Conference 2015

Summary Prof. Sandra Harding Talk

Prof. Sandra Harding, FFNT 10th year anniversary conference

Keynote: Objectivity for Sciences from Below

13 April, 2015

Prof. Harding put the struggle for more gender balance at the university in the context of the social justice movements, which started in the 1960s and focused on civil rights, women’s rights, racial equality, gay/lesbian rights. Each of these social justice movements had their own science projects, to collect information to help their own group. Science and society are linked: the society will produce science that helps its goals.

The research focus of prof. Harding is on objectivity. In the talk she focused mainly on women’s movement, but similar issues came out of other social justice movements. She sketched the parallel of factory workers and bosses to women and men: things look different depending on the perspective, and made a plea to do science from the non-dominant perspective. She gave examples how dominant institutions had a different perspective on women’s lives than women themselves, a.o. the prescription of anti-depressants to “fix” the women, rather than listening to their view on the causes and fixing the situations that caused depression. She gave an overview of the scientists who developed this field. She then described two types of objectivity: weak objectivity, which strives to be free of the influences of social context, versus strong objectivity, which is aware of its own standpoint.

How is objectivity achieved in the social sciences? One approach is repetition over individuals or groups. When social values between individuals or groups differ, this works well. But what if both researchers/studies have shared values/interests/biases? Then the differences will not show (for example culture-wide assumptions on poor or women). Modern science does not make universal claims anymore.

How do we start research in everyday life? See how social justice movements came about?

-Disadvantaged often have no language to articulate their questions.

-Participatory action research (started in the social science for poor groups, but can also be used in natural science)

-Collaborative research between scientists and the people whose needs the scientist is addressing.

-Can standpoint research only be used by members of the vulnerable groups? No, they are often more sensitive to subtle discrimination, but their way must be highly respected by “external“ researchers.

-Throwing the Enlightenment away? No, modernizing it. Science remains feudal as long as it cannot look at its own place in history and question how science and society coproduce each other.

-Is standpoint theory Eurocentric? Yes and no. Yes: the people who developed it. No: it is organic, it grows each time a group steps forward and says: things look different from here.

Other societies may find different ways to address science.

The west has to overcome two ways of thinking about S&T:

-One world, one single order, one science to understand everything (guess who: the western knowledge system)

-Triumphalism: accumulate all the good things as due to S&T and accumulate all the bad things to “politics”, the accounting system of S&T is not value neutral. Therefore it is important to relate S&T to democratic development, “Science for the people”(Galileo).