Feminist epistemology: definition, authors and fundamental principles

Feminist epistemology is a term that refers to certain breaks with traditional ways of doing scientific knowledge., Arguing that it is not possible to make a generalized theory that ignores the context of the subjects that develop them.

Below, we will review some of the characteristics of feminist epistemology, its context, and the contributions it has made to the social sciences.

What is epistemology?

To begin with, we will briefly define epistemology and how it participates in our way of knowing the world. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, that is, it studies the principles, foundations and conditions that led to the construction of knowledge in a particular way.

Epistemology analyzes the nature and purposes of knowledge, so it has to do with how the questions that shape scientific research and its possible outcomes are asked.

When we speak, for example, of “epistemological paradigms” we are referring to the philosophical and methodological models underlying scientific practice (models are made by someone, which result from human activity in relation to many social, historical, political, economic events).) and which have marked our understanding of the world.

Feminist epistemology: another way of knowing

Feminist epistemology maintains that the subject of knowledge is not an abstraction with universal faculties uncontaminated by sensitive experiences.; but it is a particular historical subject, which has a body, interests, emotions which inevitably influence its rational thought and the knowledge which it constructs.

That is, it arises in response to the “disembodied” scientific tradition (disembodied because it has been presented as neutral and impartial, as if it had not been made by a person) which is developed from experiences and a worldview of a particular character: male, white, heterosexual, western, upper class.

We can say that feminism has put a body on traditional science, thus opening another possibility of making and validating scientific knowledge, that is to say a new epistemological current.

In other words; locating knowledge in specific places (bodies) where it occurs, arguing that all knowledge is located; that is, it is produced by a subject in a particular historical, temporal, social, political situation; thus, the methods to justify or validate this knowledge are also contextual.

Hence also arises the link between knowledge and power, as well as the responsibility for the knowledge produced and the ethical and political commitment, which is one of the main characteristics of feminist epistemology and which had been kept hidden. in much of mainstream science. .

So, what feminism has brought to mainstream feminist epistemology is a new way of understanding both the subject that produces the knowledge and the product itself, i.e. scientific knowledge. In other words, it inaugurates other ways of knowing.

Context and break with modern science

Feminist epistemology has emerged specifically since feminist movements placed the multiplicity of modes of knowledge at the center of epistemological debates; arguing that due to the great diversity of identities that are being constructed in modern societies, there is no total knowledge of reality, but partial knowledge.

This went through a gradual process, development took place especially during the twentieth century. Sara Velasco (2009) tells us that feminist epistemology arose from the recognition of two aspects that mainstream epistemology had overlooked: the existence of the sexes and the norms of subordination of power that establish their relationships.

What is observed in feminist epistemology is that most research in modern science has been characterized by notable omissions, Which are hidden under the premise of universality and the dream of neutral knowledge.

One of those omissions is that modern science has been conducted by a part of humanity, who are mostly white and middle class males.. The other important omission is that it was made up due to experience ignoring the action of that experience and the individual human psyche in building knowledge.

In other words, feminists denounce and question the sexism and androcentrism of mainstream science, so that their research questions are framed along the same lines. It connects to critical epistemologies by not positioning itself on the basis of researcher neutrality and scientific knowledge, showing that the research subject skews research questions, hypotheses, analyzes and results from the start., Precisely because ‘he is a subject (i.e. by definition he is not an object).

Donna Haraway.

What questions does feminist epistemology pose?

Epistemology has to do with how questions of scientific research and their objectives have been asked, which in turn has led to the production of certain knowledge.

Velasco (2009) summarizes some of the objectives of feminist epistemology from the following general objective lol: to reveal and question the binary logics of man-woman, woman-man, active-passive, public-private, rational-emotional.

The latter considering the social hierarchy of valuation or devaluation that accompanies them, that is to say that it is also called into question, exclusion, discrimination, silence, omission, bias, devaluation , especially feminine and female, although other historically vulnerable positions will be incorporated later through an intersectional gaze.

like that, is constituted as an option against the biological and essentialist premises which establish or naturalize differences by sex, race, handicap, And the universalist and colonial premises which tend to the homogenization of bodies and experiences.

Some nuances of feminist epistemology

Harding (1996) proposes that feminist epistemology goes through different nuances that coexist and are all necessary, as they have had different contributions to the way science is made: feminist empiricism, feminist perspective, and feminist postmodernism.

1. Feminist empiricism

This is basically an attempt to equate the position of women in the production of scientific knowledge relative to men by the number of women doing science relative to the number of men. This is often a position that does not call into question the androcentric bias present in the research question itself.

2. Feminist point of view

She assumes that using the male point of view to construct social reality causes this society to build itself unevenly, so that the perspective of female experience can create more comprehensive knowledge and more equitable.

However, sometimes feminist views continue to use traditional science research methods. This is not to believe that women will do “better science” than men, but to recognize that the two experiences have different values ​​and that the female experience has been oppressed on the man.

3. Feminist postmodernism

Sometimes, from a feminist point of view, it does not take into account the oppressive relationships that are linked to the experience of women, so it should also be noted that the multiplicity of identities that are constructed in contemporary societies produce different experiences, whereby there is no single truth or experience of “being a woman”.

Feminist postmodernism strengthens discussion of concepts such as subjectivity, social construction, sex-gender, gender and power relations, sexual division of labor, depending on social experience diverse identities that are constructed not only by gender but by class, race, culture, etc.

The challenges of traditional epistemology

Feminist epistemology, however, and because of its intrinsic characteristics, is a very heterogeneous question, which has often been faced with a significant challenge: that of meeting the norms and parameters of what is considered a “science”, for example the construction of categories, hypotheses and axioms which go beyond discourse and which may be valid in terms of scientific rigor.

Faced with this, many proposals have emerged, from the situated objectivity of Donna Haraway, to concrete proposals from specific contexts where research methods have developed that correspond to the questions that feminism has contributed to our way of knowing the world. .

Bibliographical references:

  • Velasco, S. (2014). Gender, gender and health. Theory and methods for clinical practice and health programs. Minerva editions: Madrid
  • Espín, LM (2012). In transition. Epistemology and the feminist philosophy of science facing the challenges of a context of multicultural crisis. e-cardernos CES. [En línea], Online December 1, 2012, accessed April 12, 2018. Available at http://eces.revues.org/1521
  • Guzmán, M. and Pérez, A. (2005). Feminist epistemologies and gender theory. Cinta Moebio, 22: 112-126.
  • Harding, S. (1996). Science and feminism. Morata editions: Madrid

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