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A Feminist Perspective’s Effects on my Career Approach

Rebecca's picture

Studying a feminist perspective of science has slightly altered my priorities for my future career.  As an ecologist, I firmly believe that environmental literacy is the way to solve the anthropogenic environmental problems we are facing. For example, currently species extinction rates are extremely high due to habitat degradation caused by development and pollution.  In order to slow these rates it is necessary to help people understand their interactions with their environment and that is at the heart of my career interests.  The feminist perspective has changed my idea of the best way to pursue this interest.


            Up until this point I believed that the best way to create environmentally literate individuals was to teach in either a primary or secondary school setting.  Unlike more traditional science programs I believed and still believe the best way to teach science is in a highly interactive way where students can “do” science and help teach other.  I also believe in the importance of putting science into context and creating a narrative that can be meaningful to people.  The feminist perspective agrees with both interactive classrooms and putting science into context (Frequently asked 10) but in addition strongly emphasizes the importance of creating socially responsible scientists.


How do we create good, socially responsible scientists?


            Dr. Karen Barad is a theoretical physicist who has done extensive work surrounding feminist science.  Dr. Barad proposes that the best type of scientific literacy is “agential literacy”.  The concept of agential literacy involves rejecting the misconception of the objectivity of science. The belief that science is objective supports the notion that through the use of accepted scientific methods scientific theories can be created that tell us about nature apart from the scientists who create the theories. The problem is that this disconnect between nature and the observer cannot really exist (Barad 232) and can prevent scientists from being held responsible for their work.  


An agential viewpoint is one where scientists are recognized as part of the system they are studying which means they have agency.  Scientists choose what questions about nature they are going to ask. Scientists create and use tools, such as microscopes, through with they observe and measure nature.   Scientists must also choose which of their observations are significant and should therefore be reported to the scientific community.  Therefore, “our descriptive characterizations do not refer to properties of abstract objects or observation-independent beings, but rather describe agential reality… what is being described by our theories is not nature itself but our participation within nature (Barad 235).  The traditional theory of science as objective must be rejected and as agential literacy requires, the practitioner must recognize and be responsible for their participation or agency in the system.


            As a potential future science educator, it is then necessary for me to teach agential literacy and Barad has a list of recommendations for how to do this.  She has also created a model course in which the purpose is “to enable to learn science while thinking about science, and to learn that thinking about science is part of doing science (Barad 240).  Barad has added a new element that I will have to incorporate into the way I will teach and attempt to promote science literacy.


If traditional objectivity can’t be obtained, how does feminist theory propose we can create good theories about nature?

             The feminist perspective has alerted me to the importance of collaboration.  The most objective descriptions of nature can be formed through the coming together of many individual’s agential realities.  “Feminist science studies have argued that scientific objectivity does not rest with individual scientists. Instead, it is the result of a consensus reached by a community of scientists working within a cultural context. The fact that communities of scientists have traditionally been comprised of primarily white men had had a profound impact on how scientific practice and understandings of objectivity have developed (Frequently 11). 

This is an important issue especially in choosing what type of community I would like to work in. Certain science communities have a culture of collaboration but many also have a culture in which greatness is associated with being a heroic, independent individual.  From a feminist perspective, in a collaborative environment I may not achieve personal greatness but I would be more likely to produce good science as part of a diverse collaboration.


How else does a feminist perspective change things?


            A great deal of the literature we have read in this course has pointed out the importance of role models for both men and women, especially at the research level. This has made me aware that there are other ways to promote science literacy than becoming a primary or secondary school teacher.  It is important for potential scientists to have socially responsible role models to set an example.  It is also important for young women in particular to see women scientists who have balanced, fulfilled lives whether that means having a family or other interests outside of their career.  Finally, a number of the writers we have encountered this semester have discussed that when students learn about the physics greats like Newton and Einstein, they cannot relate.  They see white, men who are remembered as heroes who were haunted by their genius.   Students, particularly women and minorities, are disheartened by these images because they cannot see themselves in these men and therefore are mislead to believe that they do not have potential in the sciences.


            I have been fortunate enough to have good science role models that have shown me that I can achieve both my personal and my career goals.  With this new feminist perspective I have realized that being a role model that potential scientists can relate to can also be an effective way to improve science literacy.



             A feminist study of science has made me aware that there are many ways that I will be able to do science and promote science literacy.  It has also made me aware of the importance of choosing a work environment where the people will hold similar ideas to mine as to what good science is and how good science is created. Finally, I do not believe that feminist science theory is only applicable to the realm of science.  I believe all of the points discussed could benefit people who work in the social sciences and humanities as well.   

Works Cited


Barad, Karen. "Scientific Literacy--> Agential Literacy= (Learning + Doing) Science Responsibly." Feminist Science Studies, ed. Mayberry et. al., 2001. 226-246.


"Frequently Asked Questions About Feminist Science Studies." Women and Scientific Literacy: Building Two-Way Streets. The Association of American Colleges and Universities. 1999. 1-19.