Challenges for Institutional Ethnographers: On the Paradox of Standpoint Epistemology and the Complexities of Difference
Keywords:Feminist standpoint epistemology, reflexive materialism, institutional ethnography, intersectionality, experience, ideology, representation, subjectivity
Feminist standpoint epistemology (FSE) is an important form of writing from below; that is, writing from embodied experience. FSE and other forms of writing from below involve practices of representation that are mediated by ideology. In this article, I tease out some of the complexities and limitations of feminist efforts to use FSE to situate and embody thought. Some feminist standpoint theorists understand Cartesian dualism as a dualism or a division that can be collapsed or reversed, but I show that what is called “Cartesian dualism” is in fact a paradox and therefore cannot be overcome but must be grappled with on an ongoing basis in our efforts to write from below. The article begins with an exploration of the basic tenets and presumptions of two schools of FSE. While neither school can evade the politics of representation, I show that one is able to withstand an intersectional critique whilst the other is not. Having unpacked these schools of FSE, I reflect on Himani Bannerji’s ideology critique of intersectionality to lay bare the limitations of this concept that some writers from below deploy and to advance a reflexive materialist epistemology.
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