Welcome to Week 4 of our course on “Feminist Theory and the Joy of Science”. This post will be a presentation of the summaries for each of this week’s assigned readings. If you were not able to do the readings or couldn’t get access to the books, I hope this post will give you a good flavor of what the week’s readings were all about.
You can reference the course syllabus for more details about the readings in the whole course and the course structure. Here’s the initial post about the course. And here are some guidelines about how I’ll post on readings and what we should strive for in commenting.
In this post, I just present the summaries. Following posts will offer more discussion of the readings in relation to one another and/or to other material of my choosing. You are invited to comment, as usual, on any of the posts.
This week, all the readings are from one book:
The Gender and Science Reader, edited by Muriel Lederman and Ingrid Bartsch.
There are six readings. They are all from Section Three of the book, “Analyzing Gendered Science”. Let’s get started!
Are There Feminist Methodologies Appropriate For The Natural Sciences And Do They Make A Difference?
Sue V. Rosser
One sentence summary
Gender is the starting point for wide-ranging and varied feminist theories of science, none of which, Rosser concludes, can effectively challenge science as long as the oppression of women and patriarchy continue.
Not all feminist theories are alike, though they all use gender as a lens to view science and the world. A major divide exists between liberal feminism and all other feminist theories. Liberal feminism does not question the scientific method, objectivity, or value neutrality; bias results from not following the scientific method and letting values influence research. Once bias is revealed, everyone will use the information to do better science; men & women will do science the same. Other feminist theories question all these fundamental assumptions – objectivity, value neutrality, even whether men & women would do science the same. Socialist feminism and African-American feminism posit women’s special position within a class or race as providing them with a more reliable and less distorted worldview. Essentialist feminism turns the traditional use of biology as a tool to oppress women on its head and argues for the superiority and power of women. Psychoanalytic feminism traces male dominance to women’s primary role in childcare. In this theory, gender identity formation explains why more men are attracted to scientific methodology, which emphasizes independence, autonomy, and distance. Women scientists would be more likely to develop relationships with the object of study, shorten the distance between them, and appear to be less objective.
Feminist Standpoint Epistemology
One sentence summary
Standpoint theory requires that research projects consider historical, sociological, and cultural context as a resource and route to greater objectivity.
Knowledge, like opinions, is socially situated. Experience alone, however, is not sufficient grounds for knowledge. Harding gives as example that women have had to learn to define as rape sexual assault occurring within marriage. Feminism teaches us to see things as the outsider does. A standpoint is not a perspective, not something you just “have”; you have to struggle to obtain it, and the struggle helps you understand hidden aspects of relations. E.g., the struggle for formal equality in science revealed that formal discrimination was only part of the problem. We must be “outsiders within”; you can’t see the whole picture only as an outsider. Standpoint theory critiques the notion of value-free, dispassionate objectivity – objectivism. Is judgmental relativism – anything goes – the only alternative? Historical, sociological, cultural relativism is not the same as judgmental relativism. All our beliefs are socially situated, but they must be critically evaluated to see which social situations yield the most objectivity. Harding calls this “strong objectivity” and admits it is somewhat circular, but not “viciously so”. Objectivism results when we ignore history, sociology, culture, and it is useful for dominant groups. Objectivism claims science is only the procedures for testing already formulated hypotheses. Standpoint theory requires attention to “micro processes in the laboratory” as well as “macro tendencies in the social order’.
Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective
One sentence summary
To see the world more objectively, we have to look from someplace in particular.
Demonstrating historical contingency and the constructivist nature of knowledge isn’t sufficient. We need a better account of the world that lets us “live in meanings and bodies”. Vision is particular and embodied, and this is the route to objectivity, which is situated knowledge, not transcendence of limits or splitting of subject and object. Haraway calls for “preferred positioning” which is not relativism. It is “partial, locatable, critical knowledges sustaining the possibility of webs of connection called solidarity in politics and shared conversation in epistemology”. She argues for “a doctrine and practice of objectivity” that includes “passionate construction”. The promise of objectivity lies not in identity – not in “being” simultaneously in all “privileged (subjugated) positions structured by gender, race, nation, and class”. It is critical positioning, rather than identity, which produces knowledge, science, objectivity. Subjugated standpoints are more likely to offer more adequate accounts of the world but knowing how to see from those standpoints is not automatic. Politics and ethics are and should be involved in determining what counts as rational knowledge. Science, says Haraway, “becomes the paradigmatic model not of closure, but of that which is contestable and contested.” To see the world more objectively, we have to look from someplace in particular.
Is Science Multicultural? Challenges, Resources, Opportunities, Uncertainties
One sentence summary
Modern science is not culturally neutral, and explorations of its multicultural roots and practices can open up new possibilities for other sciences as well as Western science.
Modern science does have origins in non-European cultures. Other cultures have had sciences that “work” but are classified as “folk beliefs. It is said that what makes modern science “work” is its own internal logic. But some argue that what makes it “work”, and seem to be unique, is that modern science focused on projects important for European expansion – e.g. navigation, military, imperialist projects. Simultaneously, these projects eliminated rival scientific traditions. Modern science has distinctly “Western” features, e.g.: What counts as problems are those things that expansionist Europe needed solutions for; the conception of nature is alien to many other cultures; the benefits of modern science are distributed disproportionately to advantaged groups, and the costs to everyone else; and value-neutrality is important. Harding emphasizes that “maximizing cultural neutrality, not to mention claiming it, is itself a culturally specific value”. It is variously proposed that Third World science should be integrated into modern science, or elements of modern science integrated into indigenous traditions, or a complete delinking of indigenous and modern science projects should take place. Harding calls for a new kind of science education in the West where every science department would contain “science critics”, analogous to English departments with literary critics and creative writers.
Subjects, Power, and Knowledge: Description and Prescription in Feminist Philosophies of Science
Helen E. Longino
One sentence summary
Scientific knowledge is not the result of an individual’s (the subject’s) interactions with an object, but emerges from critical dialogue in the community of scientists.
Most traditional philosophy of science is based on empiricism, and this means a theory of the subject, or knower. Longino describes three feminist strategies as “changing the subject”: feminist empiricism (knower is still “the purified mind”), standpoint theory, and psychoanalytic theory. In the latter two, the subject is situated in a social context and is affected by social interactions but it is still the relation of subject and object that produces knowledge. The problem is, on what grounds do we choose the context or location that is superior to others? Other science critics have claimed that observation is theory-laden and theories are underdetermined by data. How are we to know anything? Longino suggests scientific knowledge is constructed by “individuals in interaction with one another in ways that modify their observations, theories and hypotheses, and patterns of reasoning.” Knowledge emerges from critical dialogue in the community, not from a lone subject. It does not require consensus; the point is to “make possible the refinement, correction, rejection, and sharing of models.” Knowledge consists in our ability to understand the features of a model and apply them to a portion of the world; the model must be empirically adequate, and we use it as a guide for effective action in the world.
Heisenberg’s Recognitions: The End of the Scientific World View
One sentence summary
Position and momentum are in relation! and this has many deep meanings, which shall be mused upon.
Lukacs offers a discussion of ten propositions, based on his reading of Heisenberg’s philosophical writings. The propositions are: There is no scientific certitude; the illusory ideal of objectivity; the illusory nature of definitions; the illusory nature of the absolute truthfulness of mathematics; the illusory nature of “factual” truth; the breakdown of the mechanical concept of causality; the principal importance of potentialities and tendencies; not the essence of “factors” but their relationship counts; the principles of “classical” logic are no longer unconditional – new concepts of truths are recognized; at the end of the Modern Age the Cartesian partition falls away. Heisenberg does not think that physics and chemistry, along with evolution, will ever give us a clear description of the living organism. Important factors may not have clear definitions, but the factors may be clearly defined with regard to their connections. Method and object can no longer be separated. And other stuff. I am sorry. Brain tired? The editors say of this piece, “If certainty is lacking at the level of subatomic particles in the field that claims to offer the most certainty in describing the natural world, then gendered claims to certainty in all aspects of science must be seriously questioned.” Okay, we’ll go with that.