Why We Need More Standpoint Theory

by Sonia Zawitkowski

___

Women accept limited knowledge as their natural condition, a great human truth that a man may take a lifetime to reach.

 – Camille Paglia (1)

Camille Paglia wrote that women were psychologically prepared to tolerate the limitations of objectivity by the complexity and invisibility of their reproductive systems. Men, on the other hand, able to see their genitals and more straightforwardly grasp how they work, were cursed to live without this understanding. Whatever you think about the connection between your reproductive anatomy and your faith in objectivity, there is truth and irony in the fact that the most rational thing one can do is accept the limitations of pure rationality.

A body of literature has been developed to address these limitations through Standpoint theory, which argues not only that all knowledge is socially situated, but also that marginalized social locations should be privileged. This analysis can be traced back to Marxist thinkers, who argued for the superior epistemological position of the working class over wealthy capitalists in understanding class relations. (2) Indeed, it is perfectly rational to argue that a working class, toiling for fourteen-hour days in deplorable working conditions, and poorly compensated, would be more likely to see the injustice of their economic arrangement, than an elite class growing rich from it. Under this framework, one’s class position determined one’s access to knowledge about capitalism.

Going the way of many other social justice concepts, standpoint theory has come to be mischaracterized and abused, inspiring papers about feminist glaciology, (3) articles about living fat in a thin-centric world, (4) and overblown outrage over the “transracialism” Hypatia article. (5) This has led to some well-deserved criticisms of standpoint theory’s excesses, but also merciless mocking of its original, more legitimate tenets. This is unfortunate because the complexity of today’s most controversial social problems coupled with an increasingly polarized political climate means that we need standpoint theory more than ever. I direct this not just towards standpoint theory’s most fervent critics, but also to those who use it eagerly but cynically.

To begin with, the central claim of standpoint theory — that all knowledge is socially situated — is to be distinguished from accusations that it is “essentializing.” Recognizing social identity as but one factor impacting our access to knowledge is really a call to fully examine how our experiences guide our values, what we are willing to scrutinize, and therefore what we find convincing. In advocating for solutions to complex social problems, standpoint theory provides a framework for us to check our biases, for the same reason researchers are encouraged to double-blind their studies and politicians are asked to report conflicts of interest. The scientific community recognizes that unconscious interests can influence our interpretation of even dispassionate facts (and there is evidence to suggest that “smarter” people are even worse for this). (6)

Of course, standpoint theory is controversial because it asks more from us than just simple perspective-taking, by promoting special consideration for how marginalization may provide more clarity on issues that concern us. This leads to the other common mischaracterization of standpoint theory, which is that it implies that every individual marginalized person is inherently correct about their views of the world or about what is good for their group. To the detractors’ point, often made by followers of Jordan Peterson and other outspoken critics like the Sokal-squared pranksters, it is true that standpoint theory is vulnerable to weaponization. (7) Even those who outright deny it will often heavily imply it (see the rationale for the unprecedented retraction of the Littman rapid-onset gender dysphoria paper or the dismissal of Bernie Sanders by a female journalist for inarticulable reasons except a reference to her womanhood). (8) Just the same, critics of standpoint theory can often be found disputing principles of say, socialism, by pointing to people who lived under authoritarian communism as a counterpoint. To them, the “lived experience” of these people trumps any logical arguments about the contradictions of modern capitalism or statistics about income inequality. Critics of standpoint theory will also eagerly lean on social identities when convenient to justify their views, as if an individual woman who likes being cat-called automatically trounces the rationality of fearing sexual assault, and an immigrant Trump-supporter ends the debate on US Republican immigration policies.

Ultimately however, the culture war between standpoint theorists and their critics (I’m thinking in particular of “Intellectual Dark Web” types) is over a philosophy with core tenets that both sides would agree on: for example, that “ideas matter in systems of power.” (9) The mistake that critics make is that it is possible to divorce these ideas from their historical context and the society-wide power relations involved.

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Just like some of the more outrageous grievance studies claims, Pluckrose’s tweet has a certain internal logic, but falls apart quickly when interrogated. Perhaps in a parallel universe it was “liberal ethics” anthropomorphized that fought for women’s suffrage and financial independence, rescinding their status as property. In our world, however, progressive feminist principles became well-accepted not through rational arguments presented plainly, but by women actively fighting for these principles, many of whom were socially ostracized, imprisoned, beaten, and tortured for doing so. Universal suffrage and granting full political status to women seems obviously rational now, but only because of persistent fighting by women who challenged their contemporary social order at great personal cost. There is also a glaring disregard of the moral and normative nature of such arguments which render pure objectivity insufficient. There exist rational argument for and against most egalitarian policies, but ultimately people are arguing for their preferred state of affairs based on their conception of the Good. This necessarily involves the prioritization of different rights, each conferring benefits and drawbacks for different groups.

Stripped of its strawmen, I would expect detractors of standpoint theory to be its biggest cheerleaders. That outsiders might be in a better position to identify patterns of behavior worthy of critique that seem normal to the people who benefit from them could be the Intellectual Dark Web’s motto. Yet such a claim is heavily scrutinized by critics, until of course the social dispossession is happening to them. While critics of standpoint theory accuse its champions of living in a bubble, with their privileged epistemic position blinding them to the flaws in their arguments, their legitimate skepticism of the powerful takes an abrupt 180 degree turn once issues of sexism, racism, and homophobia come into play, as if the only social location that colors one’s worldview would be a conservative political position in a left-leaning academic department. Debates over the progression of #MeToo are a perfect example of this hypocrisy in action which unexpectedly drove me to readings on standpoint theory. After some questionable applications of the feminist campaign, my readiness to take concerns about due process seriously was interrupted by the realization that the same people who dismiss rape and sexual harassment as rare and overblown will demonstrate profound paranoia about rare and overblown false rape accusations. It becomes difficult to extend one’s sympathy to people encompassing a standpoint devoted to dismissing your own. As such, I expect the intellectual gridlock between women’s rights and due process to continue.

If the problem on the Right is a superficial disavowal combined with an underlying desire for the privileging of marginalized viewpoints (i.e. their own), the problem on the Left is a superficial understanding of standpoint theory resulting in cynical applications. While standpoint theory’s extensions to feminist, indigenous, and developing-world perspectives are all justifiable, there is now a growing de-emphasis on the material factors that impact social locations over superficial ones that are solely identity-based. For example, in the realm of sex, it has become unfashionable to discuss how belonging to the group that is capable of getting pregnant might impact women’s experiences and concerns or how the fact that women tend to be smaller, physically weaker, and more likely to be on the receiving end of predatory sexual attention than men, may shape their perception of threats, risk, and sexual politics. Rather, women are encouraged to focus on their gender identities and an ambiguous, ill-defined “femininity.” It is now common for social justice advocates to make strange arguments rather disconnected from the very same people they claim to represent — that the biggest problem with a possible corporate surveillance state, for example, is that robots might accidentally misgender people sometimes. (10) Or that women who were born female don’t have a unique understanding of womanhood and don’t deserve to be consulted on policies that entrench a sexist definition of womanhood legally. (11) The recent Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada included recommendations for white people to read the report, police officers to educate themselves, and several references to “gender-inclusive” options on policy forms. These seem somewhat toothless and disconnected from the realities of women trapped in dangerous prostitution work, living in areas with poor infrastructure, rampant addiction, and high rates of domestic violence after a legacy of colonialism.

Standpoint theory was initially a call to privilege claims from the marginalized, but it has come to justify privileging arguments by those in power claiming to speak for them. While belonging to certain social identities will be associated with your access to power in many circumstances, defining power by these social identities alone is insufficient, and class is curiously absent from most of these discussions (perhaps there is a fear that this would occasionally give white, straight men a seat at the discussion table). There is much hand-wringing over the possibility of another Trump victory in the face of Democratic impotence in the US. It is a mystery to the economically secure and politically powerful that the day-to-day realities and concerns of ordinary people are shaped by economic policies more than the intersectionality-espousals of their leaders. My argument is not for or against the merit of these concerns, but that analyses taking into account those at the periphery of power, no matter their social identity, will offer better political strategies and more productive solutions.

In a group therapy session many years ago, I watched a patient struggle with articulating how she believed her mental illness was making her magnify her (in her words) petty, personal problems. The counselor held her fist to her chest in sympathy, and gently replied, “Whose pain is the most real to me? My pain.” It was a ridiculously simply but profoundly true statement that stuck with me. No one has access to pure knowledge about someone else’s pain, and nothing confers such knowledge like directly experiencing it. The slights against us are always the greatest, because they’re the only ones that can be truly felt. I think about this when I see those dismissing pain caused by racist or sexist remarks as trivial, wishing for the pain they experience as political outsiders to be elevated. At the same time, mainstream applications of standpoint theory in the culture wars tend to be missing the crucial analysis of who has power and who benefits.

Technological, economic, and social changes increasingly alienate us from those with different perspectives. All the while, modern applications of standpoint theory mean that troublemakers on the right pretend not to believe its core assertions, while troublemakers on the left only pretend that they do, resulting in superficial and inconsistent applications of the concept that are almost always self-serving. This is what leads me to rely ever-increasingly on standpoint theory when considering other views. Appeals to objectivity can land you to any side of most social issues. But by coupling perspective-taking with correctly identifying those in power, and reflecting on who benefits and why, we might better understand the standpoints which inform the development of a society that is not only rational, but also just.

Sonia Zawitkowski has her BA in Economics and is currently a graduate student in the Applied Social Psychology program at the University of Guelph. Her interests include armchair philosophy, economics, psychology, and making mainstream feminism less shitty.

Notes

(1) Paglia, Camille. Sexual personae: Art and decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Vol. 1. Yale University Press, 1990.

(2) Cameron, W. Scott. “The genesis and justification of feminist standpoint theory in Hegel and Lukács.” Dialogue and Universalism 15, no. 3/4 (2005): 19-41.

(3) https://nationalpost.com/news/world/heres-why-an-article-about-feminist-glaciology-is-still-the-top-read-paper-in-a-major-geography-journal

(4) Owen, Lesleigh. “Living fat in a thin-centric world: Effects of spatial discrimination on fat bodies and selves.” Feminism & Psychology 22, no. 3 (2012): 290-306.

(5) http://dailynous.com/2017/10/23/analytic-philosophy-egalitarianism-standpoint-epistemology-privileging/

(6) https://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/06/the-smart-are-more-biased-to-think-they-are-less-biased.html

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/why-smart-people-are-vulnerable-to-putting-tribe-before-truth/

(7) https://areomagazine.com/2018/01/29/the-guru-appeal-of-jordan-peterson-in-our-post-everything-world/

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/why-smart-people-are-vulnerable-to-putting-tribe-before-truth/

(8) https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/08/new-paper-ignites-storm-over-whether-teens-experience-rapid-onset-transgender-identity

https://www.mediaite.com/tv/msnbc-panelist-bernie-sanders-makes-my-skin-crawl-i-dont-see-him-as-pro-woman-candidate/

(9) https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/general-history-of-women-s-suffrage-in-britain-8631733.html

(10) https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/7xnwed/facial-recognition-software-regularly-misgenders-trans-people

(11) https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2019/06/women-are-fighting-back-against-scotlands-gender-identity-policies/

27 Comments »

  1. Standpoint philosophy suffers from an exceptional degree of retorsion. Take women’s suffrage for instance. Some women were for it, others were against it, some didn’t care and still others thought it was a fine thing for upper class women who had the time to march and break windows while they were up to their elbows in suds in a laundry. To effect change in society it had to become an equality issue, in other words to present suffrage as a matter of justice which is general and non specific. Standpoint ideology does not take account of the capacity for empathy and compassion. It is in short an illegitimate claim to epistemic privilege.

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  2. I am having a little trouble seeing Standpoint Theory originating in Marx. His views on ideology would seem to exclude this sort of theorizing as having any real content; it too disguises the real relations among classes. As Marx did not have a theory of justice, why would he have a view about who knew injustice?
    Interesting.

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  3. Thanks very much for this useful essay. I am partial to standpoint theory though your essay, ironically, betrayed its own premise. The phraseology and concepts deployed were those that an insider would understand. Outsiders like myself have to re-read the essay carefully to understand it. It would have been preferable for you to take into account our standpoint 🙂

    I enjoyed a chuckle when I read this last bit

    Her interests include armchair philosophy, … making mainstream feminism less shitty.

    I love it when an essay substantially broadens my horizon and you have just done that for me. But I will sound a cautionary note. The theory can be misused to unduly privilege certain standpoints making them unquestionable and unassailable. This is a theory that should be kept in a child-proof container!

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  4. I was curious about ref 11, written by a former “William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow in Political Journalism at National Review” – I suppose I should have known that there was such a thing. It lead me to read

    https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-11-21/debates/BE06C5D4-E549-4F94-87B1-9B77F32EA155/Self-IdentificationOfGender

    “…a number of countries already have simple self-declaration administrative processes for gender recognition: Argentina, Denmark, Ireland, Malta [!], Norway and Colombia. Is she aware of Government single-sex service providers or criminal justice sectors in those countries reporting negative impacts from that implementation?… the [2004 British] Gender Recognition Act simply allows a trans person to change their birth certificate and have it reissued. It does not change what is in the Equality Act [2010]…Allowing trans women into women-only spaces is provided for under that Act. If that is what is being questioned, it is a rolling back of the Act, and not a reform.”

    I am a sucker for arguments that play up objective facts rather than particular standpoints. I quite enjoy philosophical logic chopping too, though take it less seriously. How about (from the excellent SEP article by Elizabeth Anderson):

    If the feminine ethics of care provides the epistemically privileged perspective on morality, then our access to moral knowledge is predicated on the continuation of existing gender relations, which produce this ethic. Grounding epistemic privilege in feminine cognitive styles therefore forces a choice between having ethical knowledge and living in a nonsexist society.

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  5. Again, the point is not that every marginalized person is automatically correct, but that we should give special consideration to those belonging to groups who issues directly impact. Yes, women had diverse perspectives during the fight for suffrage, but it is also true that those fighting for it were predominantly women.

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    • Sonia Z:
      It may be that votes for women was chiefly the concern of women but seeing as that there was a number of points of view on the matter amongst women the problem arises – which standpoint is to be regarded as paramount?
      Here’s an interesting piece by an historian on the various factions:

      excerpt:

      Yet the anti-suffrage cause was also supported by many strong and intelligent women. They formed their own Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League in 1908, and their merger with the Men’s League in 1910 became problematic because of their preference for positive arguments. Leading women voiced a wide range of progressive anti-suffrage arguments which they called ‘the forward position’. 

      https://www.bl.uk/votes-for-women/articles/the-anti-suffrage-movement

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      • Does standpoint theory (ST) require that some standpoint is paramount? It may be used that way, but is it required by the theory? [don’t know much about ST]

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        • Cenderjk:
          Strictly I suppose that there is no need for one particular voice to be paramount if you look at S.T as a type of perspectivism. All voices are to be heard. S.T. in practice seems to go a little further than that by claiming that the most oppressed in any situation should be listened to. It brings with it a competition for victim status, a more victimised than thou attitude. There seems to develop the inverse to the ad hominem fallacy. The person making the argument becomes more important than the argument itself. The elements that unify us become less salient than those that separate.

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          • So then ST may counteract the tendency to ignore those most affected by policies in which, historically, they often have had little or no say? Perhaps it is the novelty of taking the most oppressed into account. Once that wears off, then the argument can be better listened to regardless of oppression status.

            Of course, argument being different from experience, someone directly experiencing whatever suffering is under discussion can probably offer something others cannot in terms of data/information unbiased by prior training. Views from both the inside and the outside can be valuable.

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  6. Sonia, thank you for this thought-provoking and creative piece! I think that you are plainly right; that left often uses ST in a superficial and ultimately unproductive manner, and that much of the right needs to understand that its own views are often premised on some variety of ST.

    My main problem with ST is epistemological. I always wonder about what kind of evidence we would need to determine whether someone is correctly representing their alleged “standpoint”, or to determine just how that “standpoint” is affecting their evidence. What would justified belief in such claims look like? A black woman tells me she’s the victim of racism in her workplace, and she describes the scenario to me, a white person. It doesn’t sound racist to me, and I ask for more detail. But then the ST claim arrives from a third party: “She’s a better judge of such things than you are.” Well, that could *certainly* be true, and I often think I ought to just trust someone in this kind of situation. But what gives this third party such special access to truths about the woman’s standpoint and how it affects her evidence? What Godlike access do they possess, such that they can tell that the woman’s social identity gives her evidence that I don’t have?

    When you think about it, you’d have to know a colossal amount about her psychology, her history, her social context, etc, and neither of us is ever in a position to know any of that (nor, as the depth psychologists constantly remind us, is she). ST-claims make a lot of sense in principle, but in practice they are almost always launched from a perspective of near-total ignorance concerning the underlying facts about a person’s actual standpoint, and it doesn’t seem clear how this could be otherwise, especially when the public fora in question are places like Twitter.

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  7. “Standpoint theory was initially a call to privilege claims from the marginalized”

    I think the term “privilege” here is (as so often) not especially helpful. If I am reading the piece correctly, it seems like the injunction of the reasonable form of ST is “give extra careful consideration to the views [on certain topics] of the marginalized, but after that extra careful consideration you might still legitimately conclude that they are wrong”.

    “Privilege” seems to imply something else. From Merriam-Webster I get:

    a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor

    and

    to accord a higher value or superior position to

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  8. In most situations we assume that people are not particularly “objective” when they talk or write about their own community or their own social group or their own country. We assume that when he or she speaks in the UN about the U.S., the U.S. ambassador is biased in favor of his or her country: ditto with the Iranian ambassador or the Chinese ambassador, etc. We also generally assume that most of us are not particularly “objective” when we speak or write about our friends or our family or those who are close to us in general. Probably, I’m am not the best judge of the situation or character of those whom I dearly love or even of those whom I am fond of. We certainly would not want to allow relatives or friends of someone who is accused of a crime on a jury which is judging him or her. In addition, we assume that people often do not know themselves well: that’s one reason why they go to therapists, that is, a person unrelated to them who will look at them with a certain “objectivity”.

    So why don’t the above common-sense reflections apply to oppressed groups? Why would anyone suppose that oppressed groups have any more insight into their situation than non-oppressed groups do? Bertrand Russell speaks of the “fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed”. We might expand that to speak of the “fallacy of the superior insight of the oppressed”.

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    • “Why would anyone suppose that oppressed groups have any more insight into their situation than non-oppressed groups do?”

      For some aspects of their situation, like how it feels to be part of an oppressed group, the oppressed have more insight than the non-oppressed.

      And in context, and supposing the relationship is between oppressed and an oppressor groups, then probably more of the oppressed group’s insights, on the oppressed-oppressor situation, have been avoided or downplayed overall.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Granted that the oppressors generally have more media access, etc., and so their viewpoint gets heard more, but that does not mean that the viewpoint of the oppressed is any more or less objective than that of the oppressors. Both should be heard by anyone who wants to get to the facts, but both should be considered with a certain skepticism by anyone who wants to get to the facts, since no one, oppressed or oppressor, is objective when they talk about their own situation and in any case, people, oppressed and oppressors, deliberately lie and distort the truth a lot when it is in their interest to lie.

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        • “Granted that the oppressors generally have more media access, etc., and so their viewpoint gets heard more, but that does not mean that the viewpoint of the oppressed is any more or less objective than that of the oppressors.”

          Maybe not more or less objective but definitely of a different perspective.

          “Both should be heard by anyone who wants to get to the facts, but both should be considered with a certain skepticism by anyone who wants to get to the facts, since no one, oppressed or oppressor, is objective when they talk about their own situation”

          Agreed. It’s often hard to access or hear all the relevant facts, and what’s being voiced in the first place is often biased towards a particular narrative.

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      • Some people who are merely unhappily inadequate to meet life’s challenges like to think their anxious failures are evidence that they suffer under oppression. Their subjective impression of “how it feels” may be tautologically correct on the “how it feels” part and utterly deluded on the “oppressed” part. How what one is feeling feels is purely subjective, whether what one is feeling is oppression is an objective question. On that latter question well, as the poet says, “Oh whad gift the giftie gie us, to see oursels as others see us.”

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        • Cynic,

          My point was that in general I think it’s reasonable to assume that the people experiencing something are better placed, than those not experiencing it, to describe what they are experiencing.

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          • Better placed to describe their experiences or better placed to describe what they are experiencing? The two come apart pretty quickly. False consciousness and so on.

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          • J. Bogart,

            “Better placed to describe their experiences or better placed to describe what they are experiencing? The two come apart pretty quickly. False consciousness and so on.”

            Yes, there are definitely exceptions, I was speaking overall or in general terms.

            Liked by 1 person

          • You are missing my point. Members may be better situated to describe their own experiences, but that is not reason to think they will be better at describing what it is that they are experiencing, I.e., what the causal process is or the social arrangements, etc.

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          • “You are missing my point”

            I misunderstood what you meant by “The two come apart pretty quickly. False consciousness and so on”

            “Members may be better situated to describe their own experiences but that is not reason to think they will be better at describing what it is that they are experiencing, I.e., what the causal process is or the social arrangements, etc.”

            I agreed. “For some aspects of their situation, like how it feels to be part of an oppressed group, the oppressed have more insight than the non-oppressed”. And from that it doesn’t follow that the oppressed will be better at describing all aspects of what it is they are experiencing.

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  9. Sonia,
    I read this essay favorably, but I see a major issue that is not fully addressed. Allow me to get to it somewhat digressively.

    I’ve been reading Bernard Williams Truth and Truthfulness book lately, on the necessity for valuing truth for itself, and his personal bete noir in the book is Richard Rorty, who argued that the search for truth actually inhibited our ability to negotiate differences and reach consensus. Williams’ argument is a fair one, and in part a good one, especially his disagreement with Rorty’ reading of the torture sequence in Orwell’s 1984. However, I think he misreads Rorty to some extent (and is certainly wrong to read him as the archetypical “pragmatist), in the same way that most people misread Rorty as simply a relativist. In fact Rorty’s main problem is not relativism, but a utopian hope that history always moves progressively forward toward a larger, more inclusive consensus: once we make our steps forward in this direction, there’s no going back, and eventually the vast majority will be ‘on the same wavelength,’ so to speak, which most of us now must recognize as a peculiar naivete.

    Any theory or philosophy that tends toward relativism has this problem, that at some point it simply must assert a position from which variant or relative positions can be compared and judged. For Rorty, this position is the hope in social progress, from whence we can look back at all the stories we told ourselves that helped make the different selves we are.

    It may be something as vague as “philosophical reflection,” or as invested as “the cause of justice;” It may be scientistic, as with evolutionary psychology, or dialectical as in certain forms of Marxism, Nietzscheanism, Hegelianism. But at some point any theory that tolerates relative perspectives and relative behaviors, has got to adopt some position from which to judge, if only in pragmatic terms, “this works; that doesn’t.” “This makes sense, that doesn’t.” “This is significant, that is going into history’s dustbin.”

    I am very relative-tolerant, but I enjoy the privilege of a certain fatalism as well as pessimism about the human condition. These form my position of judgment, and I freely admit it. (I also think my reading of what Peirce and Dewey meant by consensus is stronger than Rorty’s and much less open to indeterminism. Fallibilism in ‘a universe of chance’ does not mean that we never get it right.) And it helps to have an empathy for different peoples exactly for their differences, rather than simply their similarities. That’s why I was able to hang around Rastafarians for about a decade, even though I didn’t believe in their god and thought trying to ‘get back’ to a Promised Land in Africa a pipe dream. I have strong judgments about religion per se, but not about believers. They find solace in their religion, and given the history of their peoples, they deserve whatever they can find, as long as they don’t try to impel others to believe. (And the Rastafarians never did, at least to me. But then, I’m white, so they found my own views somewhat amusing anyway.)

    My point is, for Standpoint Theory to make forward advances as anything but a niche sociological theory, it has to develop a point of judgment that is strong enough to produce a research and a discourse powerful enough to tell a story persuasive and convincing enough to filter throughout other theories and research projects, the way, say, Phenomenology did; or at least to have the kind of impact Geertz had in anthropology.

    Digressing again: I think both Williams and Rorty are actually both concerned with at least one shared problem – how do we live with each other in a world where either the truth has to be developed in stages over time, or where it may not ever be possible except as product of a future (perhaps unrealizable) consensus? I think this a major issue for Standpoint Theory to address. For instance, it’s all well and good to say “women have a necessarily different perspective on reality than men.” And it’s defensible to say that the only way men and women were able to live together before the arrival of feminism was through power structures and social structures established by men and in their favor. But I’m assuming that men and women are going to go on living together, no matter what. So how do they do this? A Standpoint Theory that’s only about understanding is interesting, but a theory about how differing standpoints co-exist would prove more useful – especially in the present environment.

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  10. While I am not a big fan of standpoint epistemology, I thought this was very well done and quite measured. That said, I see no reason to think that oppressed people are more objective about their oppression. Indeed, I could think of any number of reasons for think they’d be less objective.

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    • Dan wrote:

      “While I am not a big fan of standpoint epistemology, I thought this was very well done and quite measured.”

      Yes, it’s a nicely written piece with some cogent observations. But the point of my post at Observations and Reflections was to put the view that ideologically-driven academic theorizing is *always* problematic. I didn’t post here because it is a general point, not specific to Sonia Zawikowski’s piece (though I referred to and quoted from it).

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  11. I enjoyed the essay, it introduced me to Standpoint Theory, and I found Sonia Z’s points and perspectives refreshing., e.g.

    “The slights against us are always the greatest, because they’re the only ones that can be truly felt. I think about this when I see those dismissing pain caused by racist or sexist remarks as trivial, wishing for the pain they experience as political outsiders to be elevated. At the same time, mainstream applications of standpoint theory in the culture wars tend to be missing the crucial analysis of who has power and who benefits”

    “Trump victory in the face of Democratic impotence in the US. It is a mystery to the economically secure and politically powerful that the day-to-day realities and concerns of ordinary people are shaped by economic policies more than the intersectionality-espousals of their leaders. My argument is not for or against the merit of these concerns, but that analyses taking into account those at the periphery of power, no matter their social identity, will offer better political strategies and more productive solutions.”

    I’m also surprised by the many comments denying marginalized groups are more objective when the essay didn’t say they were but in fact actually challenged the value of making those kinds of claims. And from my limited reading on ST I’m seeing less of the idea that marginalized positions are more objective but that:

    “the perspectives of marginalized and/or oppressed individuals can help to create more objective accounts of the world. Through the outsider-within phenomenon, these individuals are placed in a unique position to point to patterns of behavior that [often] those immersed in the dominant group culture are unable to recognize” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standpoint_theory

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