Some of you know that I am partial to something called Standpoint Theory. (In fact, that’s what I’m writing my thesis about.) It is about the most sensible piece of philosophy I have encountered in my entire undergrad. I (heart) standpoint theory.
I’d like to throw out an excerpt for you to read, from a work by Alison Jaggar, that explains how standpoint relates to epistemology (theory of knowledge). She argues for a specifically socialist feminist standpoint theory.
Like both traditional Marxists and radical feminists, socialist feminists view knowledge as a social and practical construct and they believe that conceptual framewrks are shaped and limited by their social origins. They believe that, in any historical period, the prevailing world-view will reflect the interests and values of the dominant class. Consequently, they recognize that the establishment of a less mystified and more reliable world-view will require not only scientific struggle and intellectual argument but also the overthrow of the prevailing system of social relations.
Where social feminism differs from traditional Marxist epistemology is in its assertion that the special social or class position of women gives them a special epistemological standpoint which makes possible a view of the world that is more reliable and less distorted than that available either to capitalist or to working-class men. […]
Both liberal and Marxist epistemologists consider that, in order to arrive at an adequate representation of reality, it is important to begin from the proper standpoint. Within liberal epistemology, the proper standpoint is the standpoint of the neutral, disinterested observer, a so-called Archimedean standpoint somewhere outside the reality that is being observed [this is the usual position attempted by scientists and sociologists, a god’s-eye view or view from nowhere – TG]. Marxist epistemology, by contrast, recognizes that there is no such standpoint: that all systems of conceptualization reflect certain social interests and values. In a society where the production of knowledge is controlled by a certain class, the knowledge produced will reflect the interests and values of that class. In other words, in class societies the prevailing knowledge and science interpret reality from the standpoint of the ruling class. Because the ruling class has an interest in concealing the way in which it dominates and exploits the rest of the population, the interpretation of reality that it presents will be distorted in characteristic ways. In particular, the suffering of the subordinate classes will be ignored, redescribed as enjoyment or justified as freely chosen, deserved, or inevitable.
Because their class position insulates them from the suffering of the oppressed, many members of the ruling class are likely to be convinced by their own ideology; either they fail to perceive the suffering of the oppressed or they believe that it is freely chosen, deserved, or inevitable. They experience the current organization of society as basically satisfactory and so they accept the interpretation of reality that justifies that system of organization. They encounter little in their daily lives that conflicts with that interpretation. Oppressed groups, by contrast, suffer directly from the system that oppresses them… the pervasiveness, intensity, and relentlessness of their suffering constantly push the oppressed groups toward a realization that something is wrong with the prevailing social order. Their pain provides them with a motivation for finding out what is wrong, for criticizing accepted interpretations of reality, and for developing new and less distorted ways of understanding the world. These new systems of conceptualization will reflect the interests and values of the oppressed groups and so constitute a representation of reality from an alternaitve to the dominant standpoint.
The standpoint of the oppressed is not just different from that of the ruling class; it is also epistemologically advantageous. It provides the basis for a view of reality that is more impartial than that of the ruling class and also more comprehensive. It is more impartial because it comes closer to representing the interests of society as a whole; whereas the standpoint of the ruling class reflects the interests only of one section of the population, the standpoint of the oppressed represents the interests of the totality in that historical period. Moreover, whereas the condition of the oppressed groups is visible only dimly to the ruling class, the oppressed are able to see more clearly the rules as well as the rulers and the relation between them. Thus, the standpoint of the oppressed includes and is able to explain the standpoint of the ruling class.
(Alison Jaggar, “Feminist Politics and Epistemology: The Standpoint of Women” in The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies (ed. Sandra Harding), 2004, New York and London: Routledge, 55-57. All emphases added.)
Remember that big discussion about white folks being racist, and not being able to understand the ways in which they are racist because the system they have built and participate in conceals racism from them? how there are things that we as white people simply cannot understand, even about our own selves? And that discussion in the comment section on the PUA thread much to the same effect that there are some things men will never be able to know about how their own privilege as men works in society? THIS is what motivates me when I write about these things.
I’m sure as I continue to research and write my thesis, there will be more about standpoint theory. I have a ton of great quotes from Patricia Hill Collins to throw into a post that I have found most helpful. For now, tell me what you think about this idea!