Standpoint Theories of Feminism

Standpoint Theories of Feminism

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4090-9.ch009
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Abstract

This chapter discusses feminist standpoint theories. Feminist standpoint theorists claim that knowledge is socially situated; marginalised groups are socially situated in ways that make it more possible for them to be aware of things and ask questions than it is for the non-marginalised; and research, particularly that focused on power relations, should begin with the lives of the marginalised. Feminist standpoint theories emphasise the ways in which socially and politically marginalised groups are in a position of epistemic privilege vis-à-vis social structures. Drawing on Hegel and Marx, they argue that those on the “outside” of dominant social and political groups must learn not only how to get along in their own world, but also how to get along in the dominant society. Hence, they have an “outsider” status with respect to dominant groups that allows them to see things about social structures and how they function that members of the dominant group cannot see. There is, however, disagreement about standpoint theory parentage, its status as a theory, and its relevance to current thinking about knowledge.
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9.1 Critical Claims Of Feminist Standpoint Theories

According to Bowell (2016), feminist standpoint theorists make three principal claims:

  • knowledge is socially situated;

  • marginalised groups are socially situated in ways that make it more possible for them to be aware of things and ask questions than it is for the non-marginalised; and

  • research, particularly that focused on power relations, should begin with the lives of the marginalised.

Feminist standpoint theories place relations between political and social power and knowledge on the centre-stage. These theories are both descriptive and normative, describing and analysing the causal effects of power structures on knowledge while also advocating a specific route for enquiry, a route that begins from standpoints emerging from shared political struggle within marginalised lives.

Discussion Questions 9.1

  • 1.

    Examine the three central claims of feminist standpoint theories.

  • 2.

    Feminist standpoint theories are both descriptive and normative, describing and analysing the causal effects of power structures on knowledge while also advocating a specific route for enquiry, a route that begins from standpoints emerging from shared political struggle within marginalized lives. Discuss.

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9.2 Historical Roots Of Feminist Standpoint Theory

According to Bowell (2016), the genealogy of feminist standpoint theory begins in Hegel’s account of the master / slave dialectic, and subsequently in Marx and Lukacs’ development of the idea of the standpoint of the proletariat. Hegel argued that the oppressed slave can eventually reach a state of freedom of consciousness as a result of her / his realisation of self-consciousness through struggles against the master, and via involvement through physical labour in projects that enable her / him to fashion the world affecting it in various ways. Hegel’s analysis of the struggle inherent in the master / slave relationship gave rise to the insight that oppression and injustice are better analysed and understood from the point of view of the slave than from that of the master. Marx, Engels and Lukacs developed this Hegelian idea within the framework of the dialectic of class consciousness, thereby giving rise to the notion of a standpoint of the proletariat as an epistemic position that provided a superior starting point for understanding and eventually changing the world than that of the controllers and owners of capital. The Hegelian and Marxist traditions, then, provide the genesis of standpoint theorists’ claim that the ‘double vision’ afforded to those who experience social relations from a position of marginality can, under certain circumstances, offer them epistemic advantage.

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