Sandra Harding, Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities, and Modernities


Sec. II, Ch.4, Women as Subjects of History and Knowledge


Feminist Science Studies started about forty years ago. It began with the observation that women are systematically excluded from the sciences, which is less true now than it was then, but still generally true, especially for women of color. However, as it developed, it acquired a broader scope. The absence of women in science is intertwined with larger social policies and practices. (p. 105) It advanced the view of science as a (Western European) social construction, and raised important pedagogical issues.


p. 110-114. Gender. The assumption that gender relations are natural and therefore universal is harmful. Biological facts are always open to cultural interpretation. Social relations of gender are hierarchical, and women are always the second sex. Gender belongs to individuals; social structures; and symbolic structures. Gender relations change over time. A single, unified feminism is not a good idea; we need powerful but multiple coalitions. NB: Gender is also a 'theoretical lens.'


114-117. Standpoint theory. Critical theory; methodology for research projects; resource for political action. Gilligan: moral theory focuses on decision-making in lawcourts and parliaments, not within the family. MacKinnon: legal conceptions are formulated from a male standpoint. "These researchers refused to begin their projects from the dominant conceptual frameworks."


p. 117. Knowledge and power are internally linked. P. 118: "People's different experiences of interacting with nature, other people, and social institutions make some explanations of their own characteristics, actions, and the world around them look reasonable, and others unreasonable or even unintelligible." (See essay "Ethnosciences" by Stephan Rist.) What counts as rationality? What counts as objective knowledge? Margins as sites of epistemological possibility.  P. 119 "Biologists, health researchers, and environmentalists identified many more inversions and, from the standpoint of women's lives, perverse understandings of nature and social relations in the conceptual frameworks of dominant institutions."


p. 120. Thus we need both science and politics to see the world objectively--more objectively. "A standpoint is an achievement." "Dominant groups do not want revealed either the falsity or the unjust political consequences of their material and conceptual practices." P. 121. "Politics and knowledge prove in principle no less than in practice impossible to separate since the very production of knowledge requires political action and has political effects. Effective political action requires reliable knowledge of the world and, in turn, produces it." A marginalized group must become a group "for itself" and its members must come to see themselves as agents and subjects. (Beauvoir)


p. 122. Feminist Science Studies have been rather Eurocentric, and focussed on the 'high sciences' and laboratory practices. They have however provided useful reflections on science, so that scientists can be more self-critical, and provided empirical studies of gender politics. "How people live together--their distinctive social relations with each other and their interactions in socially typical ways with the natural world--shapes what they can know about themselves and the world around them." Thus Feminist Social Studies challenge the value-neutrality, progressiveness, and rationality of modern science, (see Latour) as well as its independence from society and the family.


p. 126. Eurocentrism. P. 128. "Feminists in the South must think about the global political economy and how it affects the lives of women in their societies. The future is open-ended. See next chapter!


Ch. 5 Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies


What is the "exceptionalist and triumphalist" narrative according to which the transfer of Western sciences and technologies, and their rationality would bring social progress to the "underveloped societies" of the Third World?


PCST: Post-colonial science and technology studies.

The contribution of Asian mathematics, science and technology to European learning, and its suppression.

Scientific and technological traditions of non-European cultures.

Anthropological studies of European science.

Criticisms of development.

Standpoints of southerners. The re-evaluation of indigenous knowledge and traditional environmental knowledge. Examining the historical, economic, and political record, from Southern standpoints.


Science and Empires

European expansion often led to the destruction of other cultures' knowledge traditions: Christian proselytizers, trading companies, national governments in search of power. The need for scientific and technological knowledge to support exploration and military conflicts. The abolition of the old trade routes, along which knowledge traveled. The exportation of infectious diseases.


Rethinking 'ethnoscience,' traditional environmental knowledge and indigenous knowledge traditions.

 P. 139. "Cultures tend to produce knowledge in ways similar to how they produce other artifacts. They use 'craft' or 'factory' work processes, and they store and share the knowledge gained in ways similar to those used to store and share other kinds of human products." To borrow Lewontin's terms, human knowledge is part of our micro-environment; we must construct it, store it, and make it available. All human beings do this; it is like building a house (with windows), part of our shelter.

Northern ethnosciences. European science is also socially and ethnically situated.


Criticism of Third World development policies. Northern development agencies planned to end poverty in the South, by transfering scientific rationality and democratic political institutions. But the gap between rich and poor has increased (p. 143f.) "Development policies, intentionally or not, largely continued the earlier imperial and colonial pattern of directing the flow of natural, human, and other economic resources from the South to the North, and from the least to the most already-advantaged groups within societies aroudn the globe." (Note that the Soviet Union and China, both socialist countries, did this as well as the capitalist countries of Europe and North America.)


One limitationof PCSTS is that they have not taken into account the role of women as agents in knowledge production.


p. 145: Multiple sciences. How to account for a multiplicity of scientific traditions, without succumbing to relativism?


1. Integrate other science and technology traditions into Northern legacies. But who decides what should be preserved of other cultures' cognitive and practical legacies? And who profits?

2. Should Third World science delink from Northern science? This seems unrealistis in the global community as it now exists.

3. Integrate Northern problems, concepts and practices into Southern science and technology traditions. Exs.: India, and Latin America. Cognitive diversity and biological diversity.

4. Take other cultures as models. Should knowledge systems express ethical and spiritual commitments? This question points to Latour's project.

5. North / South collaboration.

6. Allow science and technology to become sites of a public debate. Develop ways to gain new perspectives on research practices. This again points to Latour.

7. Rethink what we mean by modernity.


Ch. 6, "Women on Modernitiy's Horizons: Feminist Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies"


Men and women in different cultures are assigned some different kinds of interactions with social and natural environments. Half a century of post-colonial 'development' seem to have been controlled by Northern institutions and agencies (and capitalist - and communist - enterprises). The impoverishment of women has increased in this period.


There are many groups of women in the 'Third World' with very different problems and interests. The importance of case studies: post-colonial feminist science and technology studies. (PCFSTS) There is no global theory that somehow correct describes these problems and offers a universal prescription for them.


p. 160. What kinds of skills, techniques and knowledge do women traditionally need? They are typically responsible for the household and for childcare, attending to material and psychological needs of family members, transforming local resources (kitchen gardens, water supplies, forests, energy sources, food sources.) They develop knolwedge of drugs, and medical and health techniques. The develop negotiating skills, and maintain social relations among households. Community work. They manufacture food, crafts, other artifacts; they farm, and raise cattle and fish. These skills are often neglected in favor of distinctively male skills.


p. 165. Women have been left out of development plans, although they were central to early successes in 'development.' Processes generated by 'development' like the appropriation of traditional land rights, and the 'closing of the commons,' in favor of transnational corporations (or communist collectivization), often detroyed important features of the environment. Women often lost prestige and status. The importance of women's groups in the political re-organization of the Third World.


Western science (p. 169), sees itself as opposed to the household, women, kin and tribe, and the local, as well as nature. Often 'development' has made women's evironment and communities deteriorate, at the same time excluding women from access to Northern scientific and technological education and professions.


Ch. 7. Multiple Modernities: Postcolonial Standpoints


Is modernity plural? The reality, desirability, and necessity of multiple sciences (see Latour) is even more apparent in the context of multiple modernities. The sciences need to co-constitute themselves with tradition, the pre-modern, and the social. (See Latour!)


p. 175. Modern societies don't seem to be able to  provide food, health care, jobs, healthy environments and freedom from violence for many of their citizens. Is this because of the persistence of 'tradition' or because of the improper integration of science and tradition? 'Triumphalist and exceptionalist' narratives about Northern European modernity and science. P. 177-78: new and different! Especially valuable! Forward-looking, egalitarian, rational, pluralist. Modernity must always view tradition as its Other, and make a break with the past; it is an oppositional term.


p. 180. Are the artifacts of technology really value-neutral? New technologies require new skills and knowledge, new kinds of schooling; and they need welcoming environments: an electrical grid, a communications grid, infrastructure.  Which social groups get access to new technologies? How are people persuaded to want the new artifacts and the knowledge and social relations that come with them? All of these transformations go on against the background of various traditions, generating various technologies: In modernity there is always a dual structure integrating traditions and modern factors; so there must be a variety of modernities. And this process of integration affects the 'modern.'


Science interacts with society via technology; pure science cannot be disentangled from its applications. P. 184. Scientific questions have practical origins. Basic research creates practical applications and technologies. Basic research has to be paid for, so it must have a payoff. Scientific research also uses technologies.


p. 190. "To separate from tradition is to leave behind women, femininity, the household, loyalty to kin and tribe, as well as nature and the 'primitive.' (See Ernst Cassirer on myth.) The image of this is the male astronaut, flying away (where?) in a spaceship from an exploding earth. This is the myth of superman. Does this really sound like a good idea?


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