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Aethelflaed's avatar

Women's/Gender Studies people - what's the difference between primary and secondary sources?

Asked by Aethelflaed (13752points) November 1st, 2011

I really only know the difference between primary and secondary sources within history, when it’s often easy to tell which one a source is (and then other times, I’m totally confused, and think that the primary/secondary/tertiary split is inaccurate). But I don’t really get how to apply that to things outside of history.

So, for example, I’m doing pornography within the Feminist Sex Wars. So, Dworkin’s Men Possessing Women from 1979 is, I assume, a primary source. But then Catharine MacKinnon’s Only Words in 1993, which draws heavily from and sides with Dworkin? Or Nadine’s Strossen’s opposing work Defending Pornography in 1995? What about Pat Califia’s essay Among Us, Against Us – The New Puritans: Does Equation of Pornography with Violence Add Up to Political Repression? from 1980, only a year after Dworkin’s Men Possessing Women? In history, usually they’d all be primary, because they’re happening at roughly the same time, they’re contemporaries, etc. But then I’ve also heard (from someone in my Feminist class) that what divides them is if someone is writing about someone else; so if Patrick Califia is writing about Dworkin, then it’s a secondary source.

I ask because I need to come up with a thesis that includes what kind of sources/evidence I’ll be using, so I need to be able to say if I’m using secondary sources or primary sources or both.

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10 Answers

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

Here is a link that might provide some guidance .

In my historical work on gender studies, I treated my own interviews as primary studies.

Hypothesis based on the author’s interviews in a quoted work are primary sources.

If an author quotes another author or another author’s statistics in a particular passage I moved that to a secondary source. So a particular work, you can reference the same author as both primary and secondary.

Bellatrix's avatar

The primary source is the film, the work of art, you are analysing. So for me the newspapers I analyse are my primary sources.

The secondary sources are those documents you draw on that are of themselves analysing/evaluating/discussing the primary source or theory around it. So for me it would be journal articles/texts that are based on another scholars analysis of newspapers or the like.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

In some ways, they’re all primary sources. While some draw on what others say, it’s not like that’s all they’re doing…even if you have a text that’s in response to someone’s text, it’s still a primary source to me since in feminist or queer or transgender theory, a lot of it is a conversation. Tough call.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Ok. Are there any works you can think of in this area that would be definitively secondary, and to call them primary would be wrong, where I could look at it and see the difference?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

If I cite your paper, I’m citing a secondary source.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Aethelflaed It’s true. If you write a paper that combines all these ideas and it gets cited, that’s one step removed from the works themselves. All the works as you mention them are primary sources. You can ask your professor for clarification, though.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Doesn’t the part where many of these works cite and reference the other works then make them a secondary source themselves?

Bellatrix's avatar

I would say yes @Aethelflaed, their analysis of these texts makes them secondary to the primary work. They are works of analysis themselves. If you were analysing the theories of these key scholars, they could be a primary text but if you are using them to support your analysis of a film or films, and to demonstrate the ideas and theories about these films, they are secondary.

It depends on whether they are the thing you are analysing or if you are using the materials to show the ideas, theories and discussion about a film.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Aethelflaed No, just citing a work in a work doesn’t making it a secondary source, to me. The people you mention also put forth their own ideas even if they referenced some previous work.

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