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.