Feminist Standpoint Theory
Feminist standpoint theorists make three principal claims: (1) Knowledge is socially situated. (2) Marginalized groups are socially situated in ways that make it more possible for them to be aware of things and ask questions than it is for the non-marginalized. (3) Research, particularly that focused on power relations, should begin with the lives of the marginalized. Feminist standpoint theory, then, makes a contribution to epistemology, to methodological debates in the social and natural sciences, to philosophy of science, and to political activism. It has been one of the most influential and debated theories to emerge from second-wave feminist thinking. Feminist standpoint theories place relations between political and social power and knowledge center-stage. These theories are both descriptive and normative, describing and analyzing the causal effects of power structures on knowledge while also advocating a specific route for enquiry, a route that begins from standpoints emerging from shared political struggle within marginalized lives. Feminist standpoint theories emerged in the 1970s, in the first instance from Marxist feminist and feminist critical theoretical approaches within a range of social scientific disciplines. They thereby offer epistemological and methodological approaches that are specific to a variety of disciplinary frameworks, but share a commitment to acknowledging, analyzing and drawing on power/knowledge relationships, and on bringing about change which results in more just societies. Feminist scholars working within a number of disciplines—such as Dorothy Smith, Nancy Hartsock, Hilary Rose, Sandra Harding, Patricia Hill Collins, Alison Jaggar and Donna Haraway—have advocated taking women’s lived experiences, particularly experiences of (caring) work, as the beginning of scientific enquiry. Central to all these standpoint theories are feminist analyses and critiques of relations between material experience, power, and epistemology, and of the effects of power relations on the production of knowledge.
Table of Contents
Historical Roots of Feminist Standpoint Theory
Central Themes in Feminist Standpoint Theory
What is a Standpoint?
Acquiring Knowledge via Standpoints
The Outsider Within
The Bias Paradox
References and Further Reading
At first blush there appears a tension between the traditional epistemological assumption that a general, universal and abstract account of knowledge and scientific enquiry is possible, and the politically inflected feminist claim that such analyses are only properly understood in the social contexts in which they arise, and in terms of the biases and prejudices those contexts generate. From the outset, then, feminist epistemologies seem to be located within the contradictory pull of the politicized material and experiential concerns of feminism and the abstract universal concerns of epistemology. Feminist epistemological projects began as a critique of that tradition but have evolved beyond the critical to reframe and reconceptualize the problems of knowledge and the epistemological project itself. Feminist epistemology does not adopt a monolithic critical position with respect to a traditional canon of epistemological work; rather it consists of a variety of feminist epistemological approaches, of which feminist standpoint epistemologies form a strand.
Here feminist standpoint theory is examined primarily as a feminist epistemology and as a methodology for feminist researchers in the social sciences where, arguably, feminist standpoint theory has had the most influence and been the subject of most debate. As with feminist theories generally, it would be somewhat misleading to represent feminist standpoint theory as a single set of epistemological...
References: Sandra Harding Whose Science/ Whose Knowledge? Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1991
Sandra Harding, “Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What is Strong Objectivity?” in L
Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges” in Harding 2004
Nancy Hartsock, “The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism” in Harding, 2004
Bell Hooks, From Margin to Center, Boston: South End Press, 1984
Rebecca Kukla, “ Objectivity and Perspective in Empirical Knowledge”
Helen Longino, ‘Subjects, Power, and Knowledge: Description and Prescription in Feminist Philosophies of Science’ in Feminist Epistemologies, L. Alcoff and E. Potter (eds.), New York: Routledge, 1993, 101-120.
Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, “The Subsistence Perspective” in Harding, 2004
Uma Narayan, “The Project of Feminist Epistemology: Perspectives from a Nonwestern Feminist” in Harding, 2004
Kristina Rolin, “ The Bias Paradox in Feminist Standpoint Epistemology” Episteme 1(2): 125-136. 2006
Hilary Rose, “Hand, Brain and Heart: A Feminist Epistemology for the Natural Sciences” in Harding, 2004
Wilfrid Sellars, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1997
Dorothy Smith, “Women’s Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology” in Harding, 2004
Alison Wylie, “Why Standpoint Matters” in Harding, 2004
Alison Wylie & Lynn Hankinson Nelson, “Coming to terms with the values of science: Insights from feminist science studies scholarship” In Value-free science: Ideals and illusions, eds
c. Recent Contributions
Sharon Crasnow, “Feminist anthropology and sociology: Issues for social science” In Handbook of the philosophy of science, Volume 15: Philosophy of anthropology and sociology, 2006
Sandra Harding, Sciences from below: Feminisms, postcolonialities, and modernities, Raleigh: Duke University Press, 2008.
Kristen Intemann, “Standpoint empiricism: Rethinking the terrain in feminist philosophy of science” In New waves in philosophy of science, eds. P.D. Magnus and Jacob Busch. Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010; 198-225.
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