Feminist Epistemology: Definition, Authors And Fundamental Principles

Feminist Epistemology

Feminist Epistemology is a term that refers to some 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 who develop them.

Below we will review some of the characteristics of feminist epistemology, its background and the contributions it has had in the social sciences.

What is Epistemology?

To begin, let’s 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 have given rise to knowledge being constructed in a specific way.

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

When we talk, for example, about “epistemological paradigms” we are referring to the philosophical and methodological models that underlie scientific practice (models are made by someone, which have resulted from human activity in relation to numerous social, historical, political, economic) and that have marked our understanding of the world.

Feminist Epistemology: another way of knowing

Feminist Epistemology defends that the subject of knowledge is not an abstraction with universal faculties uncontaminated by sensitive experiences ; but rather it is a particular historical subject, who has a body, interests, and emotions that inevitably influence his rational thinking and the knowledge he 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 were not made by a person) that has developed from the experiences and worldview of a character in concrete: a man, white, heterosxual, Western, upper class.

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We can say that feminism gave a body to traditional science, thereby opening another possibility of creating and validating scientific knowledge, that is, a new epistemological current.

In other words; He situated knowledge in concrete places (bodies) where it is produced, arguing that all knowledge is situated; That is, it is produced by a subject in a particular historical, temporal, social, political situation; Therefore, the methods to justify or validate this knowledge are also contextual.

From there also arises the connection between knowledge and power, as well as the responsibility for the knowledge that is produced and the ethical and political commitment, something that constitutes one of the main characteristics of Feminist Epistemology and that had largely remained hidden. of traditional science.

Thus, what feminism has contributed to traditional Feminist Epistemology is a new way of understanding both the subject that produces knowledge and the product itself, that is, scientific knowledge. In other words, it inaugurates other ways of knowing

Background and breaks with modern science

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

This has occurred through a gradual process, the development of which has taken place especially during the 20th century. Sara Velasco (2009) tells us that Feminist Epistemology originated from recognizing two aspects that traditional epistemology had ignored: the existence of the sexes, and the norms of power-subordination that establish their relationships.

What Feminist Epistemology observes is that Most research done 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 these omissions is that modern science has been carried out by a part of humanity, which is mainly white and middle class men The other important omission is that reason has been constituted over experience, ignoring the performance of that experience and of the individual human psyche in the construction of knowledge.

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In other words, feminists denounce and question the sexism and androcentrism of traditional science, so their research questions are framed in the same sense. It connects with critical epistemologies by not positioning itself from the neutrality of the researcher and scientific knowledge, showing that the subject who investigates biases the research questions, hypotheses, analyzes and results from the outset, precisely because he is a subject ( that is, by definition it is not an object).

Donna Haraway.
Donna Haraway.

What questions does Feminist Epistemology ask?

Epistemology has to do with how scientific research questions and their objectives have been asked, which in turn has caused certain knowledge to be produced.

Velasco (2009) summarizes some of the objectives of Feminist Epistemology based on the following general objective: Reveal and question the binary logics of man-woman, feminine-masculine, active-passive, public-private, rational-emotional.

The latter considering the social hierarchy of valorization or devaluation that accompanies them, that is, it questions the exclusion, discrimination, silencing, omission, biases, devaluation, especially of the feminine and of women, although Later, other historically vulnerable positions will be incorporated through an intersectional perspective.

So, It is constituted as an option against the biological and essentialist premises that establish or naturalize differences due to sex, race, disability and the universalist and colonial premises that tend to homogenize bodies and experiences.

Some nuances of Feminist Epistemology

Harding (1996) proposes that Feminist Epistemology goes through different nuances that coexist and are all necessary, since they have had different contributions to the way of doing science: feminist empiricism, the feminist point of view and feminist postmodernism.

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1. Feminist empiricism

It is broadly about trying to equate the position of women in the production of scientific knowledge with respect to men through the number of women who do science compared to the number of men. This is often a position that does not question the androcentric bias present in the research question itself.

2. Feminist point of view

It is based on the premise that using the male point of view to construct social reality causes this society to be built in an inequitable way, so the point of view of the female experience can create a more complete and equitable knowledge.

However, sometimes feminist viewpoints still use traditional scientific research methods. It is not about believing that women will do “better science” than men, but about recognizing that both experiences have different values, and that the female experience has been oppressed by the male experience.

3. Feminist postmodernism

Sometimes the feminist point of view does not take into account the relations of oppression that are connected with the experience of women, so it is also necessary to point out that the multiplicity of identities that are constructed in contemporary societies produce different experiences, therefore that there is no one truth or one experience in “being a woman.”

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

Challenges to traditional epistemology

Feminist Epistemology, however, and due to its intrinsic characteristics, is a very heterogeneous issue, which has frequently faced an important challenge: that of complying with the standards and parameters of what is considered a “science”, for example, the construction of categories, assumptions and axioms that go beyond discourse and that can be valid in terms of scientific rigor.

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