Feminist research methodology in contemporary literary prize research

Christina NeuwirthMMUd

Quantitative research has long occupied an awkward position in the scholarship of contemporary literary cultures. Study of the production, circulation and reception of literary texts has traditionally been seen as one that requires flexible and interpretive approaches afforded by qualitative methods, and not the blunt instrument of statistical analysis. However, in spaces where exposing and subverting long-standing power structures is the objective, quantitative approaches are necessary. Writing about quantitative research methods and the United States Publishing field, author Roxane Gay observes that, “The gender (and racial) inequity exists. It is stark. Counting is useful for reminding us.” Gay’s sentiment lies at the heart of a quantitative research practice that seeks to understand and challenge the status quo. This paper argues how bringing together quantitative and qualitative research methods is a feminist approach to researching contemporary literary prize culture. Drawing upon collective research experience, the authors examine the ways in which quantitative research methods have transformed field-wide understandings of power and prestige. Quantitative methods are one in a suite of reflexive, embedded and situated techniques that can be brought together in the pursuit of knowledge that “reminds us” how and why, for example, it took until 2019 for the Booker Prize to be awarded to a work of fiction by a Black woman (and even then the winner, Bernardine Evaristo, shared the prize with Margaret Atwood). Numbers alone can not present researchers with all the answers, but they have broad descriptive capabilities and can provide a depth of insight that, when combined with qualitative methods, can provide fuller insight into the workings of hierarchy, discriminatory practice and value exchanges in literary prize culture.

This collaboratively written and presented paper will facilitate a wide-ranging discussion about feminist methodological approaches, applying these methods in the context of literary prize research, and explore the benefits and limitations of quantitative methods in contemporary publishing studies. Examples from our work will illustrate how we have justified the quantitative and qualitative methods we have used and we will reflect on our research practice and perspectives on the broader question of how feminist empiricism should – and can – be done.

Christina Neuwirth draws here particularly on her work as a researcher embedded in the contemporary Scottish literary landscape, where she conducts her doctoral research on gender equality. As a member of the advocacy group ROAR, she has previously published her work on reviewing, publishing and festival programming on www.roar.scot. Christina’s fiction and non-fiction writing has been published widely, and her novella Amphibian (Speculative Books, 2018) was shortlisted for three literary awards in the UK.

Christina Neuwirth, PhD researcher, Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication, University of Stirling

Alexandra Dane’s experience with feminist counting methods is the foundation of her scholarly practice and her research into contemporary book cultures, formal and informal literary networks, and the relationship between gender and the distribution of power in the literary field. Alexandra is the author of Gender and Prestige in Contemporary Australian Book Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Dr Alexandra Dane, Sessional Lecturer and Research Assistant, School of Culture and Communications, University of Melbourne

Stevie Marsden is a researcher and lecturer in contemporary publishing culture and practice and has written extensively about literary prize culture in the UK. During her PhD she was an embedded researcher working with the Saltire Society in the administration and promotion of their series of literary awards. She is the author of The Saltire Society Literary Awards: A Cultural History (Anthem Press, 2020).

Dr Stevie Marsden, Research Associate, CAMEo Research Institute of Cultural and Media Economies, University of Leicester

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