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Situated Knowledges

Liz McCormack's picture

This week we are reading Elizabeth Grosz, "Bodies and Knowledges: Feminism and the Crisis of Reason" and Sandra Harding,"Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What is 'Strong Objectivity? They both describe several examples of feminist theories of knowledge and knowledge generation. In your posting this week describe what you see as the project of feminist epistomology and choose one of the approaches described by Grosz or Harding to comment on.

Anne Dalke's picture

folkloristics of licking

As spur/impetus for the "homework" I gave you guys--to take note of the range of the sensorium referred to in your classes--which senses are privileged in the "knowing" we do in each of the disciplines here?--I include a link to the essay I mentioned in class on Wednesday. It's Kathy Neustadt's "The Folkloristics of Licking," Journal of American Folklore 107 (423), 1994: 181-196. You can access it from

Flora's picture

un-learning behaviors

This week, when I perceived the difficulty of the Grosz and Harding selections, I shut down. I did not want to post until I was confident in what I wanted to say. I suppose it's the classic perfectionist mind-set: it's better to do nothing at all then to do something badly. Luckily, the past couple of classes explained the readings to me well enough that I feel I've gotten my confidence back and am no longer trying to avoid thinking about the subject.

I am mentioning this anecdote because I also had this unproductive response extremely frequently in reaction to attempting physics problem sets. I hadn't learned techniques of getting around this road block then. Instead I would resolutely (and comically to my friends) avoid anything to do with class during these times. I would hear a professor's voice and literally sprint up a flight of stairs straight to my room and lock myself in, mid-conversation with a friend. Taking risks and admitting weakness are not things that came naturally to me. I had to learn to it when I came to Bryn Mawr. Perhaps this could be a useful intervention in the sciences? I know risk taking has certainly been discussed as a masculine behavior in our readings.


On another note, I would like to really push Grosz's idea of accepting the existence of multiple truths/perspectives. I would push harder and say that multiple truths would not destroy scientific practice, but broaden it. It feels (ha!) very important to me that this idea of the existence of multiple perspectives be respected and not approached as a challenge for scientific missionaries.


Anne Dalke's picture

A crisis in reason--at Bryn Mawr?

I want to archive here--for my own use, and for whatever use it might be to others (including Liz and Rebecca, who weren't with us today), our conversation this morning about the "crisis in reason." We identified that crisis as an increasingly widespread acknowledgement of the particularity of knowledge, and we saw Elizabeth Grosz and Sandra Harding as offering two very different responses to that crisis.

Having traced its intellectual history from Hegel's "master/slave" dicotomy through Marx's thinking out from the condition of the proletariat, Grosz says "amen": let's just accept the partiality of bodily difference--and offers the work of French feminist Irigaray, which centers on the sexed body of woman as both subject and object, as exemplum for this kind of work. Harding goes for something much more all-encompassing; she offers a "standpoint epistemology" that starts from "the bottom up," from marginalized lives, as a way of constructing both strong reflexivity and strong objectivity.

After we voiced our objections to the kinds of language used by both these theorists (especially Grosz--what sort of feminism uses language that most women can't follow??) we settled into particulars: looking at the descriptions, in the Bryn Mawr course catalogue, of the departments of anthropology, biology, psychology and physics, and the program in gender and sexuality. We asked whether each of them acknowledged

1) the crisis of reason/the partiality of knowledges

2) the sexed bodies of women (per Grosz)

3) the lives of the marginalized and oppressed (per Harding).

We turned finally to the College's mission statement, which is remarkably spare in its mention of "women" (the word occurs once). The ultimate question, of course, was not what Grosz or Harding think of these various public descriptions of what we are doing here, but what each of us thinks, and how each of us might re-write these statements to reflect our own sense of feminist inquiry.

Pemwrez2009's picture

those feminists need to start writting more accessibly!

When I think of the stereotypes of gender and the stereotypes of science, I am pretty much immediately drawn to look at science as a masculinely-identified discipline. When we define, or see women as a more inferior subject in the world, physically week, less scientifically driven, it directly affects this idea that if we are socialized in shaping our bodies, our experiences in doing so, will impact how we mature on an intellectual level.

Even though it seemed evident that the two feminist articles pertain much more to the world of social sciences, i felt that it wouldn't be all that difficult, quite frankly looking at the gendered nature of schools of thought and comparing them to each other!

When I read both articles, one thing that really struck me was the emphasis on language and its link with the development of gendered ideas, however I feel that the authors could absolutely do with more hard evidence to substantiate exactly what they were saying. With Grosz, she sort of outlines her article for us, and then the reader gets lost in the dense language of her article, which is even more ironic, when she is talking about language herself!

Here's my biggest problem: I guess, because I have been reading feminist theory for a few years now, I get really tied up trying to decide whether the material I am reading is 1st wave, 2nd wave, 3rd wave! I identify strongly as a third wave feminist, and sometimes reading things that seem blatantly 2nd wave, make me feel very overwhelmed and frustrated.



oschalit's picture


Although I found many aspects of the two articles very interesting and thought provoking, I find myself attached to a particular line in Grosz's article, "the body has been and still is closely associated with women and the feminine, whereas the mind remains connected to men and the masculine" (p.195).  This comment was preceded by an explanation made by Grosz that feminists, despite the fact that they spend a great deal of time fighting for rights that invole a woman's body, have continually rejected the possibility that the actual discrimination that women experience is in part due to their body. I understand why women might be reluctant to address this possibility but I really feel that this discrepancy between men and women is, in fact, at the root of women's discrimination. A fact that we cannot ignore is that women, not men, are built to be able to produce a baby, life. Because of this inevitably women become the symbol of life, everything physical. Earth? Referred to as Mother Earth. Mother, being feminine which is connected to women. As a result, since the beginning of time (sorry for being dramatic), we are inevitably be seen as being strongly connected to all the attributes associated with baby-making. So how are seen in the world? We are seen as emotional (as a result irrational and flighty), sensitive, reactive, not proactive,  weak, less intelligent (not as "thinking inclined"), in need of protection and naive. How can we deny that this is a natural part of how we end up in a society that has demeaned women to a place of being "inferior" to men? We can, however, argue that it is terrible that something so negative has been created out of something so beautiful and natural, reproduction. It appears that some women scientists and professionals have chosen not have children in order to erradicate any misperception of their image as a worker. This does not seem like enough though. It is wrong to think that in order to change this that we must separate women from birth and caregiving. Instead we need to separate our reproductive abilities from all the negative attributes attached to it or have them be seen differently. I believe that this is a necessary part of the feminist movement.

Sam's picture

All I could think about

All I could think about while reading the articles was the ivory tower syndrome, and how so much of academia is aimed at people within their narrow field of interest. Most of the readings-- especially Grosz's-- were lost in a sea of absolutely unnecessary jargon.

So if I've totally missed the point of the articles, let me know. Because I feel a bit, uh, overwhelmed.

I've heard arguments like Grosz's before; where the world view is inherently male because the male is the intellect, while the female is at the mercy of her body. I haven't heard it put in quite that form, especially not with bodies being neutral. If the male is the intellect, isn't the female fulfilling a negative, nonintellectual role? Especially as the female is prone to being hysterical and irrational, as the argument goes.

I'm not entirely sure where she was going with that, though. I see how the feminine and the masculine perspectives can change things in the social sciences, but not so much the hard sciences-- at least not in the terms of "knowledges." Then again, I'm not sure what she means by knowledges, as it doesn't seem to be any knowledge that I'm aware of. I know that I'm not particularly philosophically minded, but... did I miss something there?

sky stegall's picture

totally lost

this reading is really killing me - i feel like i'm banging into a wall and i don't have a clue what they're talking about.  i'll keep trying, and i certainly hope class tomorrow will clarify... something... anything at all... because i'm utterly lost.  is feminist theory always going to be this inaccessible to me?

rmalfi's picture

but... how?

Ok, so I have to say that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around this epistomology stuff. I get what Grosz and Harding say, but I have trouble understanding how you would apply their arguments in order to actually change science.... Their arguments seem much more relevant to social sciences, where it is more straightforwardly (to me, at least) pertinent to understand multiple perspectives (heterogeneous, Harding calls it) and to actively contextualize in order to get at a "truth" or multiple "truths." For me (and I'm sure this has to do with years of training and structured cirriculum), it is very hard to understand how we can use the feminist perspectives and critiques decribed to actually change science, to actively engage the field (and members within the field), and to ultimately create a methodology which is not inherently biased (by the dominating, singular view, produced through generations of control over a subject). Both authors touch on ways this could be acheived, but no one provides concrete examples of what they mean, and this bothers me. Grosz talks about language and history. This makes sense -- put things into context by talking about a more comprehensive science history, that includes women. And yes, change language so that it is also more inclusive (change the way we talk about our bodies, for instance). But... how do we start to do this? How do we introduce new language, or the veiled concept of "projects" that Harding speaks of. Harding claims that we have to pursue projects that establish feminist standpoint theory into the way we think, and into our scientific method.... but how? And what does this accomplish exactly? She speaks in lofty terms about how "the sciences have been blind to their own sexist and androcentric research practices and results" but she never really concretely says how to actively change this (in terms of natural sciences). I mean, maybe I missed something, but I genuinely don't get this! Call me an ontological realist or something, but I feel like if we are building bridges and making rockets fly... what does feminist or masculine perspective have to do with that, exactly?

eli's picture


"The masculinity or maleness of knowledges remains unrecognized as such because there is no other knowledge with which it can be contrasted." (pg 204/98)

I believe that Grosz gives a very compelling argument when she describes the way we socially shape our bodies, and how this can effect the way we develop knowledge. That the bodies are sites of social code, and that they are also sites of resistence. I also agree with her point that "Knowledge is an activity: it is a practice and not a contemplative reflection. It does things." But then she loses me when she tries to argue that women are the bodies for men, that they are neutral bodies whereas men are the minds and have disavowed their bodies. There is a huge gap in my understanding of how this is possible, that women's bodies are neutral. I can understand how they might be percieved as incomplete, based on her argument, but I do not understand how they can be "neutral" as that implies a genderless state, whereas I feel that the problem she is describing is that the body -is- gendered, and that it is gendered female; while we gender this act of generating knowledge, a function of the mind, male.

Perhaps I am skeptical of Grosz though because she begins her paper by saying (pg 190/91) that the question of methodology and its effects on a study cannot be raised in social sciences. Which is not accurate, but also unrelated to the scope of this response.

Harding's arguments are familiar ground for me. That one of the essence of (one perspective of) feminist theory is that we are all unique women. That in order to recognize we are women, we must also recognize that we are racially, sexually, socioeconomically, religiously, etc diverse. There is a necessity to recognize that women are individuals in order to bring about a discussion of womanhood. Is this why feminist theory seems to always stand at odds with scientific theory, who's pursuit is aimed at finding one Truth as opposed to many truths?