Feminist epistemology

Feminist epistemology is an examination of epistemology (the study of knowledge) from a feminist standpoint. Elizabeth S. Anderson describes feminist epistemology as being concerned with the way in which gender influences our concept of knowledge and "practices of inquiry and justification".[1] It is generally regarded as falling under the umbrella of social epistemology.


Feminist epistemology emphasizes how important ethical and political values are in shaping epistemic practices, and interpretations of evidence. Feminist epistemology studies how gender influences our understanding of knowledge, justification and theory of knowledge; it describes how knowledge and justification disadvantage women. Scientists of feminist epistemology claim that knowledge discriminate women by: preventing them from inquiry and presenting women as an inferior, because these theories of knowledge satisfy only male interests, which strengthen gender hierarchies.[2]

The central idea of feminist epistemology is that knowledge reflects the particular perspectives of the theory. The main interest of feminist philosophers is how gender stereotypes situate knowing subjects. They approach this interest from three different perspectives: feminist standpoint theory, feminist postmodernism, and feminist empiricism. Standpoint theory defines a specific social perspective as epistemically privileged. Feminist postmodernism emphasizes the instability of the social identity explorers and therefore their representations. Empiricism focuses on combining the main ideas of feminism and their observations to prove feministic theories through evidence.[2]

Elizabeth Anderson argues that the concept of situated knowledge is central to feminist epistemology. Donna Haraway asserts that most knowledge (in particular academic knowledge) is always situated and "produced by positioned actors working in/between all kinds of locations, working up/on/through all kinds of research relation(ships)" (Cook, et al.),[3] and thus what is known and the ways in which this knowledge can be known is subject to the position—the situation and perspective—of the knower.

The English feminist philosopher Miranda Fricker has argued that in addition to social or political injustices, there can be epistemic injustices in two forms: testimonial injustice and hermeneutical injustice. Testimonial injustice consists in prejudices that cause one to "give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker's word":[4] Fricker gives the example of a woman who due to her gender is not believed in a business meeting. She may make a good case, but prejudice causes the listeners to believe her arguments to be less competent or sincere and thus less believable. In this kind of case, Fricker argues that as well as there being an injustice caused by possible outcomes (such as the speaker missing a promotion at work), there is a testimonial injustice: "a kind of injustice in which someone is wronged specifically in her capacity as a knower".[5]

In the case of hermeneutical injustice, "speakers' knowledge claims fall into lacunae in the available conceptual resources, thus blocking their capacity to interpret, and thence to understand or claim a hearing for their experiences."[6] For example, when the language of 'sexual harassment' or 'homophobia' were not generally available, those who experienced these wrongs lacked the resources to make a claim to being wronged in morally relevant ways.

The philosopher Susan Haack is a notable critic of feminist epistemology.[7][8]

Sandra Harding organized feminist epistemology into three categories: feminist empiricism, standpoint epistemology, and post-modern epistemology.[9] While potentially a limited set of categories, post-modern feminism was a transitional ideology that denounced absolute objectivity and asserted the death of the meta-narrative.[9] While these three categories of feminist epistemology have their place in history (see feminist empiricism, standpoint feminism, postmodern feminism), as ideological frameworks they hold epistemic insights in contemporary feminist method. Feminist theorist Nina Lykke, has expanded upon these three categories to include "postmodern feminist (anti-)epistemology...[and]...postconstructionist feminist epistemology"[10]