CHAPTER 3: EPISTEMOLOGY AND METHODOLOGY: FEMINIST STANDPOINT THEORY
Sandra Harding (1987a&b), and Stanley and Wise (1990) following in her footsteps, describe epistemology as a theory of knowledge, the study of how and what we can know, epistemology also forming the basis for both methodology and method. But then Stanley and Wise (1990) relate that what they described in their 1983 edition of Breaking Out and believed to be epistemology, are referred to by others as methodology. They ascribe these contrasting views to semantic differences and recommend epistemology to be seen as a framework within which knowledge can be constituted and produced, an understanding of reality. Methodology, on the other hand, is described as “a theory and analysis of how research should proceed” (Harding, 1987a, p.2).
Within the scope and space allowed by this dissertation I find it extremely difficult to organize my writing in terms of epistemology and methodology as the interplay and interconnections between the two often spill over all boundaries. Also feminist scholars within standpoint theory write on a high level of philosophical abstraction. I shall therefore not clearly distinguish between epistemology and methodology but rather stay with the natural flow of my reasoning on the different concepts. I briefly start off with a description of feminist standpoint epistemology which informs much of my thinking, and then discuss situated knowledge, deconstructing reality, truth and knowledge, and finding meaning and understanding.
A Feminist Standpoint Epistemology
Standpoint theory emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as a feminist critical theory, also defined as a philosophy, an epistemology, a methodology, and a political strategy (Harding, 1993, 2004b; 2004d). Standpoint-critical theory is about the relation between the production of knowledge and practices of power (Harding, 1998; Lengermann & Niebrugge-Brantley, 2004). Above all, standpoint theory is a feminist standpoint in that it focuses on inequality in power relations and aims to understand and oppose all forms of domination (Hartsock, 1996, 2004; Ritzer & Goodman, 2004). It was standpoint theory and the voluminous literature flowing from such persons as Sandra Harding, Dorothy Smith, Patricia Hill Collins, Nancy Hartsock, as well as Liz Stanley and Sue Wise that brought women’s consciousness out from under dominant sexist and androcentric ideologies (Harding & Hintikka, 1983; Oleson, 1994, 2000).
Firstly, standpoint theory aims at producing knowledge for marginalized people (Harding, 1998), first and foremost gaining knowledge for women (Acker, Barry & Esseveld, 1983; Gottfried, 1996b; Harding, 1987a, 2004b; Oleson, 2000; Stacey, 1996; Stanley & Wise, 1979, 1990, 1993). The notion of knowledge for women changed over the years to knowledge for marginalized people, as women are marginalized in all forms of domination (Alcoff & Potter, 1993). Secondly, as standpoint theory starts from the lives of those exploited by the domination system, the questions and issues of importance will be those of the subordinate group (Harding, 1998; Marecek, 1989). Standpoint-critical theory produces knowledge to answer the questions of women (Harding, 1998) differently from patriarchal influences and male mentality (Gross & Averill, 2003); questions such as why in every class and race there seem to be violence against women (Harding, 2004b).
Thirdly, the intellectual history of standpoint theory refers back to Hegel’s reflections on the master/slave relationship as from the slave’s standpoint in contrast to what is seen as the much more distorted view of the master (Harding, 1993, 1998; Pels, 2004). Standpoint critical theory therefore speaks from the particular, historically specific, social locations of women (Jagger, 2004; Harding, 1993, 2004b; Marecek, 1989; Smith, 2004), placing the knower on the same critical plane as the subject (Smith, 1987). In the fourth place, standpoint is something that is achieved (Hartsock, 2003, 2004) by the political struggle of the oppressed and through critical theorizing. This stands in contrast to the prevailing world-view of the dominant ruling group (Jagger, 2004; Pels, 2004). Standpoints are “critically and theoretically constructed discursive position(s)” (Harding, 1998, p.17) and not merely a perspective or point of view (Hartsock, 2004).
But to come to an understanding of feminist standpoint theory, it is essential that some of the principles thereof be examined.
Situated Knowledge: Location, Experience and Multiple Standpoints
It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reason for acting
Simone de Beauvoir
Traditional researchers stated that knowledge of the particular cannot lead to generalized knowledge (Stanley & Wise, 1983) and therefore they opposed any focus on the particular and the specific. Critical standpoint theory opposed this view through focusing on location and experience. Location has become one of the cornerstones of knowledge within feminist standpoint theory. Standpoint theorists state that a particular experience can only be described and evaluated within a particular location (Bailey, 2000; DeVault, 1999; Harding, 1993; Hartsock, 2003; Longino, 1993; Marecek, 1989). Our being is continuously influenced by our environment as well as the class, race and gender of everyone we interact with (Alcoff & Potter, 1993; DuBois, 1983; Flax, 1983; Haraway, 1988, 2004; Jagger, 2004; Reinharz, 1983; Rose, 1983). Our daily lives are constructed by specific input from our location, where location refers to physical and psychic location as well as time in history.
This concept of situated knowledge as developed by Donna Haraway (1988) opened the way to alternatives, as situated meanings could constantly change depending on the person and the experience (Gee, 1999; Hartsock, 1996). In turning away from the faceless, disembodied subject, standpoint theorists argue for valuing embodied location, the “cultural process by which the physical body becomes a site of culturally ascribed and disputed meanings, experiences, feelings” (Stanley & Wise, 1993, p.197). The female body becomes the site where the natural and the cultural or societal meet (Barker, 2000; Nelson, 1993), and so reality is seen as located in the female body (Hepburn, 1999).
Experience in traditional research meant the analysis of men’s experiences (the experiences of white, western, bourgeois men). Standpoint feminists took a critical stand on the omission and distortion of women’s experiences (Addelson, 1993; DeVault, 1999; Flax, 2003; Harding, 1987a, 1998, 2004b; Jagger, 2004; Millman & Kanter, 1987; Stanley & Wise, 1993). They maintained that women’s perspectives were needed as their perspectives and understanding will differ from the biased perspectives of men (Banister, et al., 1994; Haraway, 2004; Harding, 1993; Narayan, 2004; Pels, 2004). Feminist standpoint research generates its questions from the perspective of women’s experiences, and therefore made working from the perspectives of the woman’s experience probably the most distinctive feature of earlier feminist standpoint research, although it was Humanism that brought us the appreciation of the human experience as unique (Bernard, 2000).
The subject of inquiry in research is women, their reality and their experience, what they spend their everyday lives on (Harding, 1987a, 1998; Jagger, 2004; Madriz, 2000; Mareček, 1989;; Reinharz, 1983; Smith 1987, 1992, 2004; Stanley & Wise, 1979, 1983, 1990, 1993). Dorothy Smith (1987, 1992) in particular concentrates on women’s everyday experience as the seat of what is problematic in their lives. She explains that these aspects can only be brought into being through the language of experience and the telling thereof (Smith, 2004b). Earlier critics of standpoint theory attacked this view for meaning a single set of experiences that is shared by all women (Mareček, 1989). Harding (1991, 1993, 2004c), and other standpoint theorists (Alcoff & Potter, 1993; Flax, 1983; Haraway, 2004; Hartsock, 2004; Jagger, 2004; Narayan, 2004; Rose, 1983) do not perceive a single woman and a single experience, but reason that the different locations and the different experiences of women are a place from which to start off thought. Harding (2004b, p.7) therefore maintains, in effect, that “the very best human knowledge of the empirical world is grounded in human experience”.
It consequently is accepted that, although a woman experiences oppression within the broader culture of oppression and male domination, one cannot accept her experiences of oppression to be the same experience as that of the next woman. Experiences of oppression vary from woman to woman (Flax, 2003; Harding, 2004b; Stanley & Wise, 1993), from culture to culture, and within the power inequalities specific to the situation (Harding, 1998). This concurs with the earlier view held by Stanley and Wise (1983) that different women bring different experiences and standpoints that lead to different knowledges. Ib Ravn’s (1991) unity-in-diversity concept; explains it as being able to observe the difference or be different but still part of the whole. Different accounts, perspective and standpoints are generated from different locations, different women and different experiences (Gottfried, 1996b; Haraway, 1988, 2004; Longino, 1993; Nelson, 1993), a movement away from the traditional search for universality in research (Haraway, 2004).
According to Bailey (2000) María Lugones (1987) further built on the notion of multiplicity and developed her concept of “world travellers”, individuals whose identities shift because of their willingness to expose themselves to the differences of the other, to see the other of colour, culture, and sexual orientation. As a white woman one has to become a traitor to one’s privileged position in order to see differently and to develop new habits. World travelling in this sense opens the eyes and leads to self-reflection, and thus evading the vision of the other is no more possible (Bailey, 2000). Harding (1991, p.290) states that “intellectual and political activity is required in using another’s insights to generate one’s own analysis”. Standpoint theory therefore offers “an epistemology of diversity or multiplicity … of double consciousness or ‘crossover’ identities” (Pels, 2004, p.278). Some postmodernists have found standpoint theory not reconcilable with the concept of difference, but Hartsock (2004) believes that the concept of multiple standpoints brings standpoint theory and postmodernist thinking closer together. Acceptance of the concept of differences launched a feverish debate on the relevance of relativism as will be discussed at a later stage.
Stone-Mediatore (2000) argues that many feminists today find the concept of women’s experience problematic. One of the problems cited is the danger of seeing the ideology as natural through the experience or the telling of the experience (Harding, 1991). Joan Wallach Scott (1991) feels that the problem is that the person who experiences is herself constructed through discursive practices and her telling of the experience re-inscribes already-made assumptions. To my mind, the reliability and validity of the experience as constructed by culture can only be comprehended by placing the experience within the total complicity of the extended location of the experience, which includes culture, society, place, time, and historical background. Even so, culture, society, religion and so forth, is not in itself static, but constantly changing (Narayan, 2000). Most people can cite examples of how the dominant group has, over time, either employed or changed cultural practices to suit their own needs.
Whereas the research questions generated by the dominant group centre only on their position (Harding, 1993, 1998), when one starts out from a specific, objective location such as the experiences of women, one will produce questions important to the specific group (Banister, et al., 1994; Harding, 1998, 2004b&c; Millman & Kanter, 198). The position of the previously marginalized now becomes an important resource (Bailey, 2000; Mies, 1983); a resource utilized to move subordinate groups to the focal point. Post-modern thinking refers to this concept of locating the marginalized in the centre position in theory and research as decentring (Freedman & Combs, 1996; Ritzer & Goodman, 2004).
Studying or viewing from the location of the oppressed yield critical insight into the sexist and androcentric nature of dominant institutions and systems (Addelson, 1993; Gorelick, 1996; Harding, 1987a, 1998, 2004b; Hartsock, 2003; Jagger, 2004; Madriz, 2000; Marecek, 1989; Narayan, 2004; Wylie, 2004). The position of subjugation thus brings epistemic advantage (Alcoff & Potter, 1993; Bailey, 2000; Crawford & Marecek, 1989; Flax, 1983; Rose, 1983, 1986). But, research from the vantage point of the subjugated is not, in the words of Haraway (2004, p.88), an “innocent position.” This position will include all the denials, the issues of forgetting and disappearing that are common to the way people usually represent an experience. Harding (1993) therefore states that the research agenda, but not the solutions, can be assembled from marginalized lives. It is through feminist theorizing and feminist political engagement that solutions must be generated (Code, 1993; Flax, 2003; Harding, 1991; Pels, 2004). It is in the finding of new solutions, working towards a re-definition, and re-naming of women’s experiences that the personal becomes intensely political (Wylie, 2004).
Being in the position of what is called the insider, part of the dominant privileged group (be it class, race, sex, colour, culture, society and many more) can be an impediment to developing bifurcated consciousness (Bailey, 2000). It can be a hindrance to seeing other points of view. Although the insider can understand the cultural meanings of the particular society’s practices and will therefore be able to discuss findings in appropriate and understandable language, they might also ignore or be blind to alternative solutions, and might suffer societal pressures in freely expressing their findings (Crocker, 1991). Some insiders are able to, and do, open their minds to the understanding of the marginalized; “traitors” who operate from “traitorous locations” and “identities” (Harding, 1991, pp.288-296). The traitor’s experience cannot be taken to be the same as the outsider-within position, but the insider in the centre can learn from the views of the outsider-within.
Standpoint feminists argue for the advantages of an outsider view (Bailey, 2000). An outsider may find the cultural meanings of the other unfamiliar and may not easily understand it (Crocker, 1991). Members of a minority or marginalized group, on the other hand, can bring a different or distinctive perspective precisely because they are the outsiders (Peplau & Conrad, 1989). Because of an external perspective, they may be able to reveal things that are hidden to insiders (Crocker, 1991; Daly, 1973). When it comes to oppressed women within a dominant culture, they can see the world the way a man sees it, as well as the way a woman sees it, and they can question prevailing distortions about reality (Marecek, 1989). Thus, the only person in a position to view trans-positionally, says Pels (2004, p.287), is the marginalized person, who can obtain a “small measure of synthesis and objectivity still available in the chronic ‘war of positions’ waged in the social world”.
Feminist work has increasingly focused on the differences in class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion (Hurtado, 1989; Narayan & Harding, 2000) and so the outsider-within view has become considered as the most advantageous (Bailey, 2000). Harding’s view of strong objectivity is also applicable in the context of observing the lives of the oppressed from a multi-culturalist standpoint. On the one hand, sensitive observation from the lives and the perspectives of the oppressed is needed, and on the other hand, a critical and theoretical examination in order to reconstitute theory where needed (Cudd, 2000). The vantage point held by the outsider within (Collins, 2004; hooks, 2004) who enjoys “double vision”, resulted in the fact that marginality became a powerful topic in Black feminism (Pels, 2004). As belle hooks (1984, p.vii) says, “living as we did – on the edge – we developed a particular way of seeing reality. We looked both from the outside and from the inside out … we understood both.”
In summary, the question can be asked whether a feminist standpoint or even a hierarchy of standpoints can encompass the diversity of women’s lives (Gottfried, 1996b; Harding, 1989). I take it that each and every experience brings us a step closer to a better understanding; a better view on the reality of women. This forms the opposite of ghettoizing. Experiences of oppression are connected in that each on its own forms patterns and processes that throw light onto the other; each brings a different view of the knowledge of oppression (Gorelick, 1996; Narayan, 2000; Smith, 1987).
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF FIGURES
PART 1: THE VOICE OF THE RESEARCHER
CHAPTER 1 PREAMBLE AND PURPOSE
CHAPTER 2 A PHILOSOPHY OF BEING
A Philosophical Stance
On Being a Feminist
A Historical Diversity
Capitalism as Equal to Oppression
Patriarchy spells Oppression
On Being Woman
Concepts of Gender
A Female Sense of Self
Consciousness and Agency
Issues of Body
CHAPTER 3 FEMINIST EPISTEMOLOGY AND METHODOLOGY: FEMINIST STANDPOINT THEORY
A Feminist Standpoint Epistemology Situated Knowledge: Location, Experience and Multiple Standpoints
Deconstructing Truth and Knowledge
Finding Meaning and Understanding
CHAPTER 4 FINDING MY OWN METHOD
The Knower and the Known
Summary of research goals
Finding the research participants
Finding the data
Utilizing the data
Constructing cases of emotional abuse
Writing up the research findings
Openness and Reflexivity
PART II THE VOICE OF WOMEN EXPERIENCING EMOTIONAL ABUSE
CHAPTER 5 WOMEN’S STORIES
Minette: A Professional Woman – The Abuse continuing after the Separation
Elaine: A Young Woman – Finding her own Way
Karen: Finding the Answers
Berna: An Older Woman – Confronting Tradition
PART III RECONSTRUCTING THE ABUSE
CHAPTER 6 THE FAMILY OF ORIGIN
The Traditional Afrikaans Family
The Traditional Family
The patriarchal father
CHAPTER 7 THE POWERFUL VOICE OF CONTROL
Macro systems: Imparting power through the ideology of patriarchy
Hierarchical power: Men as the carriers of power
Women Utilizing Powe
Men control and dominate through a number of mechanisms .
Power as translated into violence and aggression
CHAPTER 8 THE ABUSER POSITIONING HIMSELF
Extreme Possessiveness and Isolation
Positioning himself by Mechanism of Entrapment
Positioning himself as the victim
Summary of the Abuser’s Positioning
CHAPTER 9 THE WOMEN’S POSITIONING
A Position of Fear and Anxiety
The Women’s Denial
Positions Herself as Depressed
Positions Herself as Dependent
Positions Herself as Victim
Summary of the Women’s Positioning
PART IV A MODEL OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE
CHAPTER 10 MAKING SENSE OUT OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE
Earlier Theories and Research
The Cycle of Violence Theory
Critique on the Cycle of Violence Theory
The Patterns of Emotional Abuse
Summary of the Patterns of Abuse in Close Relationships
The Processes of Emotional Abuse
Step by Step through the Process
The Process Model Applied
PART V BRINGING THE VOICES TOGETHER: THE ROAD AHEAD
CHAPTER 11 NO ONE IS GOING TO LISTEN; SO QUESTION AND DO!
A Feminist Philosophy Applied
PART VI REFERENCE LIST
PART VII APPENDICES
A. LIST OF ALL CASES
B. THE ABUSER POSITIONING HIMSELF
C. THE WOMEN’S POSITIONING
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT