Are My Eyes Biased?

In Donna Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”, Haraway tackles the question of feminist objectivity and what it would mean to establish facts and a reality without privileging those identities who tend to be assumed as the default.

Haraway explains objectivity not as seeing all or trying to see from no perspective, but as establishing truths and being held accountable for them. She argues the act of seeing is not passive objective perception until you make a judgment about it, rather an inherently active and inherently unique and individual process. In order to truly be objective, Haraway says, you can’t pretend like you can see everything in the world perfectly. Vision is a way of modulating knowledge we can’t escape. Instead, we should take responsibility for what we know and how we know it. Rather than privileging only the voices of oppressed people, for example, she argues that they are not perfect or innocent objective positions. They are less likely to claim their own knowledge is true despite their situation. For example, a marginalized person recounting their own experience will be speaking as their own person while acknowledging how their identities have shaped their view of their experience. As Haraway writes “they are preferred because in principle they are least likely to allow denial of the critical and interpretive core of all knowledge,” (584). This is in contrast to identities perceived as the default, where bias and experience don’t get questioned, the person loses the attachment between their self and how they process knowledge, leading to studies and science which is fundamentally flawed or biased.

The problem is we’ve moved past questioning where our knowledge comes from and taking accountability for it. A camera or technology is not objective, rather it too has its own interpretation of the world: how it gathers its data, what its reach and limitations are. To interpret data from a machine is to do the same work as seeing, or seeing from another perspective. However, human vision also isn’t this perfect objective thing. It’s tied to the ideal of knowing and seeing everything, seen as a passive way to acquire knowledge, yet the way we learn is rooted in our identities and experiences. Haraway writes, “We need to learn in our bodies, endowed with primate color and stereoscopic vision, how to attach the objective to our theoretical and political scanners in order to name where we are and are not, in dimensions of mental and physical space we hardly know how to name,” (582). We need an objective foundation, something we can agree on, within our perceptions and our bodies and our histories. 

Knowledge becomes, or always was, inherently personal when viewed through this lens. To depersonalize it, to play into the fantasy of knowing without being, then inherently privileges those who are seen as having the fewest “othering” ties to themselves. It’s very easy for a cisgender straight white man to see himself only as a ‘person’ when those identities are considered the default, while a trans lesbian of color, for example, would have to consider her experiences when putting out knowledge or ideas, because the latter’s ideas are seen as special and other while the former’s experiences are almost invisible. And then the person seen as most capable of being objective is the one least likely to be held accountable for their knowledge.

Haraway’s text, being mostly theoretical, doesn’t make much use of examples. As you were reading, what examples popped into your mind to relate this text back to your own life? Did that help or complicate your reading of the text?

How can knowledge be affected by identity and experience? How have the other readings for this class so far played with the ideas of bias and knowledge?

Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575–599.

4 Replies to “Are My Eyes Biased?”

  1. Hi Rose,
    Great response to the blog post, you really articulated yourself. I liked how you included great examples to help others connect with what Donna Haraway is trying to express. I feel like people will acknowledge that America has progressed as a society by eliminating slavery, giving women rights, and having gay rights. However many Americans will refuse to acknowledge American society still faces massive problems with racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, etc. Getting hired for an internship while being the only minority, queer latina, in my team felt isolating and I felt like my opinions were belittled. I did face subliminal discrimination from some of my teams with “questions” but it was cut short. Many women in office spaces still face discrimination and sometimes are taken for granted. An example of sexism in the work space would be if a male superior took charge, had a strict attitude, and laid out a tight schedule he would be regarded normally as a boss. But if a female superior had the same approach with her team she would possibly be regarded as “bossy” or “bitchy,” “[r]elavtivism is a way of being nowhere while claiming to be everywhere equally. The “equality” of positioning is a denial of responsibility and critical inquiry (584).” As a society we should all come together and try to stop discrimination. Being vocal about equality and educating people when they are being ignorant.

  2. Hi Rose,
    I loved reading your post; it was very intriguing. I do believe that knowledge is affect by our identity. People only truly understand something that they are apart of. Therefore, we need to open our ears and listen. We need to acknowledge that times are changing and help provide a voice for not only women, but all people who are deserving, but do not get the time of day that they deserve. Women getting degraded is not something that will be fixed over night, even if they are in “male” jobs. But that is also another thing, we need to stop labeling what is “male” or “female” and start recognizing that there is no such thing. We are defined too much by our gender. It is time to speak up and not be silenced. There more noise that is made on topics that we care about, the higher chance that changes will put in cycle.

  3. Hi Rose,
    I like your blog post and your second question that asks how knowledge can be affected by identity and experience. This article made me realize that the way you feel about certain things due to your personal experiences are not wrong if someone “higher” than you says other wise. It is really common for everyone to believe what they hear from people they look up to or the internet but that doesn’t always mean it is correct or that your personal ideas aren’t valid. Even as for gender, we all have different personal experiences with everything in life. If you are a young colored female listening to an older white males perspective, obviously you are going to have different view points and just because he is higher up than you does not mean your thoughts are wrong. With gender roles, women tend to be looked down upon as not knowing as much or not being able to handle the bigger job, so that’s another obstacle as well.

  4. Hey Rose,
    Your blog post cleared up some of the confusion for me regarding Donna Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges”- fantastic work! I like that in your post, you make one of Haraway’s mission statement for this text easily recognizable. Haraway focuses on the topic of feminist objectivity, in which case I agree that society shouldn’t pretend like the world is functioning perfectly- almost referring back to the “I do not see color” quote used by thousands. Haraway explains that the public should look through the lens of objectivity: meaning to look for statements established by truths and backup by evidence. Society should not be looking from a perspective, but rather the collective whole of truths. Haraway states, that “understanding how these visual systems work, technically, socially, and physically, ought to be a way of embodying feminist objectivity”. Connecting this back to technology and the sciences, in which women are underestimated and not represented well in. If the public is educated enough to understand how the systems work against certain marginalized groups, we can instate a feminist objectivity view.

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