Feminist epistemology

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P020-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

The impact of feminism on epistemology has been to move the question ‘Whose knowledge are we talking about?’ to a central place in epistemological inquiry. Hence feminist epistemologists are producing conceptions of knowledge that are quite specifically contextualized and situated, and of socially responsible epistemic agency. They have elaborated genealogical/interpretive methods, have advocated reconstructions of empiricism, have articulated standpoint positions and have demonstrated the potential of psychosocial and post-structural analyses to counter the hegemony of epistemological master narratives. In these reconfigured epistemologies, feminists have argued that the cognitive status and circumstances of the knower(s) are central among conditions for the possibility of knowledge. They have demonstrated the salience, in evaluating any epistemic event, of the social arrangements of power and privilege by which it is legitimated or discredited.

Feminists are engaged at once in critical projects of demonstrating the privilege-sustaining, androcentric character of ‘the epistemological project’ in most of its received forms, and in transformative projects of reconstructing methodologies and justificatory procedures so as to eradicate their oppressive, exclusionary effects. They have shown that, in late-twentieth-century western philosophy, the circumstances of mature white men continue to generate prevailing ideals and norms of ‘human nature’, while the ideals of reason, objectivity and value-neutrality around which most mainstream theories of knowledge are constructed, like the knowledge they legitimate, tacitly validate affluent male experiences and values. Scientific knowledge, which is still an overwhelmingly male preserve, stands as the regulative model of objective epistemic authority; and the experiences and values of non-male, non-white and otherwise differently placed knowers typically have to accommodate themselves, Procrustean-style, to an idealized scientific and implicitly masculine norm, or risk dismissal as inconsequential, aberrant, mere opinion.

In engaging with these issues, most feminists – like many other participants in ‘successor epistemology’ projects – retain a realist commitment to empirical evidence, while denying that facts or experiences ‘speak for themselves’ and maintaining that most truths are as artefactual as they are factual. Questions of cognitive authority and answerability thus figure as prominently as issues of epistemic warrant in these projects, where feminists are concentrating less on formal, universal conditions for making and justifying knowledge ‘in general’ than on the specificities of knowledge construction. Hence these inquiries are often interdisciplinary, producing detailed analyses of everyday knowledge-making and of scientific or social scientific inquiry; drawing out their gendered and other locational implications. In these projects feminists are showing that avowedly engaged, politically committed investigations can yield well-warranted conclusions.

    Citing this article:
    Code, Lorraine. Feminist epistemology, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P020-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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