Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Unpacking Standpoint Theory in the context of Feminist Thought...

Standpoint theory comes out of the philosophy of Hegel as taken up by Marx and stated as a clear theory by George Lukacs. Modern continental philosophers, Zizek and Badiou of note, have accented and critiqued it heavily. In its original context the underprivileged group was the working class, the proletariat, and the privileged group was the upper class, the bourgeoisie. It was then taken up by feminist, originally female labor, and is a core component of many “subversive” theologies/philosophies (aka Feminism, Black, Queer, etc). An important aside is the fact that the origins of Standpoint theory are themselves androcentric such that within feminism there is continued debate to its validity, definition, and applicability.

Standpoint theory recognizes the general validity of scientific methods of research and discerning truth that developed during the enlightenment. The major critique is that these methods in and of themselves do not create an objective viewpoint. Since the individuals posting the questions and researching the answers are primarily of a white European male cultural context the system inherently gives privilege to that cultural context. Standpoint theory holds that for a greater amount of objectivity questions and research have to arise from a variety of cultural contexts.

Standpoint theory is not ethnocentrism. Feminists who hold to standpoint theory would not hold that the feminist perspective is a superior ground of knowledge than other perspectives, not even androcentric ones, but that the feminist perspective is essential to the others for discerning objective truth. It is not that any specific group holds a special repository of knowledge but that each group has the capacity to question knowledge and provides a necessary critique in the pursuit of truth.

Standpoint theory is not, however, relativistic or pluralistic. Standpoint theory does not hold that all perspectives are equal in discovering truth nor does it hold that all perspectives restrict themselves in equal ways in their search for the truth. It does recognize that a specific question will best be posed within the context of a certain perspective, at first, so that the general discussion of the question will be fuller and more applicable to reality. It further recognizes that objectivity is gained by adding perspectives to the situation not by postulating an objective knower.

In approaching an issue from standpoint theory one would first ask which cultural context is most able to ask the pertinent questions to gaining understanding on the issue. Once an initial amount of questions and research had begun then conversation partners within other cultural context would be included to gain further objectivity. In the midst of this conversation not all perspectives would be considered equal and certain cultural context would be considered to have more authority. Perspectives, even ones generally considered to not have authority on the subject, could be conjectured as having that authority to gain further understanding of the issue.

Standpoint theory requires a good amount of nimbleness of thought and openness to other perspectives in order to function. It is very easy to fall out of standpoint theory and into relativism or ethnocentrism. It is a theory that seeks objective truth but denies any specific standpoint the capacity to own objectivity.  

this overview relies heavily on the following article:
Harding, Sandra. Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What is “Strong Objectivity”. in Alcoff, Linda, and Elizabeth Potter. Feminist Epistemologies. New York: Routledge, 1993. pages 49-82.



  1. What exactly would be a knowledge claim from the standpoint theory. Little confused on this

    1. Standpoint theory is a second order knowledge claim, in general. So it is not questioning as much what is knowledge as it questions how do we approach the knowledge we have. It does not question the factual reality of the Napoleonic Wars but does question who has the ability to ask all the pertinent questions needed to access those facts. It does recognize that at points the majority group is blinded to certain facts and that a subversive group will bring new facts to the table.

  2. I still don't understand can you Give me anl example of a knowledge claim originating from standpoint theory.