Professing Feminism (long)

Kristina Eloisa Pereyra kristina at
Mon Nov 28 13:13:35 EST 1994

The author has given me permission to forward this posting and its followup
to the women-in-bio forum.  The broader issues are being discussed in soc.
feminism, but I'd really like my fellow biologists' perspective as well.

Article: 12298 of soc.feminism
From: JUDITH LORBER <jlo at>
Subject: Re: review of PROFESSING FEMINISM
Date: Sun, 20 Nov 1994 17:32:57 GMT

On review of PROFESSING FEMINISM -- readers should be aware that the
feminist critique of science and other "factual" knowledge is far more
trenchant and nuanced than indicated.  The feminist view, as can be
seen in books by Sandra Harding, Ruth Hubbard, Evelyn Fox Keller,
Donna Haraway, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Barbara Katz Rothman is
two-fold. First, scientists and other producers of knowledge have
social characteristics (gender, race, class, place of education,
religion, place of residence, and perhaps most importantly, place of
work) that influence the questions asked and how the answers of their
scientific work are analyzed, interpreted, and disseminated.  Thus,
the production of "facts" is influenced by the social location of the
producers.  For women, long shut out of prestigious occupations and
professions and the places of prestigious and authoritative work
(v. bios of Rosalind Franklin by Janet Sayre and of Barbara McClintock
by Evelyn Fox Keller, as well as research by Harriet Zuckerman, Mary
Frank Fox, and Barbara Reskin) that means that their perpsective on
what research questions should be asked (v. current furor over the
omission of women and women's health concerns from govt. and other
funded research) as well as their analysis and interpretation have
been unheard or rendered invisible.

The second critique is on that feminists share with other critical
sociologists of science (eg. Latour, Woolgar, etc) -- that is, that
knowledge is produced in a social climate that defines problems,
focuses on certain answers and ignores others (v. The Bell Curve) --
this social climate is produced by funding sources, government policy
and the dominant values of the society in which producers of knowledge
have to live and work.  In sum, feminists, women's studies activists,
and critical scholars and researchers in the sociology of knowledge in
general do not accept "facts" as pure reflections of reality or even
as the best approximations possible given the tools and technology of
the time but as social productions usually with the purpose of aiding
the hegemonic discourse.

This is not to say that fresh views do not change the course of
science -- as Kuhn showed in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,
paradigms (the way questions are answered depends on the way questions
are asked) shift when the data that is being ignored in favor of that
fitting the prevalent paradigm is examined with fresh perspective
(usually by people not in th mainstream).  It is that paradigm shift
that feminist critics of science and medicine have substantially
contributed to.  As Donna Haraway says, "Facts are theory-laden,
theories are value-laden; values are history-laden.  All the authors
cited are currently in academic libraries.  If you can only read one
thing -- v. Haraway's "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in
Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective" in Simians,
Cyborgs, and Women.  JL

Judith Lorber
Sociology, CUNY Graduate School
33 West 42 Street,  NY, NY 10036
212-642-2416  FAX:212-642-2420

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