Feminist perspectives on science

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2010)
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**No longer the current version available on SEP; see revised version by Sharon Crasnow** Feminists have a number of distinct interests in, and perspectives on, science. The tools of science have been a crucial resource for understanding the nature, impact, and prospects for changing gender-based forms of oppression; in this spirit, feminists actively draw on, and contribute to, the research programs of a wide range of sciences. At the same time, feminists have identified the sciences as a source as well as a locus of gender inequalities: the institutions of science have a long tradition of excluding women as practitioners; feminist critics of science find that women and gender (or, more broadly, issues of concern to women and sex/gender minorities) are routinely marginalized as subjects of scientific inquiry, or are treated in ways that reproduce gender-normative stereotypes; and, closing the circle, scientific authority has frequently served to rationalize the kinds of social roles and institutions that feminists call into question. Feminist perspectives on science therefore reflect a broad spectrum of epistemic attitudes toward and appraisals of science. Some urge the reform of gender inequities in the institutions of science and call for attention to neglected questions with the aim of improving the sciences in their own terms; they do not challenge the standards and practices of the sciences they engage. Others pursue jointly critical and constructive programs of research that, to varying degrees, aim at transforming the methodologies, substantive content, framework assumptions, and epistemic ideals that animate the sciences. The content of these perspectives, and the degree to which they generate transformative critique, depends not only on the types of philosophical and political commitments that inform them but also on the nature of the sciences and subject domains on which they bear. Feminist perspectives have had greatest impact on sciences that deal with inherently gendered subjects—the social and human sciences—and, secondarily, on sciences that study subjects characterized in gendered terms, metaphorically or by analogy (projectively gendered subjects), chiefly the biological and life sciences. Feminist perspectives are relevant to sciences that deal with non-gendered subject matters, but perspectives vary substantially in content and in critical import depending on the sciences and the particular research programs they engage.

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Alison Wylie
University of British Columbia


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