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This development, though an unintended effect of feminist critiques of science, is nevertheless a possible outcome. Although there are, of course, many important differences between traditional epistemological orientations and the feminist discussion, the exaggerated focus on epistemology may lead to untenable conclusions, particularly when it comes to the significance of metatheoretical aspects in science.

One consequence is that important distinctions between cognitive and social factors tend to collapse.

A Feminist Epistemology

My main concern in this paper is with feminist epistemologies. I have found that many female, and of course feminist, scientists and theorists discuss issues related to the theory of science. The recent philosophical turn, however, has to a certain extent introduced a new kind of interest in feminist philosophy, which is sometimes only rather distantly connected to political feminism.

Feminist epistemologies are constructed to justify feminist scientific and philosophical activity and to provide a new basis for the new kind of feminism; a process that is fraught with its own special difficulties. In this paper I shall be concerned with some of the problems confronting the feminist epistemological project. They may be formulated in many different ways, but there are at least three main tensions and oppositions that appear to be most influential and relevant to the present discussion.

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These are:. These three related issues are difficult to settle in feminist discourse, and each of them tends to create new problems. In what follows I shall deal with each of the issues under a separate heading. Objectivism and relativism There are many more or less sophisticated definitions of these two terms, but I find that Richard Bernstein has given a valuable one in his book Beyond Objectivism and Relativism He writes:. In its strongest form, relativism is the basic conviction 3. Under objectivists Bernstein means to include not only the rationalists and empiricists, but also foundationalists and essentialists.

Relativism, on the other hand, is defined as the dialectical antithesis of objectivism. It may be argued that this definition is too inclusive as far as objectivism is concerned, and that it misses some of the central aspects of relativism.

Also, it might be argued that the complete counterposition of objectivism and relativism belongs to a traditional, Enlightenment discourse, and has no validity outside this discourse. Most oppositions have a common logic underlying their polarity, which makes it possible for them to define each other negatively.

For my purposes, however, this counterposition of two opposing trends has the advantage that it alerts us to some of the incompatible tendencies in feminist epistemologies. Also, there should be plausible and tenable ways of explaining why traditional knowledge is male-biased, while feminist knowledge is not.

Some feminist theorists tend to subscribe to this view, but I would not call it representative, at least not among feminist philosophers. This assumption, however, tends to lead to some kind of objectivism: but objectivism is at the same time associated with a masculine epistemology, which feminism sets out to oppose.

Consequently, feminist epistemologists need very strong and convincing arguments. These problems place feminists in the same boat as some Marxist standpoint theories, for example the one outlined by George Lukacs in which the proletarian class-standpoint is designated as cognitively privileged. The common point of departure in privileged-position views is that social position in society is the ultimate guarantee in truth-finding procedures or practices.

Even though this postmodern trend is far from unitary and is wide-ranging in its opposition to modernity, some of its critical assumptions and insights are particularly significant when viewed from a feminist perspective.

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In brief, its critical position is really a radical one, because it challenges what lies at the root of the entire Enlightenment project, viz. Anti-foundationalism rejects all of the dichotomies on which Enlightenment epistemology rests, including subject! It also rejects the presuppositions involved in these dichotomies — the ideas of a coherent, unified self, a rationalist and individualist model of knowing and the possibilities of a metalanguage.

All thought is biased and there exists no position from which a correct view, in an absolute sense, may be grounded. Postmodernist challenges, when taken seriously, undermine the feminist epistemological project, unless the idea of a new cognitively privileged position can be defended. To examine that issue, I will now turn to the second of the above-mentioned tensions in feminist epistemology.

Some feminists, such as Mary Daly or Dale Spender , together with most of the French feminist deconstructivists, have asserted that theory as well as language is male-biased and completely permeated with masculinity. Closely related to this view is a concept of the essential female. Daly is but one example of feminists arguing for a return to a focus on femaleness. In my opinion, there are several problems with this view. First of all, it is far too inclusive — it gives no room to distinguish masculine aspects in thinking or in the products of thought, from aspects not genderized at all.

It tends to see every idea in, for example, philosophy or meta-theory about everything as male-biased, as if the hegemony of dominant conceptions were complete. Patriarchy appears free of conflicts and contradictions, totally dominated by a unified masculinity.

Feminist epistemologies (Book, ) []

Closely related to this is the fact that rationalism may be and has been questioned and criticized without any references to gender. It seems to be of the utmost importance then to define what masculinity entails and also what it excludes. Why is it masculine at all to reason in a rational way? Secondly, the assumptions cited rely too heavily on popular views of typical male and female behaviour; stereotyped versions of how we are supposed to act and think are reflected in these stances.

Such views easily fall into mystifications about male rationality and female intuition, masculine clear thinking as opposed to feminine emotional thinking, without paying attention to the possibility of a dialectical interaction within the two sexes between the two principles — the masculine and the feminine.

If we recognize all thinking as social, the assumption would cease to be problematic. It is only when the gender categories are used to distinguish between male and female reasoning that I find the claim suspect and doubtful.

The premise on which the argument rests, then, if a tenable one, postulates radically different experiences between men and women, and very similar and gender-specific experiences within the two sexes. The problem with all of these proposals is that the experiences referred to are not shared by all women; even if they did, they are always inserted in different social relations and not all women would necessarily live through the touchstone experiences in the same ways.

Furthermore, experiences are always interpreted differently in different social contexts; historical epochs, class positions, and so on. Ontologically it seems to be plausible to argue that there exists a shared material world which is part of experience. But if so, the material world is not itself experienced, nor directly given.

Rather, it is mediated, verbalized and interpreted in socially constituted forms. In actual practice, women and the way they interpret their experiences is not contextually independent. Postmodernism provides a good example of how influential and challenging ideas may clash with a female self-image; other trends naturally provide similar challenges.

Not only ideas, but also experiences get changed within a new context, which is one of the reasons why there tends to be a gap between academic and political feminist discourse. Lynne Segal discussestheincreasing distance between those feminists engaged in various campaigning activities and those engaged in intellectual work, in Great Britain in the s. Academic feminism, in. A problem for a feminist epistemology based on experience, then, is that the recognition of differences seems to require that we postulate different groups of interests.

My main concern in this respect is where to draw the limit? It is considered that there is no body outside of power, since the very materiality of the body, in fact, the materiality itself, as Butler states, is produced by and in direct relation to power investments. The subjection is, literally, the making of a subject, the principle of regulation according to which a subject is formulated or produced. It deals with a type of power that not only acts unilaterally upon a particular individual as a form of domination, but also activates or forms the subject.

Hence, the subjection is not simply the domination of the subject nor its production, but designates a certain restriction in the production of the subject, a restriction by which the production takes place. Butler, , p. The author understands that "the legal structures of language and of politics constitute the contemporary field of power; consequently there does not exist a position outside this field" Butler, , p.

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The challenge, then, is for feminism to form subjects that do not need their identity as a political foundation, stating that "maybe, paradoxically, the idea of representation will only makes sense for feminism when the subject women is not presumed in any part" Butler, , p. In discussing the universality of the term women, Butler deconstructs the idea of a possibility of unique meaning for the category "woman" or "women".

She ends up addressing the fact that different women or different femininities, somehow, would elicit different kinds of oppression. The author uses this argument against the notion of a universal patriarchy established in every society, since it fails to explain oppression of gender under diverse concrete cultural contexts where it exists. Butler's idea is of the necessity of working with what she calls "contingent foundations" in feminism Butler, In other words, from the entire debate, it is necessary to acknowledge the contingent character of the theoretical constructs themselves and of the analytical categories.

In this scenario of theoretical-epistemological debates, it is possible to identify some of the methodological implications that we delineate as follows. Methodological implications. Epistemology and methodology are not inseparable entities and the quest for specificity of methods in the feminist studies is present in the arena of debates. The efforts of research on women, gender and sciences developed since , especially in the United States, provide several theoretical, epistemological, methodological and political problems, which were the bases for polemics waged among academic feminists, since that decade until the present.

In other decades, different interpretations intersect with as discussions about feminist, gender and science studies. In general, doubts about the polarization between nature and culture, sex and gender, nature and science, equality and difference made moot many questions about limits, autonomy, precedence and distance of each of these poles about the other.

Among the methodological questions posed by a feminist bias Gergen, , is the rejection of the following assumptions: 1 the independence between scientist and object of research; 2 the "decontextualization" of the material of the field in which it is physically and historically inserted; 3 neutral theory and practice in value; 4 the independence of "facts" regarding the scientist; and 5 the superiority of the scientist with respect to other people.

When speaking of methodologies and feminisms, therefore, the most important thing is considering some fundamental aspects in every study intended to be feminist.

Feminist and Gender Theories

One of them concerns the need of the researcher to be situated in a reflexive form in the process. In this case, one should be aware of the fact that the processes of the production of knowledge are always rooted in the localized histories and experiences Scott, of whom wishes to know something and in that which is studied. In this case, feminism understands that knowledge is always situated, as it also values feminine emotion and experience in the process of understanding.

The common objective is social change, which emphasizes the engaged character of feminist research. Moreover, in the post-structural understanding of science, the notion of knowledge as a mirror of reality was replaced by knowledge as a social construction, insomuch that it does not refer to the processes of interaction with a dehumanized reality, but implies communication between people and in the change of emphasis in the observation for conversation and interaction.

It can be stated that feminism is a theoretical-political perspective and not a method of investigation, as feminist research uses several methods, some researchers argue that feminist methodologies refers less to the adoption of specific techniques of obtaining information than to the emphasis to aspects of gender and power in the construction of knowledge Bruschini, In this case, the view should be the non-sexist, regardless of the method and the procedures, but rather how they are used.

Other researchers such as Rhoda Linton , however, consider the feminist proposals incompatible with the use of quantitative approaches and standardized techniques. In any event, it is possible to identify a preference in feminist and gender studies for methods and techniques seen as qualitative such as: life stories, action research, ethnographies, case studies, narratives and focus groups. Discourse analysis in its various strands is the flagship, here illuminated by feminist theories. In this case, we may deduce that the feminist debate is not separate from the debate in the scientific field in general, concerning the status of science and the ways of producing knowledge, such as is also presented in the area of Social Psychology.

The challenge of constructing a critical Social Psychology, for instance, may demonstrate the internal shocks in the scientific field that translate the games of power in the struggle for the hegemonic position. Today the area of Psychology still views the gender category with distrust and, often, the works that use it make it synonymous with the variable sex, in an a-critical and a-historical way.

What is at stake here seems to be the epistemological debate, with its methodological derivations.