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Standpoint Epistemology

Executive Summary

Standpoint Epistemology basically maximizes objectivity by using socially situated

nature of knowledge. They are aimed at representing the world with the perspective of the
disadvantaged individuals. The creations of standpoints are different depending on the existing
inequalities of different social groups. Taking the deaf epistemology as an example, one can lead
to the understanding of various social inequalities experienced by the marginalized group. This
idea can be traced back to the Marxist theory which illustrated the dominant class and the
oppressed. Hegel also illustrated the marginalized standpoint with his master and slave.

Much of the works of feminist epistemology are centered on the concept of women
oppression. The feminist epistemology argues how women are disadvantaged in the dominant
knowledge practices. Among these are the exclusion of women from inquiry, denial of epistemic
authority, denigration of cognitive styles and modes of knowledge, production of theories
representing women as inferior, deviant or in ways that are significant only when male interest
are served and lastly the production of knowledge that is not necessary for subordinate groups or
that which reinforced social and gender hierarchies.

Such failures are traced by feminist epistemologist from the flawed conceptions of
knowledge, knower, objectivity and scientific methodology. These failures can be overcome by
explaining how women and feminist scholars generated new ways of questioning. The causal
role of gender in such transformation is also an aim of the feminist epistemology. And lastly,
they seek to defend these changes or transformations as cognitive and not just social advances.

Standpoint Epistemology

Standpoint is referred to as the ‘socioeconomic position from which social reality can be
understood and from which emancipatory action can be undertaken’ (, n.d.). The concept of
standpoint epistemology is to use the socially situated nature of knowledge claims being the
basis for maximizing objectivity (, 1998, ). Standpoint theories claim to represent the world from
a particular perspective laying claims to epistemic privilege or authority. These theories are post
modern methods which analyzes inter subjective discourses. They support ‘strong objectivity’ or
the notion that the perspectives of the disadvantaged individuals can be of help in the creation of
more subjective accounts of the world (, 2007).
Based on this approach, the standpoint is a place from which the world is viewed by
human beings. As such, these standpoints influences the way by which people socially constructs
the world. The creation of standpoints may differ due to the existing inequalities of different
social groups. Furthermore, standpoint is not merely the spontaneous thinking of a person or the
category of individuals. It is the combination of all resources in a specific context wherein the
construction of understanding takes place (, 2007).

The idea of standpoint can be illustrated with the analysis of the standpoints of the
capitalists and workers. The predominant notion of power in the culture constructs it as equality
of the individual expressing the capitalist standpoint. The standpoint of the wage laborer on the
other hand sees such equality as a form of domination. Because of the sexual division in labor
that leaves women to their domestic labors, the women’s standpoint can be resources for the
development of the notion of power ( & , 2000).

Standpoint theories become controversial when claims of epistemic privileges over

socially and politically contested topics are made. These claimed privileges consist of
the characters, causes and consequences of the social inequalities which define the group in
question. Three types of epistemic privileges over the dominant groups’ standpoint are claimed
by this type of standpoint theory. First is the claim of offering deep over surface knowledge of
the society. The basic regularities driving the phenomena in question are revealed from the
standpoint of the disadvantaged whereas the surface regularities are captured by the standpoint of
the privileged.

Secondly, claims of superior knowledge of the modes of surface regularities and human
potentialities are offered. Existing inequalities are represented as natural and necessary by the
standpoint of the privileged. The standpoint of the disadvantaged represent them on a different
sense as socially contingent but capable of being overcome. Thirdly, they claim to offer the
representation of the social world whilst relating it to human interests. Social phenomena are
represented from the standpoint of the privileged only in relation to the interests of the privileged
class and therefore misrepresent the interest as relating to the universal human interests(, 2003).

Based on the Marxist theory, the epistemological privilege of the dominant social class
gives them the power to bestow what can be considered as knowledge or not. This view can be
appropriated within the feminist critique which considers the epistemological standpoints of the
marginalized are equally important as that of the dominant epistemology. As such, the
marginalized standpoint is important not only because it provides different angles of the
dominant group but also view many standpoints (, n.d.)
However, it has been argued by that one need not be a member of the marginalized
group to be capable of starting their thought form that standpoint. Hegel was not a slave and
Marx was neither a proletariat but both of them are bale to identify the standpoint of the slave
and that of the proletariat. Hence, they are able to establish their out that is different from their

The standpoint epistemology is set apart from the general pluralism with the concept of
“standpoint”. For instance, feminist standpoint cannot be occupied simply by virtue of a woman.
It is occupied by engaging in critical thought of experiences and their relationship to the larger
structures of the society and politics. Also, there is no need to become a woman to occupy the
feminist standpoint as Hegel and Marx came to identify those standpoints. However, standpoint
epistemology is charged as inevitably assuming a great deal of commonality with the
experiences of marginalized groups. This is out of the claim that social marginalization bestow
epistemic privileges (, 2004).

Another charge to standpoint epistemology is that it must appeal to the experiences of the
essential women or the experiences of the marginalized. The implications of such appeal are the
necessary conditions for such experiences which are considered by feminist and empiricist as
illegitimate. This is because of the belief that there is something natural or given about the
experiences that can serve as foundation in the construction of identities. The claim that there are
experiences that only women have remains suspicious to theorists. Thus it is argued that the
category of woman is too fractured and regulative to do what the feminist standpoint and
theorists identified to be done (, 2004).

Marxist Standpoint Theory

The classic model of standpoint theory is offered by Marxism in which epistemic

privileges over the fundamental questions of economics, sociology and history are claimed on
behalf of the proletariat’s standpoint. Initially, the workers do not have the standpoint. Such is
attained after they acquire consciousness of their role in the capitalist system. Epistemically
privileged perspectives on the society are attained from the social situations of the workers. In
the central mode of the capitalist production, workers experienced oppression. As a result of their
oppression, they are given the objective interest on the truth regarding whose interests are best
served by the capitalist system they are in (, 2003).

The understanding of workers as future agents of the universal class may lead them to
communism where everyone has the same class status. It entails the representation of social
world in relation to the human interest and not in relation to the specific interest of a class as in
the perspective of the capitalist system. The collective insight of the common predicament and
the need to overcome it lead to a revolutionary action that generates self understanding.

Feminist Epistemology

The feminist epistemology was theorized by in 1983 drawing analogy with the Marxist
epistemology. It has been argued by that the feminist standpoint can be built on the
understanding of experience and the criticisms of patriarchal ideology manifested in Marxian
analysis. With this, the feminist standpoint is necessary in examining the oppressions in the
society that devalue the knowledge of women (, 2007).

The feminist standpoint theories are focused on the differences in gender as well as the
differences on situations between men and women that give a scientific advantage to those
capable of using those differences. Such approach originated from the master and slave
relationship of Hegel and the developments of these perceptions into proletarian standpoint by
Marx. In this sense, the proletariat’s notions were translated to feminist terms.

argued that the oppression of women in western capitalist society is a potential criticism
for domination. Hence, human activity is asserted to set limitations on human understanding.
This means that what people do is what shape and constrain what they know. argued that in the
structuring of human activity in two opposing ways such that of men and women, each is likely
to represent an inversion of the other. The rulers then will have partial and perverse vision of the
systems of domination (, 1991, ).

Canadian sociologist offered a major rethinking of this theory. She referred to the social
texts and discourses as ‘ideological practices and procedures which conceals the underlying
relations’ of power in the society (as cited in , 1998, ). The central to Smith’s criticisms are the
political basis of supposed objective method by which knowledge is accounted. It is argued that
such accounting of knowledge is a result of the relations of the ruling. An alternative to this
andocentric science is the sociology that started from the women’s standpoint. As such, the
epistemology is built on the experiences of women taking into consideration the split between
their lives and the society’s dominant discourses (, 1998, )

The feminist theory was further developed into more complex theories making an
account of the constraints lived by the marginalized, oppressed or dominated groups. Among the
theorists who advanced the standpoint epistemology was Sandra Harding. Here, she scrutinized
the tensions and contradiction between feminism and the Western science. The feminist
philosophy of science offers a rich account of the world where people live in. Procedures that
maximize objectivity must therefore be focused on the social situations being the direct object of
observation. On the other hand, the reflection must be focused on the observers and the scientists
and the larger society (, 1998, ). The maximum study of the scientists as well as their
communities can be taken from the perspective of people who have been marginalized by such

Taking a variety of perspectives, it can be concluded that the concept of women and
knowledge, that is socially legitimated knowledge, has opposing construction in the Western
societies. Women are not given the voice of authority to state their conditions or to assert how
such can be changed. The attempt to remedy this situation paved the way for the articulation of
several feminist epistemologies (, 1991, ).

Grounds on the Feminist Standpoint

The different features of women’s social situations are often used as ground of claims to
epistemic privileges by various feminist standpoints. One of which is centrality. As Marxists
feminists and asserted, women play a central role in terms of reproduction in the same way that
workers are the central to the system of production(as cited in , 2003). The maternal role of
women enables them to see more clearly how the patriarchy fails to meet the needs of the people.
Men because of their dominant positions can simply ignore their actions weakening the interests
of the subordinates. In this sense, women’s epistemic privilege rest on the fact that they have
superior access to information as to whose needs are better served under the patriarchal system.

It can be argued that male dominance is based on the sexual objectification wherein the
dominant groups are able to project their desires to the subordinates by virtue of the power they
possess. The subordinate are then expected to conform to what the dominants want them to be.
Women are constituted as sexual subordinates to men and thus they are treated accordingly.
These ideological misinterpretations can be unmasked if women will share a degree of collective
self consciousness (, 2003). In this sense, women can act collectively in resisting sexist
representations. Through feminist actions, they can show that representations of women as
sexual objects are indeed unnecessary.

Feminist object relations theory is accepted by most of standpoint theories. This explains
the development of the traits that are stereotypical to masculine and feminine genders. Also, this
theory assumes that male children form their distinctive masculine identities through separation
from their mothers and the continuous need to distance oneself with the control of the feminine.
Female children on the other hand gain their identities through identification with their mothers.
Such gender identities led to the distinct masculine and feminine cognitive styles. These
cognitive styles are further reinforced with the allocation of labor to male and female. While men
indulge in economic and political positions, women are assigned to hands on care for others. In
this sense, the cognitive style of the feminine is deemed superior because the ethics of care is
superior to that of domination. Hence, they are likely to produce representations that are related
to universal human interests rather than those intended for the interest of the dominant class (,

The emotional life of males lacks the distinctive content which women have from their
experiences as oppressed, exploited and dominated gender. As an example one can consider
suffering. Women suffering can take various forms such that of the mother of a dying child, as a
child of sick parents, a poor woman or a victim of racism. In this sense, women suffer in peculiar
ways than the other providing nodes of specific social practices and meanings that reconcile how
suffering occurs in the social construction of individuals. Their emotions are therefore part of the
distinctive content that provides the missing portion of human lives which the human knowledge
should be grounded about (, 1991, ).

Furthermore, the oppression among women provides them the interest to represent social
phenomena that unmask the truth. The ability to perceive the perspectives both from the
dominant and the oppressed enables the comparative evaluation of both perspectives. Within the
feminist theory, the experiences of the oppressed led to the black feminist epistemology (,
2003). The experiences of racism and sexism by black women were used to supply them with
representations that resist such kind of oppressions.

Criticisms of Feminist Standpoint Theory

It has been argued by (1993) that a noncircular basis cannot be provided by the
standpoint theory. As feminist knowledge is grounded on the experiences of women, it cannot be
assumed that these experiences or the things that women say provide reliable grounds for claims
of knowledge about the nature and social sciences (,


The grounds for epistemic privilege in the Marxist theory are the transhistorical
necessities of relations to production and the universality of such relations. However, both the
gender and racial relations can not be universalized and thus cannot be claimed as epistemic
privilege. Moreover, it has been argued by (1993) that the oppression of women cannot be
grounded as epistemic privilege (as cited in , 2003). The choice of having ethical knowledge and
living in a nonsexist society are forced by the grounding of epistemic privileges on the feminine
cognitive styles.

In addition to this, the epistemic privilege of the workers is not applicable to women.
Class conflict as held by Marx is the phenomenon that drives all sorts of conflict which includes
racism, sexism, imperialism and national and religious conflicts. In this sense, understanding the
class will lead to the understanding of other forms of inequality. These conflicts intersect in
complex ways and cannot therefore be held as central to others’ inequality. The implication of
this is that the privileged access in understanding women oppression cannot be attained for the
simple reason that it takes different forms of women, their race, sexual orientation sand others.

Trends in Feminist Epistemology

The feminist epistemology is centralized on the concept of a situated knower and the
situated knowledge. The feminist philosophers are particularly involved in knowing how gender
situates the knowing of subjects. With this, three main approaches arise: the feminist standpoint
theory, feminists empiricism and the feminist postmodernism.

Feminist Empiricism

The feminist empiricism is an epistemological study that justifies the challenges for
traditional assumptions. Researcher’s objections are often regarded as results of bad science and
not as sexists and andocentric. In fact such are caused by social biases and prejudices. Hostile
attitudes and false beliefs that are brought about by superstition, ignorance and miseducation are
what cause these forms of prejudices. In this sense, the feminist empiricist argued that such
biases can be eliminated by strictly adhering to the existing methodological standards of
scientific inquiry (, 1991, ).

This raises the question of seeing the scientific work as shaped by andocentric
prejudices. According to and , women’s movements pave the way for an enlarged perspective
of the world. People are bale to see it in a wider perspective with the removal of covers and
blinders that are obscuring knowledge and observation (as cited in , 1991, ). Hence, women
movements lead to the creation of more women and feminist researchers that are more likely to
see andocentric biases than the sexist men. Empiricist rigorously follows existing science
principle and rules. The talk about bad science and the careful collection of data being
epistemological was not visible until an alternative to it appeared.

The feminist empiricism is thought to be less threatening to science practices and their
epistemologies as compared to the standpoint theory. Feminist research conducted in biology is
proven to be true or less false than those which they oppose. This goes to point that not all
feminist claims are preferable but in terms of conventional scientific virtues, they may be more
or less preferred.

Moreover, the conventional understanding of principles for scientific research is also

intact with the feminist empiricism. Primarily, they challenge only the incomplete practice and
not the norms of the scientific method itself. A related advantage of the conservatism of feminist
empiricism is the hostility to women scientist by the social structure of sciences. Such hostilities
appear especially to researchers that engage themselves in learning in gender and women ways.
Thus a conservative strategy can be considered robust in managing and maintaining disciplinary
respect that is necessary for the continuous access to funds and teaching. The struggles of women
to produce such kinds of privileges that are readily available to men have long been going in the
history of science (, 1991, ).

Feminist Standpoint Theory

Feminist standpoint theory has moved to a pluralistic direction that acknowledges the
multiplicity of epistemically informative situated standpoints. Fundamentally, they claim the
important things that can be learned by taking the perspectives of the marginalized group. Such
group does not only include various groups of women but all men and women of color, gay men
and others. The system of knowledge drawn from these groups’ insights and conditions is
considered to be richer than those of the privilege group alone. Thus, the confinement to
dominant perspectives is less fruitful as compared to those thinking from subaltern standpoints (,
2003). As argued, the starting thought which is out of the lives of those marginalized leads to the
development of new sets of research questions and priorities and thus allowing them to see
problems more differently (, 2004)

Feminist Postmodernism

Postmodernist or poststructuralist approach is pursued by feminist as a response to the

essentialism of radical feminism. It is hailed by many as the promising avenue towards the
development of feminist international relations theory. Feminists postmodernist take the attempt
of defining woman by radical feminist to be their departure. According to , all feminist
standpoints are partial. Some aspects of the society which are suppressed by domination can be
illuminated by thinking about women. However, women cannot be spoken of because they do
not exist except those within the specific set of gender relations.

Postmodernism argue that the act of defining an individual may exclude the important
features of identity that is in a way will be constraining. The definition of women made by men
is rejected by radical feminist but not the process of defining. Hence, the feminist postmodernism
is aimed at the deconstruction of woman. This entails exploration and the rejection of the
preconceived naturalness of particular understandings ( & , 1994, ).

Deaf Epistemology

As discussed early on, it does not necessarily require one to be part of a marginalized
group to create a standpoint from that thought. Like women, deaf people can be considered a
marginalized group since they constitute a minority group. As a result of their physical
incapability, they suffer a form of oppression form the dominant group which is the hearing
group. However, such condition can be related to various social inequalities.

Deaf persons has in one way or another experienced being ostracized, ridiculed and
denigrated by non disabled children during their childhood. On the micro level, the therapist
must observe the epistemologies of deaf clients as they offer possibilities to guide the
questioning of the client (, 1989, ).

Deafness clearly inflicts a barrier between the mind eagerly waiting to be filled in and the
external sources of knowledge. The deaf people can arrive at a different understanding of the
world as compared to those hearing people. This will be possible only if the people believed that
deafness can enable people to view the world in a different manner and be able to actively
construct knowledge. Learners are not seen as empty vessels or even mere recipients of words.
Because they are not marginal beings that needed to be saved, they can be viewed as members of
the large family of oppressed (, 2004, ).

For deaf people, epistemological matching is an essential factor. This is particularly

crucial when a therapist of the hearing culture (majority) is treating a member of the deaf
(minority). In a macro level analysis, there may seem to be a wall between these two groups of
people. This is because the therapist and the client are from two antagonistic groups in the sense
that the deaf culture is a minority group which is oppressed by the majority group or the hearing
culture. (1987) suggested that the minority groups elicit a different view of the world which has
been shaped by their status as subordinate groups (as cited in , 1989, ). Each group view and
understand the world in different ways. Furthermore, there is the tendency of each group
affectively or negatively reacting to how each other view the world. Therefore once can go back
to the concept that better understanding and a wider perspective of the world can be attained by
taking on the predicaments of the marginalized groups.

The concept of standpoint epistemology supports strong objectivity. They claim to
represent a wider perspective of the world by taking the standpoint of the disadvantaged people
rather than merely accepting those of the dominant class.

The creation of such is dependent on the different social inequalities experienced by different
groups. For example, the domination of the hearing class over the deaf people leads to the latter’s
different view of the world shaped by their subordinate status.

In the same sense, feminist epistemology claims that the oppression of women and their
experiences can be used to gain a wider perspective of the world. Women are disadvantaged in
the dominant knowledge practices. They are not given the voice to state their conditions or to
assert how such conditions can be changed. The need to remedy this condition gave rise to the
articulation of various feminist epistemologies. It is argued that the experiences and oppression
of women represents the real social phenomenon. They further assert that the system of
knowledge that is drawn from the marginalized perspective are fruitful than those of the
dominant or privileged class. Moreover, seeing the perspectives from both the dominant and the
oppressed will lead to a comparative evaluation of perspectives.

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