This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
When an individual approaches scientific research in biology, physics, or chemistry there is a systematic nature to the process of inquiry that is encapsulated in the term the ‘scientific method’. This statement conjures imagery of a sterile lab environment and working with objects of study, and maybe a white lab coat thrown in for good measure. However when one approaches social scientific research there has been a shift away from the strictures of the so called ‘hard sciences’ to embrace the nature of the subject of study, humans. However the Social Sciences have not always diverged from the sterile structure of lab based research in its philosophy or in its practice. Positivism, is the name given to the philosophical approach which embraces the methods of the ‘hard sciences’ and maintains the distance between the researcher and the objects of research. This disconnect between researcher and researched has lead to the development of more hands on approaches to the social sciences which have in turn shifted the current philosophy behind social science research away from pure positivism to a hybrid mish mash of philosophies. One such philosophical approach to research is ‘standpoint epistemology’ which looks to end the disconnect between researcher and object of research to create a more participatory research paradigm which yields specific knowledge or truths that are only possible from that particular ‘standpoint’. ‘Standpoint epistemology’ will be the focus of this analysis. Firstly, the analysis will seek to provide a summary of what constitutes ‘standpoint epistemology’ with its grounding in Marxist Philosophy (Anderson, 2003; Kemp & Squires 1997). standpoint epistemology’. Secondly, the analysis will provide illustration as to an active ‘standpoint epistemology’ in the form of ‘Feminist Thirdly, the analysis will evaluate ‘standpoint epistemology’ generally and with special attention to ‘Feminist standpoint epistemology’ versus the competing approach of ‘Feminist empiricism’. The goal of this paper is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of ‘standpoint epistemology’ as a philosophical foundation behind social science research.
Candidate No. 0138037
Summary: ‘standpoint epistemology’
The foundations of ‘standpoint epistemology’ are rooted in the construction of the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeois as conceptualized by Marx (Kemp & Squires 1997, pg. 168). However, ‘standpoints’ gain their authority from the ability to lay claim to epistemic privilege based on the social position of the individual or group within society (Anderson 2003). An example of a ‘standpoint’ which allows for such an epistemic privilege is that of a butcher when the topic is the selection of a cut of meat (Anderson 2003). The butcher is clearly the most able to select the appropriate cut of meat, experience has taught the butcher what is the best cut of meat. The butcher’s judgment then carries sufficient weight to alter the decision of the consumer without a need to justify the advice with further supporting evidence, a.k.a. the butcher’s word is sufficient. The requisites of a ‘standpoint’ are best described by Anderson (2003):
A complete standpoint theory must specify (i) the social location of the privileged perspective, (ii) the scope of its privilege: what questions or subject matters it can claim a privilege over, (iii) the aspect of the social location that generates superior knowledge: for example, social role, or subjective identity; (iv) the ground of its privilege: what it is about that aspect that justifies a claim to privilege; (v) the type of epistemic superiority it claims: for example, greater accuracy, or greater ability to represent fundamental truths; (vi) the other perspectives relative to which it claims epistemic superiority and (vii) modes of access to that perspective: is occupying the social location necessary or sufficient for getting access to the perspective?
This description identifies the prerequisites for the creation of a standpoint and can be illuminated by the case of the classical standpoint of the proletariat. Marx in describing society as motivated by the eternal toil of the proletariat against the excesses of the bourgeois was able to conceptualize the ‘proletariat standpoint’ which claimed epistemic privilege over the fundamental questions of economics, sociology, and history (Anderson 2003). However, issue can be taken with the use of the term perspective in the creation of a ‘standpoint epistemology’; Feminist’s would suggest that a standpoint is more than mere perspective and that it requires direct engagement in the intellectual and political struggle that defines women’s social experiences (Kemp & Squires 1997, pg. 169). Therefore a thorough illustration of the ‘Feminist standpoint epistemology’ is in order since it is the most widely associated ‘standpoint’ in use in the social sciences which involves predominantly a qualitative approach to research.
Candidate No. 0138037
Illustration: ‘Feminist Standpoint Epistemology’
‘Standpoint epistemologies’ are most prevalent in the research conducted by Feminists and the approach is utilized to elevate the value of knowledge produced through social research into oppressed groups and to challenge the basic structure of traditional sociological research. However, it is inappropriate to jump headlong into the different foundations of ‘Feminist standpoint epistemologies’ without first looking to the goals of the ‘Feminist research’ to bring about the end of oppression of women. The contributions of ‘Feminist research’ are best captured by the following statement:
Feminist research has challenged some fundamental binaries of traditional approaches, such as objectivity and ‘distance’ form the participants, hierarchies amongst knowers, both within research teams and between research and researcher, and universality and uniqueness. It also exposes androcentrism in research language which excludes women, which separates researchers from the people they are investigating and which facilitates elite male control. (Truman, Mertens & Humphries 2000, pg. 8)
The approaches and challenges to traditional research may today seem commonplace in qualitative research where the interaction between the researcher and the object of research has been replaced with a more participatory research dynamic in which both the research and the participant are equally involved in the research process. An example of such an approach utilizing distance while at the same time embracing the contributions of both researcher and participant is evident in the research by Clare Woodward in Hearing Voices?: Research issues when telling respondents’ stories of childhood sexual abuse from a feminist perspective (Truman, Mertens & Humphries 2000, pp. 37-51). Woodward in her analysis describes the dilemma in not contacting the individuals that immortalized their experiences in writing while at the same time balancing the ethical issues surrounding opening wounds of the past. With some insight into the goals of ‘Feminist research’ it is appropriate to discuss the competing dynamics that construct ‘Feminist standpoint epistemology’. Harding (1986) suggests that the ‘Feminist perspective’ provides five different yet inter-related reasons why understandings of nature and social life from a ‘Feminist standpoint’ are not possible from the perspective of man (Harding 1986). Special care should be taken when considering the five following perspectives because they are formulated in order to discuss the movement for a feminist successor science of which the social sciences is included.
Candidate No. 0138037 The first such perspective is entitled The Unity of Hand, Brain and Heart in Craft Labor and is advanced by Hilary Rose in her ‘feminist epistemology for the natural sciences’ (Harding 1986, pg. 142). The crux of this position is that amongst women scientists the process which is employed is more closely related to some form of ‘craft labor’ versus the traditional ‘industrialized labor’ that is typical of most scientific research (Harding 1986, pg. 142). The basis for this interpretation is the nature of the jobs and approaches that women have been assigned by male dominated society, such as childrearing. In turn these experiences can be utilized by women scientists to bring about a purer knowledge due to the perspective that allows for the recognition of the value of treating an organism not as an object of study but as a participant with a level of say in its future (Harding 1986, pp. 142-6). Harding (1986) summarizes the essence of Rose’s position with:
…she (Rose) does argue that the origins of a feminist epistemology …are to be found in the conceptions of the knower, the processes of knowing, and the world to be known which are evident in … substantive scientific research. The substantive claims of this research are thus to be justified in terms of women’s different activities and social experiences created in the gendered division of labor/activity. (pg.146)
The second approach to ‘Feminist epistemology’ is entitled Women’s Subjugated Activity: Sensuous, Concrete, Relational and is advanced by Nancy Harstock (Harding 1986). This approach embraces the Marxist sentiment of labor and seeks to identify that the labor which women undertake is specifically unique and therefore allows for the creation of a ‘feminist standpoint’ through the shared experience of all women. However unlike Rose, who embraces the caring nature of women’s labor, Harstock believes that women’s labor is divided into subsistence and reproduction. The subsistence labor is present in all tasks that maintain the home and are used to oppress women. This is the distinction that Harstock creates to differentiate proletariat labor from women’s labor and grants the position its status as a standpoint (Harding 1986, pp. 146-151). The third approach is entitled The ‘Return of the Repressed’ in Feminist Theory and is advanced by Jane Flax (Harding 1986). Flax asserts that “the task of feminist epistemology is to uncover how patriarchy has permeated both our concept of knowledge and the concrete content of bodies of knowledge, even that claiming to be emancipatory” (Harding 1986, pg. 151). The assertion by Flax is that feminist knowledge has the goal of bringing attention to the bias in traditional science and to
Candidate No. 0138037 fight against the repression that is created by the distancing by male children from mothers (Harding 1986). Flax however does not maintain this line of argument in her later work, she instead begins to embrace post modern feminism which in turn challenges all conceptions of an absolute knowledge or truth to come to a more subjective viewpoint where truth is relative (Harding 1986). The fourth approach to a ‘Feminist standpoint epistemology’ is constructed through the work of Dorothy Smith in The Bifurcated Consciousness of Alienated Women Inquirers (Harding 1986, pp. 155-8). Smith suggests once again that women’s labor is uniquely different to that of a man but moves beyond actual types of labor to look at the impact on both the male recognition of the work and self recognition by the woman. The premise is then that woman allow a man to neglect self maintenance and as well the maintenance of his environment through the division of labor. This division of labor then in turn makes the man unaware of the acts of the woman and makes them unimportant in the eyes of the male. Once the labors are deemed unimportant they are unable to be reflected upon by the woman as such tasks have now become essential to the female identity (Harding 1986; Delanty & Strydom 2003, pp. 405-409). This stance once again returns to the Marxist division of labor to define the unique knowledge/perspective that woman can contribute to scientific study. Smith like Flax does also embrace a postmodern approach to feminism in her later work. The fifth and final approach is entitled New Persons and the Hidden Hand of History, which is advanced by Engels (Harding 1986, pp. 158-162). This approach looks at the historical developments when crafting the knowledge and labor surrounding women. The implication is that individuals are limited by the constraints of the time they are in and as such the social construction and impact of the times is not observable unless from the perspective of a historical review. The premise is then that with knowledge of the history of women’s labor a woman is then able to more readily identify current oppression (Harding 1986). These five rationales behind the development of the ‘Feminist standpoint’ contribute to the general knowledge of oppression and women’s roles which leave them in the privileged epistemic position to have feminist knowledge provide insight into societal interaction. However, there is a modern take on the approach to ‘Feminist standpoint’ and what grounds such a theory. The principles behind this grounding are Centrality, Collective self-consciousness, and Cognitive style 5
Candidate No. 0138037 (Anderson 2003). Centrality refers to the role of women within the dynamic of social relations as individuals responsible for reproduction which in turn allows women to have the epistemic privilege of knowing whose needs get better served and the converse neglected under patriarchy (Anderson 2003). Centrality is related to the work of Hartsock and Rose. Collective self-consciousness refers to the work of McKinnon who asserts that male dominance is based on the sexual objectification of women, in turn grants women the epistemic privilege of agent self-knowledge. This self-knowledge allows women to demand not to be treated as sexual objects (Anderson 2003). Cognitive style refers to once again the nature of women’s labor and is represented in the work of Flax, Hartsock, Rose, and Smith. The cognitive style is generally associated with the ‘ethics of care’ that is embraced by ‘Feminist research’ which is the product of hands on emotional care of others inherent in the division of labor between male and female (Anderson 2003). ‘Feminist standpoint epistemology’ is therefore the construct of the social and oppressive forces at work in the lives of women. This construct maintains its theoretical roots in the Marxist division of society between proletariat and bourgeois which in turn imparts the division of labor to discern the epistemic privilege granted by women’s work. However the analysis of ‘standpoint epistemology’ is not complete without evaluating the effectiveness of such an approach.
Candidate No. 0138037
Evaluate: ‘Feminist Standpoint Epistemology’
The ‘Feminist standpoint’ epistemology is not free from criticism. The most common criticism comes from ‘Feminist empiricists’ and relates to the nature of bias within the approach. The second criticism comes from within the ranks of ‘Feminist standpoint’ epistemology with the assertion by Hill Collins that there is a need for the creation of an ‘Afrocentric feminist standpoint’ due to the oppression imposed by white middle class feminists. Finally in response to the nature of ‘Feminist standpoint’ epistemology there is the suggestion that the field is nothing more than essentialist by hiding behind exclusivity of access to oppress male feminists. These criticisms will be handled one at a time to illustrate the challenges that face ‘Feminist standpoint’ epistemology. Then the analysis will be widened to generally comment on ‘standpoint epistemology’. The alternative theoretical foundation to ‘Feminist research’ is found in feminist empiricism. ‘Feminist empiricism’ looks to balance the scientific nature of inquiry with the political movement that is Feminism. Clearly when one thinks of the process of research or scientific inquiry it is believed that bias or a political motivation should be excluded from such a process. ‘Feminist’ empiricists hold to the belief that the problem in research in the presence of social biases which lead to sexist and androcentric claims in research (Kemp & Squires 1997, pg. 166). The solution to remove these biases is a strict adherence to the scientific process as suggested by Sandra Harding:
Feminist empiricists argue that sexist and androcentric biases are eliminable by stricter adherence to the existing methodological norms of the scientific inquiry; it is ‘bad science’ or ‘bad sociology’, etc, which is responsible for these biases in the results of research. (Kemp & Squires 1997, pg. 166)
With this premise Feminist empiricism seeks to utilize the existing framework and process of the scientific method to bring about social change through the researchers as well as what is researched. This does not mean to ignore the political nature of the Women’s movement but to acknowledge that the movement brings about increased access for women researchers and encourages more work by feminist researchers (both male and female) who are able to identify more accurately the biases present in sociological research over a sexist male (Kemp & Squires 1997, pg. 166). The ‘Feminist empiricists’ challenge the benefits provided by ‘standpoint epistemology’
Candidate No. 0138037 because of a fundamental adherence to the traditional methods of science does not allow for what is perceived as bias to be embraced in research. The second challenge to the ‘Feminist standpoint’ comes from Hill Collins (1990) who would suggest that there needs to be the development of an ‘Afrocentric feminist’ epistemology. The basis for this position is that the experience of Black women is not included in the established ‘Feminist standpoint’ because the experiences of a Black female are inherently unique and not experienced by white females (Truman, Mertens & Humphries 2000, pg. 8). Hill Collins conceptualizes this stance:
Black feminist thought …reflects the interest and standpoint of its creators. … Because elite white men and their representative control structures of knowledge validation, white male interests pervade the thematic content of traditional scholarship. Black women’s experiences … have been rountinely distorted in or excluded from traditional academic discourse. (Hill Collins 1990, pg. 201)
Furthermore, Hill Collins suggests that a Black feminist can merge and work between a ‘Feminist standpoint’ and ‘Afrocentric feminist’ standpoint but the two are unique standpoints. However the question remains if there is a unique standpoint for all varieties of Feminist does this not cause a weakening within the Women’s movement and undermine the traditional ‘Feminist standpoint’. The ‘Feminist standpoint’ has also come under fire because of its inability to recognize that contributions to the field my come from non-female individuals. Unlike ‘Feminist empiricism’ which embraces the idea that feminist (male and female) can contribute to the wider understanding of the social struggle of women in a sexist society ‘Feminist standpoint’ subscribers feel that research based on such a foundation makes the field exclusive to women. To describe the limitations of such a stance it is appropriate to turn to an article by LaSusa (2005) entitled Can a White Woman be a Black Feminist?: An inquiry into standpoint epistemology in which the principle goal is to address the barrier to the epistemic privilege granted by a standpoint because one does not fit within the group that is defined by the ‘standpoint’. With reference to the discussion above concerning the creation of an ‘Afrocentric feminist’ standpoint Hill Collins (1990) states:
Black women's work and family experiences and grounding in traditional African-American culture suggest that African-American women as a group
Candidate No. 0138037
experience a world different from that of those who are not Black and female. Moreover, these concrete experiences can stimulate a distinctive Black feminist consciousness concerning that material reality. (LaSusa 2005)
This definition however clearly limits the group which can lay claim to the epistemic benefits of the standpoint and leave LaSusa without a means to actively engage in the ‘standpoint’ because she has not experienced the Black Feminist life. standpoint’ with the following statement:
At the same time, however, a Black feminist standpoint cannot emerge from one who does not have the material experience of Black women. Such an assumption would be completely contradictory to the theory of standpoint epistemologies, which state that knowledge is derived from personal experience. As Patricia Hill Collins claims, ``It is more likely for Black women as members of an oppressed group to have critical insights into the condition of our own oppression than it is for those who live outside those structures'' (SW 253) and ``Other groups cannot produce Black feminist thought without African-American women'' (SW 255). Any attempt for me as a middle-class white woman to define Black feminist thought cannot and will not be liberatory. Instead, it will merely be another outsider imposing her own values and beliefs on Black women: a moral and epistemological imperialism which is the source of Black women's oppression. (LaSusa 2005)
describes her realization of her own limitations when approaching the ‘Black Feminist
The internal struggle that is occurring within LaSusa is laudable for the effort to try and combine and appreciate the material realities that are not her own, however it is clear that a white woman can not be a black feminist nor can a biological male utilize the ‘Feminist standpoint’ to bring about social change. Expanding this evaluation of ‘Feminist standpoint’ to general concerns with ‘standpoint epistemology’ it is clear that the creation of a standpoint though rigorous in nature can create a never-ending specialization which in the end could go so far as to recognize groups as small as three. The philosophical challenge to this reality is that it is the common experience shared on a larger scale that then allows the members of the identified ‘standpoint’ to have the social force to bring about change and end oppression. The identification traditional within the Marxist creation of the ‘proletariat standpoint’ embraced the reality that one gained access to the ‘standpoint’ once the actor was exposed to the experiences of the proletariat within the structure of society and not by merely being a worker. It is this investment in the experience and the pressure from the social forces that shapes the common experience and caution should be taken when trying to identify distinct groups with ‘standpoints’ because by constantly dividing larger groups the ability to bring social change is weakened. If critical studies has provided any guidance on this matter it would be to suggest that by
Candidate No. 0138037 stratifying the larger groups into smaller segments the overall group integrity and unity has been defeated. The best example of this would be to look at critical studies surrounding the gay community, so called queer theory. The gay community is traditional associated with mainstream white middle class individuals and the social experiences of minorities are significantly hindered by this reality. In response queer theorists have divided the gay community also along race lines. However this has exposed internal tension within the gay community and at the same time allowed the movements push for equality to be halted by disunity within an oppressed group as each individual ‘standpoint / theory’ fights for its own voice alone (Truman, Mertens & Humphries 2000, pp 52-64).
Candidate No. 0138037
The goal of ‘standpoint epistemology’ is to bring about social change through a more pure knowledge that is only obtainable through the epistemic privilege granted by the experience that is the day to day life of the group involved. The traditional foundations of ‘standpoint epistemology’ are found in the creation by Marx of the social division between worker and manager and this social dynamic has been the foundation of ‘Feminist standpoint epistemologies’ with reference to the unique labor that women engage in by their place in society. The goal of this analysis was to summarize, illustrate, and evaluate ‘standpoint epistemology’ in order to look at its place in the development of Social Science research philosophies. The ‘Feminist standpoint’ was chosen as the illustration because it is by far the most widely used philosophical standpoint in social research. The reason for this prevalence is that the ‘Feminist standpoint’ brings along with it the end to the disconnect between researcher and the researched to develop a more participatory research dynamic. However, the ‘Feminist standpoint’ is not without its criticism which is both internal and external. “Feminist empiricists’ see the ‘standpoint’ as bias ridden without true objectivity which is essential in scientific research and seek to right the oppression of women by bringing individuals into the field who are able to identify androcentric and sexist biases in research from an objective standpoint. Within the ‘Feminist standpoint’ is the challenge from Hill Collins to suggest that the mainstream ‘standpoint’ does not encapsulate the unique contributions of black women and that an ‘Afrocentric standpoint’ is appropriate. These challenges are typical of the debates within the philosophy of social science and it would appear that ‘standpoint epistemology’ is an approach that provides access to knowledge that is unable to be ascertained through the use of traditional scientific approaches and therefore a valid method of inquiry.
Candidate No. 0138037
Books: 1. Connell, R.W. 1995, Masculinities, 2nd edition, Polity Press, Cambridge. 2. Delanty, G. & Strydom, P. eds. 2003, Philosophies of Social Science: The Classic and Contemporary Readings, Open University Press, Maidenhead. 3. Harding, S. 1986, The Science Question in Feminism, Open University Press, Milton Keynes. 4. Hill Collins, P. 1990, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Routledge, New York. 5. Kemp, S. & Squires, J. eds. 1997, Feminisms, Oxford University Press, New York. 6. Murphy, P.F. ed. 2004, Feminism & Masculinities, Oxford University Press, New York. 7. Truman C., Mertens, D. & Humphries, B. eds. 2000, Research and Inequality, UCL Press, London. Internet Resources: 8. Anderson, E. 2003, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, link verified 25 – Jan – 2007, available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-epistemology/ . 9. LaSusa, D. 2005, S.W.A.T. Conference: Can a White Woman be a Black Feminist?: An Inquiry in Standpoint Epistemology, link verified 25 – Jan – 2007, available at: http://conference2005.swapusa.org/papers/lasusa/ .
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.