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The Science Question in Feminism

by Sandra Harding

Ani Gerbin
FELU PhD Programme Ljubljana, 01.06.2010

SHORT BIOGRAPHY born in 1935 professor at UCLA and guest lecturer at over 200 universities and conferences 1996-1999 director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women 2000-2005 co-editor of Signs: A

Journal of Women in Culture and Society

research interests: feminist and postcolonial theory, epistemology, research methodology and philosophy of science groundbreaking works:The

Science Question in Feminism (1986) and Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? (1991)

The context of the theory

Science is a progressive force enjoying a special authority derived from its political neutrality. vs.

Science is political.


science has helped to keep women behind as thinkers and knowers feminist philosophical ideas about science basic feminist political ideas

feminist philosophical ideas about science: 1) Feminist analysis of the history of ideas and science 2) Feminist analysis of scientific fields 3) Feminist epistemology as an alternative to the dominant epistemologies

Three approaches to the science question in feminism

1) Feminist empiricism 2) Radical feminist epistemology: 2a) the feminist standpoint approach 2b) the postmodern approach
reject the traditional epistemological project of validating epistemic norms from a transcendent viewpoint

1. Feminist empiricism

the problem is lying only in bad science, not in science-as-usual

1a) spontaneous feminist criticism of science 1b) philosophical feminist empiricism PROBLEM: empiricism insists only on testing the hypotheses and interpretation of evidence and not on the context of discovery, where problems are defined and identified

2. Radical feminist epistemology

epistemologies, metaphysics, ethics and politics of the dominant forms of science are androcentric
Western belief: science is progressive Feminist critics belief: sacred science serves regressive social tendencies

2a. The feminist standpoint approach

origin: Hegel (relationship between the master and the slave), Marx, Engels importance of the role of the situatedness of the knower: physical nature, location, status in the world some facts are visible only from a special point of view of those oppressed or marginalized by society privileges the perspective of women in revealing masculine bias in science

2a. The feminist standpoint approach

the perspective of women as a standpoint a morally and scientifically preferable grounding for our interpretations and explanations of nature and social life opposed to empiricists: social identity of the observer can be an important variable in the potential objectivity of research results

2a. The feminist standpoint approach

Emerging questions:

Do men and women in modern Western societies have different perspectives of a kind that is relevant in science? Does the experience and viewpoint of women differ from that of men in a way that matters to scientific disputes?
Is there a specifically feminine way of conceptualizing abstract relationships in biology, anthropology and psychology?

- example: Barbara McClintock genetics

2a. The feminist standpoint approach

Critic: if the experiences of the oppressed do have special values, other facts will be more visible to the privileged it is better to think of the pool of various ideas of those with different points of view both standpoint and empiricism argue that objectivity cannot be increased by value neutrality

3. The postmodern approach

questioning the basic scientific assumptions about objectivity and truth relativism members of different genders, ethnic groups, socioeconomic classes see the world fundamentally differently there is no single true description of the world skepticism regarding universal claims about existence, nature and powers of reason, progress, science, language and the subject/self

Three aspects of gender identified by feminist critics of science

gendered aspects of our personalities division of labor by gender gendered symbol system
influence the problematics, concepts, theories, methods and goals of science

gender as a theoretical category analytic tool through which the division of social experience along genders gives men and women different conceptions of themselves and the world around them

Gendered aspects of our personalities

Focus of studies: discrimination of women within the social structure of science barriers created for women entering and remaining in science low representation of women in science courses, laboratories, scientific societies and scientific publications

science must be viewed as a fully social activity social and culturally specific as are religious, educational, economic and family activities

Division of labor by gender

unfair educational, employment and status-assigning practices still lead to gender segregation Why do fewer women than men choose to pursue science educations and careers? effects of gender stereotyping throughout life changes in the division of labor by class throughout history Why does the division of labor still preserve racial, gender and class status?

Gender structure of the employees of the University of Rijeka, Faculty of Medicine, Rijeka, Croatia
Chairs Other full professors Associate and assistant professors Assistants and higher assistants PhD students Administrative personnel Lab technicians and engineers Technicians 0 32 20 48 10 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 50 62 12 74 17 9 18 6 7 88 54 62 Female Male 22

Image of a scientist?

Image of a scientist?

Image of a scientist?

Gendered symbol system

cultures assign a gender to non-human entities: hurricanes, mountains, ships, nations rape and torture - metaphors in the writings of Sir F. Bacon and N. Machiavelli earth-centered universe vs. a sun-centered universe traditional historians: metaphors are irrelevant to the real meanings of scientific concepts

Metaphors in Western philosophy: dichotomies

Maleness reasonableness; culture objectivity the scientist as knowing subject reason

Femaleness nature subjectivity the objects of his inquiry emotions; intuition



body; matter

Androcentrism in social sciences and biology

biological determinants of human behavior vs. social constructions of gender

Feminists: individuals are constituted as gendered by identifiable social processes, and not by biology a fundamental transformation of concepts, methods and interpretations in biology and social sciences is needed

Important conclusions

In all cultures everything manly is more highly valued than what is thought of as womanly and thus, science is also gendered feminist criticisms severely challenge social sciences self-perceived attempts to be value-neutral and objective feminist critics of science have questioned our cultural identity as a democratic and socially progressive society feminist science studies have brought an awareness of the costs of excluding women and other marginalized groups from full participation in science

Impact of the theory on own scientific work

Is there at all thinking in a feminine way, which would reliably lead to truth?
How to consider one epistemological standpoint as universally valid? Can there be a feminist epistemological standpoint?

Impact of the theory on own scientific work

Does the selection and definition of problems always bear the fingerprints of the dominant groups in the culture? Can there be a value-neutral design and interpretation of research? If the research is value-laden, can it nevertheless be maximally objective? Is it possible to imagine a social world in which people do not notice gender difference?