Date of Award
Latour, Ontology of Knowledge, Representationalism, Science Studies, Situated Knowledge, Standpoint Theory
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Sandra Harding opposes her version of feminist standpoint theory to traditional ‘representationalist’ or ‘copy theories’ of truth. Yet her critics maintain that Harding’s standpoint theory retains an implicit representational epistemological framework that leaves space for global skepticism and pernicious relativism. Sharyn Clough and Shannon Sullivan argue that it is inconsistent for Harding to claim that (1) feminist standpoints will produce ‘less false’ theories than traditional androcentric scientific communities, and (2) that all perspectives (including the most socially privileged ones) are ‘enabled and limited’ by the social position from which they arise. Holding these two claims in tension with each other produces a problematic objectivist-relativist binary that undermines the emancipatory potential of Harding’s theory, they claim. It will be argued in this paper that these critical evaluations of Harding’s standpoint theory overlook the way in which Harding’s ‘less false’ claim already rests on a firm commitment to situated knowledge rather than a representationalist theory of truth. Reading Harding’s standpoint account through Bruno Latour’s ontology of knowledge, I argue that the aim of a standpoint is not merely to produce ‘alternative’ representations alongside dominant ones; rather it is to create spaces of critical tension with dominant uncritically accepted scientific theory and practice. Standpoints provide critical accounts of how dominant forms of knowing have constructed and deployed knowledge spaces, and provide opportunities for reconfiguring those spaces in ways that are more democratic and less oppressive. Thus, such standpoint-based accounts are candidates for producing less false theories not because they represent a ‘universal reality’ more clearly but because they, unlike modern Western science, emerge from marginal social positions that are less likely to deny the situated and local nature of all knowledge claims.
Steckle, Matthew, "Situating Feminist Standpoint Theory: Toward a Critical Ontology of Knowledge" (2018). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 7572.