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Addressing the ‘Dismal Disconnection’: Normative Theory, Empirical Inquiry and Dialogic Research

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Abstract

This article engages with recent methodological debates in political theory concerning the role of political theory and in particular the criticism that ideal normative theorising is too abstracted from the real-world circumstances that it hopes to change. These debates raise questions concerning the proper relationship between normative political theory and empirical inquiry. We suggest that feminist research has an important contribution to make to these questions, which has tended to be under-recognised within mainstream debates. Specifically, feminist critical theory points to important limitations within both ideal political theory and orthodox empirical social science. Rather than trying to combine these two approaches, feminist critical theory offers an alternative approach to standard political research methods. The central concerns of critical feminists with the social conditions of inclusion and democratic participation, the forms of power that can invade theory and practice in politics, and the need to create an ‘undistorted space’ in which the voice of those subjected to injustice can be heard, predispose it towards an applied approach to normative theory, while at the same time remaining highly attuned to the possible conservative implications of such a move. This dual focus has led many feminist critical theorists to endorse a dialogical approach. In this article, we detail this approach and recommend it as a resource to mainstream political theorists.

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