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Does rather than the location in which he/she

 

Does Social Scientific Knowledge Have a
Poltics?

Addressing the presence of politics in social
scientific knowledge, this essay will provide a criticism of the standard view
of science as a proponent of apolitical objective knowledge (Chalmers, 1982).
Feminist epistemologies will be used to counter argument this view, as they
focus on the existence of politics within social scientific knowledge (Bar On,
1993). One of the key points of dispute between the feminist epistemologies and
standard view as philosophies of science is the location of the knower within
social and political context as well as in relation to the acquired scientific
knowledge itself. To address whether science does or does not have a politics
is thus directly related to the question of objectivity in both the knowledge
and the knower. Firstly, the notions of the standard view of science and its
importance for the obtainment of objective scientific truth will be outlined.
This will be followed by the challenge posed on the standard view by the feminist
standpoint view (Hill Collins, 1986), postmodern feminist epistemology
(Yeatman, 1995) and feminist empiricism (Holmwood, 1995) Finally, the point
will be made, why feminist theory provides a convincing argument for the
presence of politics particularly within social science, however this is not
done so to dispute social science as a scientific discipline, or befall into a
relativism epistemology, rather to highlight the very particular pitfalls
social science might face when it commits to objective truths (Gross and
Levitt,1994) as opposed to theoretical positions. 

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The standard view of science is based upon the
assumption that the inductivist method of observation rather than the theory is
the starting point to scientific enquiry and from such observation the truth
can be securely derived (Chalmers, 1982). The truth being of course objective,
in need of no explanation, and independent of time and space. The knower is
assumed to be only immediately influenced by the observation rather than the
location in which he/she is situated. In fact, Nagel (1989) referred to the
view of the knower as understood within the standard view of science, as the
“view from nowhere”. Universal and objective truths can be thus derived, and
defensible observation statement can be formed based upon the assumption that
truth is not attached to any moment in time therefore the location of the
knower bears little importance (Newton-Smith, 1981). This is not to argue that
biases do not occur within this understanding of science, however they ought to
be addressed and eliminated as truth itself is self-explanatory, and it is only
untruth which needs scientific explanation (Chalmers, 1978). By addressing and
removing biases, it can again be assumed that knowledge is not located. Thus
summarized, by addressing the bias, the scientific enquiry can recover from the
locatedness of the knower and place him/her back into the territory of absolute
objectivity (plato.standford.edu, 2018). This is a particularly powerful
ideology, precisely because of the described attributes it gives to the
knowledge produced, such as being transcending of all locations. It can be thus
argued, that for social enquiry to have sufficient scientific gravitas, it
should aim to follow the standard view of science insofar to aim to remove
biases and be as objective as possible. Within the natural sciences, it is
often the case that albeit historically changing, there is one accepted
ontology and one accepted epistemology, such as the standard view (Chalmers,
1982). The Sokal affair (a publishing hoax by physics professor Alan Sokal, who
submitted and got published a nonsensical article to the academic journal
Social Text) (Guillory, 2012), by showing the difficulties with providing
thorough peer review in a discipline that is not committed to one unified
epistemological and ontological grounds, the standard view for example,
provides a convincing argument as to why social sciences, despite the
differences in objects of study to the natural sciences, should aim to be
objective and apolitical, to gain sufficient scientific kudos.

Feminist theory challenges the notion of the
view from nowhere insofar that it is impossible for the knower to occupy an
unattached space. What feminism does, is to bring to the forefront the figure
of the knower and shine a light on the location of such knower within the
political and social play field and then particularly on the influence of the
knower, or presumed objectivity on the formation of knowledge itself
9plato.standford.edu, 2018). To connect this argument to the previous
statement, about the possibly negative consequences for social science in
comparison to natural sciences, Stacey and Thorne (1985)  use it to differentiate between interpretative
and positivist traditions, with the latter laying claims to objectivity (Smith,
1978) and the former being more reflexive about the grounds on which the theory
develops. To question the locatedness of the knower, and the politics of
science also means to enquire about the effect of social and political grounding
in which knowledge is formed. The feminist enquiry is particularly focuses on
the questions of the effects of the gender of the knower on the knowledge
produced (Quine,1963). Predictably, feminism argues that the so call voice from
nowhere, is the voice of white privileged men, which was so dominant and
remained unchallenged so that it was mistaken for objective, apolitical and
scientifically rigorous position.

Furthermore, as Addelson (1983) writes, the
scientific method in the standard view of science is presented as the height of
human rationality, invented to answer enquiries about the world, and to seek
objective truths. Science appears as though it describes one set of facts
corresponding with one reality (Gregory, 1998). It also enjoys tremendous
success, as scientists are seen to have access to facts, and the objective
understanding of the world (Newton-Smith, 1981). The success is attributed to
the scrutiny of scientific enquiry, the criticism and testing for
falsification, which in the end differentiates scientific knowledge from lay
knowledge. To say that knowledge has a politics is to argue that what we know
and the art in which the knowledge is obtained, mirrors the situation or the
viewpoint of the knower (plato.standoford.edu, 2018b). This of course conflicts
with the “apolitical knower” or the so called “view from nowhere” (Gross
Levitt, 1984). Feminism challenges the existence of such position from an
empirical, postmodernist and feminists’ standpoint view perspective.
Additionally, feminist theorists argue that the view from nowhere, thus without
any perspective nor politics, applied to social sciences is not only false but
also leads to creating scientific theories which disadvantage those in
oppressed social positions. This is to be understood as the dominant voice of
reason is a male voice, the presumptions that would have arisen had that voice
been female are omitted by default. This of course can be transferred from
gender upon class and as well as race. Feminist, argue, in the most radical
forms of their critique of the standard view, that aperspectivity hides the
androcentric exercise of male power being used to shape women’s behaviour
according to that of men.

Feminist epistemology lays its focus on the
way in which social location of the knower influences the “how” of acquiring
knowledge.  When we speak of location,
this is of course not to be understood literary, we refer to the ascribed
social identities such as gender, race and ethnic identities. As individuals,
we occupy different location with these ascribed identities, which are additionally
attached to different powers and interest. This alone provides grounds for
forming an argument, claiming that social scientific knowledge ahs a politics,
because for knowledge to be located means for it to have a politics. At this
point however, we must address the concerns that the feminist critique of the
position of the knower and the supposed “view from nowhere” may lead to
relativism, thus crumbling science up into ideologies without any intrinsic
meaning. Rather than to completely forget about the efforts to understand the
world rationally, this effort should be advanced, as argued by feminist
theorists. This is to be done by creating consciousness of self (Piaget), by
which we realise the structures that underlie the science’s claim to universality.
However, the question remains, how many elements of the location can be
analytically included when making a scientific argument? As we can have
established the knower can only occupy a very particular location (a white
feminist will have a different perception of the oppressive nature of the
androcentric scientific enquiry from a white feminist). Arguably, we will
always adopt a point of view that is based upon our social and political
positioning, thus unavoidably being centric either way, even if the desired
outcome is heterogeneity. So how is the knower meant to navigate the world of
infinitive perspectives and politics? The deconstructionist answer is that the
knower, instead of occupying the position in a political ether, is occupying a
position from “somewhere” (as supposed to nowhere), however this view is always
limited.

Contrary to the deconstruction notion,
locatedness of the knower can also be used in a positive way in terms of
developing a critical theory. One such critical theory is the feminist
standpoint theory. It is critical in terms of its intentions being to give
greater power to the oppressed by focusing on studies for, by and about the
oppressed (women). This may thus create a more valuable representation of women
by appealing for an epistemic privilege of social situations in which gender is
entangled on behalf of sexist assumptions. By combining the notions of
knowledge being attached to a knower, thus situated and not being in free
floating in the ether of nowhere and the sociological concept of gender as a
type of a social location, we can come to understandings that what we as people
know and how we come to said knowledge, is influenced by our gender, and or our
notions of it. Arguably each “type” of gendered knowledge raises new
epistemological questions.  However, the
obvious criticism of standpoint theory lies in the problematic of establishing
which standpoint has said epistemic privilege (Longino, 1993). The feminist
theorist Bar On (1993) argued against the notion of women’s epistemic privilege
being based on women’s oppression through feminine cognitive styles (Crenshaw,
1999) as our way of gaining moral knowledge is inevitably founded upon the
continuum of already established gender relations .By anchoring epistemic
privilege in feminine cognitive styles, we are forced to decide between ethical
knowledge and the life in a society without sexism (ibid).

Nonetheless, the most apparent criticism of
the feminist standpoint theory came from the postmodernist feminist movement,
which pointed out that women cannot possibly have a shared insight into
capturing the basis of their oppression, as the category of a “woman” is
unattainable, given the different oppression brought upon by different race,
sexual orientation etc (Barwell, 1995). They go as far as asserting that the
universal women’s point of view, the universal female knower is the viewpoint
of a well-positioned white woman (McLennan, 1995). There are two conclusions to
be drawn from feminist postmodern perspective and that is that the claim of a
unified womanliness and the aim to gain a single perspective with
epistemological privilege in the name of objectivity is unfeasible and
unfounded. Postmodernism as such discards the fixation and unison of personal
identity, which is the basis of relativism, a notoriously dangerous
epistemology, as it disables criticism. Thus it is crucial to acknowledge, that
although feminist claim stem from a politics of feminism it cannot be simple
reduced to being only about feminist politics, or to represent the view of one
particular knower (Strickland, 1995).

However, the criticism of postmodernist
feminist theory is based precisely upon their argument of the impossibility of
a unified female perspective, thus leading to a crumbling apart of perspectives
within feminist discourse. Notably Kathrine MacKinnon (2000) criticises the
rejection of the overarching category as women, arguing that albeit women of
different class relations and different ages may experience various kinds of
sexist oppression, it is still within the realm of sexism. Consideration of
intersectionality, rather than being the ground for rejecting woman as one
unified actor, can contribute to structural analysis of gender (Haslanger,
2000). Finally, feminist postmodernist arguments lead to the falling apart of
groups, by which it reinforces individualism, emphasised in the very
epistemological notion they seem to argue against. Put in other words, the view
from nowhere has been in feminist postmodernism replaced by what we might argue
is the view from everywhere. However, within the feminist discourse
postmodernism prevails as successful epistemology, attributed to the agreement
within the discourse on the diversity of situated knowledge. The critique of
feminist postmodernist notions is the hanging onto the idea of the knower as a
transhistorical figure without any social identities (Harding, 1990).
Furthermore Scott (1991) elaborates that it also suggests that the lack of the
female perspective represented by the knower is a bias which can be eliminated
within science without the addition of feminist thought to the basis of the
enquiry. 

A third view of the feminist discourse which
we may be used to debunk the argument that social science does not have a
politics is feminist empiricism (Quine, 1963). Firstly, empiricism rests on the
notion that experiences are the key explanations of knowledge. Leading from this
premise, feminist empiricism is thus the notion that empirical questions can be
added a dimension by considering feminist values. It also considers the ways in
which the discovery of gender biases in current research can improve scientific
methods (Campbell and Nelson, 1990). The argument against using this
epistemology as critique of the standard view is that it does not go far
enough. Yes, it acknowledges the bias caused by the knowledge being located,
but addresses this a way notably like the standard view of science. This is of
course not surprising as empiricism is based upon the presumption, that
knowledge can be derived and justified solely from experience. Feminist
postmodernists disapprove of feminist empiricist for presuming the existing of
an individual as a transhistorical subject of knowledge outside of social
determination (Harding, 1990). Feminist empiricists are also criticized for tolerating
an naïve concept of experience (Scott 1991), and for naively holding that
science will correct the errors and biases in its theories about women and
other subordinated groups by itself, without the aid of feminist values or
insights.  Handleby (1997) criticizes
feminist empiricism from a standpoint feminist perspective. She argues that
feminist empiricism omits the part feminists’ politics play in the growth of an
understanding of an alternative foundation for forming hypotheses that can be
based upon to dispute the androcentric standard.

In the last two decades of social science
research and feminist epistemology however, the lines between the distinct
forms of epistemology (empirical, standpoint theory, and postmodern) as defined
by Harding (1986) have become more blurred. This is due to previously these
epistemologies concerning the overarching questions of who does the view from
nowhere belong to and how is gender implicated within such view. More recently
however, the focused been more narrowed down onto how gender (or any other
bias) influences particular subjects (Harding, 1990, 1991, 1998).

Of course, the notion of feminist empiricism
is not without criticism. There are theorist dooming feminist epistemologies as
dishonest in its search for the objective, overarching truth (Monist,
77(4) (1994), Gross and Levitt (1994), Haack (1993), and Pinnick, Koertge and
Almeder (2003). It is unsuitable for such enquiry as it interchanges scientific
facts with values, thus disabling the possibility of a objective, apolitical
outcome. This is done so to prevent truths problematic to the feminist agenda
coming to the surface, alongside with rejecting science by wrongly associating
its foundations with patriarchal dominance. Furthermore, as feminist
epistemologies debunk the notion of objective, apolitical truth ideals, they
are seen to hold a overexaggerated view that all views are influenced by
political power struggles. However, founded on the previous clarifications
given of each feminist empirical standpoint, it is clear that such condemnation
is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of such epistemologies, for their
aim as argued, is not to dispute the scientific objectivity as a whole, rather
to highlight the possibility of an addition of points of view to improve the
dominant view, tainted with sexist and androcentric biases (Lloyd 1995a, 1995b,
1997a, 1997b, Nelson 1990). It further does not contradict the truths that
science has produced, it is more a uncovering the hidden strings, such as male
interests of maintain the status quo, pulling on the attempt at a objective
knowledge (Harding 1986, 1998, 1993; Tiles 1987). 

To finally dispute such criticism being
bestowed upon feminist epistemologies, rather than using values instead of
facts and truths, they are used to inform the truth (Anderson 1995b). This is
done, as independent and equal rules informing cognitive authority combined
with the necessity of the scientific knowledge being prepared to answer to
criticisms based on varying grounds, is irreconcilable with not acknowledging
the political grounds which undermine the objectivity and thus universality of
the theory (Longino 1990, 1993a, 2001; Anderson 2004). One can sum this
postulate up in a Lacatoshian fashion, arguing that acknowledging the gendered
nature of male produced scientific facts, does not dispute their claim to be factual
and consisting of valid knowledge, it rather attracts their claim to
universality.

In conclusion, although this essay has
provided a feminist critique of the standard view of science applied to social
enquiry, it demonstrated how the feminist critique exceeded the realms of
feminism and did not focus solely on the effects of gender by questioning the
very assumption underlying the claims to objectivity. In the arguments
presented it was made clear, that feminism argues not only for the uncovering
of the biases informing knowledge formation but also to acknowledge the effect
of the biases on the knowledge itself. Ultimately, feminism transformed the
discussions within the social scientific research disciplines, which are
essentially about dialogue. From the point of view of Gross and Levitt (1994)
the aim of social sciences is not to obligate itself to a truth, rather to the
obtaining of theoretical positions. It can be thus concluded, that social
scientific knowledge does indeed have a politics, and however this does not
impact on its ability to seek truth

 

 

 

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