Why standpoint matters

In Robert Figueroa & Sandra G. Harding (eds.), Science and Other Cultures: Issues in Philosophies of Science and Technology. Routledge. pp. 26--48 (2003)
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Feminist standpoint theory has been marginal to mainstream philosophical analyses of science–indeed, it has been marginal to science studies generally–and it has had an uneasy reception among feminist theorists. Critics of standpoint theory have attributed to it untenable foundationalist assumptions about the social identities that can underpin an epistemically salient standpoint, and implausible claims about the epistemic privilege that should be accorded to those who occupy subdominant social locations. I disentangle what I take to be the promising core of feminist standpoint theory from this conflicted history of debate. I argue that non-foundationalist, non-essentialist arguments can be given (and have been given) for attributing epistemic advantage (rather than privilege) to some social locations and standpoints. They presuppose a situated knowledge thesis, and posit contingent advantage relative to epistemic purpose. I illustrate these claims in terms of the epistemic advantages that accrue to a fictional character, from Neely’s novel Blanche on the Lam, who represents a type of standpoint invoked by diverse advocates of standpoint theory: that of a race, class, and gender disadvantaged “insider-outsider” who has no choice, given her social location, but to negotiate the world of the privileged while at the same time being grounded in a community whose marginal status generates a fundamentally different understanding of how the world works.



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Alison Wylie
University of British Columbia

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