Knowledge from the underside33

The issue of standpoint epistemologies emerges in debates in feminist theories of science. As Sandra Harding explains, such standpoint theorising 'originates in Hegel's thinking about the relationship between the

29. Plumwood, 'The Ecopolitics Debate and the Politics of Nature', p. 79.

30. See Salleh, Ecofeminism as Politics, ch. 10; Karen J. Warren and Jim Cheney, 'Ecological Feminism and Ecosystem Ecology', Hypatia 6:1 (1991), 179-97. For a critique of Warren and Cheney, see Catherine Zabinski, 'Scientific Ecology and Ecological Feminism: The Potential for Dialogue', in Warren (ed.), Ecofeminism, pp. 314-24.

31. Warren, 'The Power and the Promise ofEcofeminism', p. 131.

32. Reported in Mellor, Feminism andEcology, p. 107.

33. The next few paragraphs may also be found in my '"Return to the Vomit of Legitimation"? Scriptural Interpretation and the Authority of the Poor', in Craig Bartholomew, Jonathan Chaplin, Robert Song and Al Wolters (eds.), ARoyalPriesthood:The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically (Exeter: Paternoster, and Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).

master and slave and in the elaboration of this analysis in the writings of Marx, Engels, and the Hungarian Marxist theorist, G. Lukacs'. How does standpoint epistemology operate.? Harding again: 'Feminism and the women's movement provide the theory and motivation for inquiry and political struggle that can transform the perspective of women into a "standpoint" - a morally and scientifically preferable grounding for our interpretations and explanations of nature and social life.'34 Some ecofem-inists have appropriated this standpoint, arguing that the ecofeminist women's movement identifies the ways in which women reproduce nature for men and thereby occupy an oppositional location which is vital in the production of oppositional knowledges. In this connection Vandana Shiva (Staying Alive) has stressed the agricultural labour of Third World women; the same point is generalised by Ariel Salleh (Ecofeminism as Politics).

Such an epistemological privilege being granted to a group in a particular social location has been fiercely criticised within feminism. In 'A Cyborg Manifesto', Donna J. Haraway argues that such epistemologies require the presumption of a stable identity which is simply not available. We should, she maintains, be 'freed ofthe need to ground politics in "our" privileged position ofthe oppression that incorporates all other dominations, the innocence of the merely violated, the ground of those closer to nature'. In the desire 'to construct a revolutionary subject from the perspective of a hierarchy of oppressions and/or a latent position of moral superiority, innocence, and greater closeness to nature', we may detect the Western selfpresent through philosophical epistemologies. Appealing to a certain type of postmodernism, Haraway rejects the notions of identity and self which, in her judgment, such epistemologies require and entail.35 Yet, as Sandra Harding has pointed out, there are aspects of a standpoint epistemology in Haraway's essay: that knowledge should be oppositional and political are common themes in both standpoint epis-temologies and Haraway's work. Furthermore, Harding is not convinced

34. Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press), p. 26.

35. Donna J. Haraway, 'A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century', in Simians, Cyborgs and Women, pp. 149-81 (p. 176). Although in a strong critique Hewitt objects to Haraway's notion of a 'cyborg', in my judgment her criticism fails to grasp the radicality of Haraway's proposal. For, if Haraway is right, what it means to be(come) human is being transformed through technology. Therefore, to appeal to the need to humanise our circumstance, as Hewitt contends, is now strangely without content. See Marsha Hewitt, 'Cyborgs, Drag Queens, and Goddesses:

Emancipatory-regressive Paths in Feminist Theory', Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 5:2 (1993), 135-54 (138-41).

that Haraway has, in her tendency to offer a narrative of the development of political economy, in fact escaped Marxist-modernist epistemological assumptions.36

In a subsequent and highly significant response to Harding, Haraway moves closer to the standpoint epistemologies which she had previously questioned. Interestingly, as I noted at the opening, she claims that: 'Ecofeminists have perhaps been most insistent on some version of the world as active subject, not as resource to be appropriated in bourgeois, Marxist or masculinist projects.'37 In making this case, Haraway seeks to qualify her earlier view which has been read as the most severe social constructionism, but also, of course, to avoid a claim to the impartiality of 'objective knowing'.38 Identifying the problem in epistemology as follows: 'how to have simultaneously an account of radical historical contingency for all knowledge claims and knowing subjects . . . and a no-nonsense commitment to faithful accounts of a "real" world', she proposes 'politics and epistemologies oflocation, positioning, and situating, where partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard to make rational knowledge claims. These are claims on people's lives; the view from abody, always a complex, contradictory, structuring and structured body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplicity.'39 Given such commitments, standpoint epistemologies have a certain attractiveness in that they represent the views of agents from below. These Haraway calls 'subjugated knowledges'.

Shortly I shall briefly rehearse some helpful cautionary notes offered by Haraway on the limitations of standpoint epistemologies. However, I return now to ecofeminism proper to sketch the employment of such an

36. Harding, The Science Question in Feminism, p. 194. The pointHarding seeks to make against Haraway is not, I consider, accurately presented in a critical commentary by William Grassie ['Donna Haraway's Metatheory of Science and Religion: Cyborgs, Trickster, and Hermes', Zygon 31:2 (1996), 285-304 (294)] who states thatHarding is seeking to argue for 'grand theorizing' and maintaining 'a discourse of objectivity'. On a different reading, which the selective quoting by Grassie disguises, Harding is attracted by Haraway's postmodernism but is not altogether sure that the 'successor science' of standpoint epistemologies is persuasive. Thus Harding does not reject Haraway's postmodern epistemology in favour of modernist epistemological strategies, as Grassie indicates. Rather, she rejects modernism but remains unsure whether or not the rejection ofsuch modernist strategies also requires the rejection of standpoint epistemologies.

37. Haraway, 'Situated Knowledges', p. 199.

38. This point is well made in a very helpful commentary on Haraway's work by Jill Marsden, 'Virtual Sexes and Feminist Futures: The Philosophy of "Cyberfeminism"', Radical Philosophy 78 (1996), 6-16 (11). Which means, in turn, that the judgment on Haraway's work by David Demeritt ['Science, Social Construction and Nature', pp. 173-93 (p. 176)] as 'artefactual constructivism' requires qualification.

39. Haraway, 'Situated Knowledges', pp. 187,195.

epistemological strategy within social/ist ecofeminism. Contrary to those who maintain that standpoint epistemologies require essentialism and the erasure of difference (essentialism, in that there appears to be something inherent 'in' women for this position to be maintained; erasure, in that cultural differences and power differentials between actual women -between, say, a white, middle-class European academic and a fieldworker in India - appear to be obliterated), the argument depends on an account of the social location of women. What is privileged is not 'the position of women' but rather the range of practices which are - under present patriarchal conditions - the preserve (but not the reserve) of women. As Salleh notes: '[T]o say this is not to say that women are any "closer" to nature than men in some ontological sense. Rather, it is to recall Marx's teaching that human consciousness develops in a dialectical way through sensuous bodily interaction with the material environment.'40 Thereby the attempt is made to recover the centrality of women's reproductive working for ecofeminist theory and politics. For Salleh, such an affirmation is the rejection of a positivist essentialism in favour of'a complex socially elaborated sex and gender difference, privileging women temporarily as historical agents par excellence'.41

Such an epistemology must be attentive to the subjugated or disadvantaged actions of women: its source lies not in some reified notion of women's bodies but the position of women in a sexed/gendered division of classist, racist labour. Or, as Mary Mellor puts it: 'For ecofeminists, women, because of their structural disadvantage, can see the dynamics of the relationship between humanity and nature more clearly than can (relatively) privileged men.'42 What is this position of structural disadvantage.? Sometimes this position, as articulated by Salleh, for example, can appear

40. Salleh, 'Nature, Woman, Labor, Capital', p. 116. In articulating her position in such fashion, Salleh has, I think, moved away from a more 'essentialist' position in her earliest papers on ecofeminism and deep ecology.

41. Salleh, 'Nature, Woman, Labor, Capital', p. 120. Celice Jackson's complaints about ecofeminist epistemology, 'Radical Environmental Myths: A Gender Perspective', New Left Review 210 (1995), 124-40 (133-4) are unpersuasive - see the reply by Mary Mellor, 'Myths and Realities: A Reply to Cecile Jackson', New Left Review 217 (1996), 132-7.

42. Mellor, Feminism andEcology, pp. 105-6. The objections raised to this position by Deborah Slicer, 'Wrongs of Passage: Three Passages to the Maturing of Ecofeminism', in Warren (ed.), Ecological Feminism, pp. 29-41 (p. 35) fail to make a clear distinction between affinity and social/ist ecofeminism. Slicer rehearses four objections to such epistemic privilege: (1) Is it women or feminist women who are accorded such privilege? (2) Is it only women who have this privilege? (3) Are totalising claims about a single feminist position evident here? (4) Does this epistemic privilege issue in an account of general truths which, as general, is too indebted to the Enlightenment? These objections may be answered thus: (1) in that such knowledge is oppositional and is born in struggle, it is acquired by women undertaking ecofeminist actions; (2) the second question cannot be known in advance and, as this is a somewhat misty-eyed (the woman-nature-labour nexus described as a co-evolution of'reciprocal practices over centuries'), but at its core is a critical claim: the cognitive capacities founded in a standpoint epistemology are located in reproductive labours 'embedded in a matrix ofsocial relations which in turn are sustained by subsistence activities embedded in cycles of biological time'.43 This is the 'vantage point of critical otherness' of which Ynestra King writes.44

All romanticism, as Haraway advises, must be rejected here: the social location ofwomen does not provide some automatic or innocent access to liberative knowledge; subjugated knowledges are not naturalised knowledge 'mysteriously' available ifyou inhabit the 'correct' body and position. If such knowledge is to be critical, it must be learned: 'To see from below is neither easily learned nor unproblematic', writes Haraway. '[H]ow to see from below is a problem requiring at least as much skill with bodies and language, with the mediations of vision, as the "highest" techno-scientific visualizations.'45

A good example of a standpoint epistemology in practice, so to speak, is the account given by Vandana Shiva of the damaging ways in which development - or maldevelopment, as Shiva calls it - affects women in the 'Third World', especially Indian women. Explicitly questioning the identification of nature and women, she affirms a 'feminine principle' which identifies the religious-cum-philosophical support for an 'ecological struggle' aimed at both the emancipation of nature and the overcoming of the marginalisation ofIndian women, the principal actors in survival in rural India. What in a hasty reading might be interpreted as an essentialist historically constituted claim for privilege, women are the privileged, but not the only, bearers of such epistemic access; (3) the material relations of women's labour are here privileged, which is not, of course, a single standpoint; (4) universal claims are made here but from a particular location - such universality is not the same as generality. However, a question by Slicer on whether knowledge produced from the privilege of partiality is also liberatory knowledge - the issue of criteria for liberative knowing - is well taken; part III of this book is an attempt to frame an answer to this question, to be tested by Christian pedagogy.

43. Salleh, Ecofeminism as Politics, p. 146. The argument by Lori Gruen, 'Toward an Ecofeminist Moral Epistemology', in Warren (ed.), Ecological Feminism, pp. 120-38 (pp. 131-4), that knowledge of nature should be direct is thereby denied: knowledge of nature is always socially mediated; what is at issue here is not the bare acknowledgement of the 'facticity' of nature but rather epistemological attitudes which seek to discern our indebtedness to nature.

44. Ynestra King, 'Feminism and the Revolt of Nature', Heresies 13 (1983), 12-16 (14).

45. Haraway, 'Situated Knowledges', p. 191. It should be clear also that the themes of the sacredness and re-enchantment of nature, which are so prevalent in the eco-literature, are not supported by the type of social/ist ecofeminism presented here. The re-enchantment of nature is an important theme in chapter 9.

position in fact presents the centrality of women's work as the mediators of nature in production and reproduction to society and thereby as the primary agents in practices of sustainability: 'Women produce and reproduce life not merely biologically, but also through their social role in providing sustenance.'46 Thus she argues that 'the feminine' is not 'biologically determined' but is instead to be understood as 'socially and culturally constructed'.47

The policies of maldevelopment issue, in Shiva's view, in poverty. 'This poverty crisis', she writes, 'touches women most severely, firstbecause they are the poorest among the poor, and then because, with nature, they are the primary sustainers of society'.48 Opposed to this maldevelopment is the traditional work of women which 'has been based on contributions to the land, not just exploitation and benefit from it'.49 She presents the various ways in which women have in agriculture, forestry and conservation of water engaged in active cooperation with nature in order to meet fundamental human needs for food, warmth and shelter.

This, in turn, suggests that the 'feminine principle' is not a state of being in which women participate but is rather to be understood as 'the principle of activity and creativity in nature, women and men'.50 Further, Shiva notes the epistemic privilege given by living within and from the 'feminine principle': drawing on the work of Ashis Nandy, she writes, 'one must choose the slave's standpoint not only because the slave is oppressed but also because he [5/c] represents a higher-order cognition which perforce includes the master as a human, whereas the master's cognition has to exclude the slave as a "thing"'.51 Which, we may gloss, is to say that the partial standpoint is one oflove.

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