Whose Pattern?

Ophelia Benson

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Do people still talk about feminist epistemology? I haven’t kept up. I used to be interested in it, starting back in the late nineties, along with various other forms of what some wags call “the hermeneutics of suspicion.” There was the “strong programme” in the sociology of science, for instance, that scorned the moderation of sociological research on the priorities and funding and similar externalities of science in favor of much more radical claims about sociology’s power to explain the content of scientific findings themselves.

This move from reasonable, defensible claims to obviously absurd ones is often summed up with the umbrella term postmodernism (although less playful postmodernists say that’s a calumny). The central idea is that all knowledge is political and that therefore “truth” is just an honorific used for political advantage. If this were true (or “true”) then it would make sense to have various different flavors of epistemology, based on identity or politics or religion or who-knows-what. You might have Chinese epistemology and Brazilian epistemology, gay truth and straight truth, black knowledge and white knowledge.

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