Haraway, “Situated Knowledges”

Haraway, Donna J. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14.3 (Autumn 1988): 575-599. (25 pages)

From what I can gleam, Haraway seems to push against dichotomies that often circulate around discourses of science, but the circulation of such dichotomies is not wholly the fault of science; rather, she also seems to push against purely constructivist and relativist perspectives on knowledge and meaning that is often embraced by feminism. Instead, she offers a feminist understanding of embodiment and objectivity through the metaphor of “vision.”

Early in her piece, she offers two ends of the objectivity problem in feminism: on the one hand, feminists attempt to build a dichotomy between objectivity and subjectivity, thus “we ended up with one more excuse for not learning any post-Newtonian physics and one more reason o drop the old feminist self-help practices of repairing our own cars” (578). In other words, such perspectives create barriers of exclusion and cuts off participation. On the other end, there are those who are “holding out for a feminist version of objectivity” (578), but she seems to position herself on another plane, one of “feminist empiricism”: “a theory of science which continues to insist on legitimate meanings of objectivity and which remains leery of a radical constructivism conjugated with semiology and narratology” (579). In this way, she seems to lean more toward the second end of the objectivity question and remains critical of the latter: “Feminists have to insist on a better account of the world; it is not enough to show radical historical contingency and modes of construction for everything” (579).

Offering an overview of what feminists want from objectivity: rather than objectivity that transcends contexts, ignores mediation, and eschews accountability, a feminists doctrine of objectivity embraces networks and connections; partial knowledge; and community-oriented positions.

The persistence of vision. She offers the metaphor of vision to discuss situated knowledges, “a doctrine of embodied objectivity that accommodates paradoxical and critical feminist science projects” (581). As she explains, the metaphor of vision is somewhat a double-edged sword: where vision had been a means of objectifying and disembodiment (“seeing everything from nowhere” 581), she wants to reclaim vision for feminist objectivity because of its root in local embodiment. In other words, individuals always see through a particular position and a particular body; in this way, she writes, “only partial perspective promises objective vision…Feminist objectivity is about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object. It allows us to become answerable for what we learn how to see” (583). Put simply, she advocates for situated and embodied knowledges that’s locatable and accountable.

She goes further into the idea of “seeing from everywhere and nowhere” and attributes it to both universal and relativist perspectives. Relativism, for Haraway, claims to be nowhere while at the same time being everywhere equally; “the ‘equality’ of positioning is a denial of responsibility and critical inquiry” (584). She makes this important distinction: “the alternative to relativism is a partial, locatable, critical knowledges sustaining the possibility of webs of connections called solidarity in politics an shared conversations in epistemology” (584).

She also embraces “the split and contradictory self” because its multiplicity and multidimensionality allows one to interrogate positions and bringing attention to one’s accountability. Commenting on accountability, she says succinctly, “Feminist accountability requires a knowledge tuned to resonance, not dichotomy…Feminist embodiment, then, is not about fixed location in a reified body, female or otherwise, but about nodes in fields, inflections in orientations, and responsibility for difference in material-semiotic fields of meaning” (588).

Objects as actors: the apparatus of bodily production. Here, Haraway looks at science’s obsession with objects of knowledge, and offers a feminist critique: “an object of knowledge is finally itself only matter for the seminal power, the act, of the knower. Here, the object both guarantees and refreshes the power of the knower, but any status as agent in the productions of knowledge must be denied the object. It—the words—must, in short, be objectified as a thing, not as an agent; it must be matter for the self-formation of the only social being in the production of knowledge, the human knower” (592). In the perspective of situated knowledge, that the object of knowledge function as actor and agent is required.

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