/3178066.

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Saresma, Tuija. 2018. “Intersektionaalisuus – erot ja hierakiat opettamisessa.” In Feministisen pedagogiikan ABC Opas ohjaajille ja opettajille, edited by Anu Laukkanen et al. Tampere: Vastapaino.

Varto, Juha. 2017. Taiteellinen tutkimus. Mitä se on? Kuka sitä tekee? Miksi? Helsinki: Aalto-yliopisto. time.com/5786710/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality 6.11.2021.

see also Sukupuolten tasa-arvo thl.fi/fi/web/sukupuolten-tasa-arvo/sukupuoli/intersektionaalisuus-ja-sukupuoli 6.11.2021


Pilvi Porkola

Pilvi Porkola is Doctor of Arts, performance artist, researcher, and teacher.