Standpoint Theory: Definition and Examples (Sociology)
Standpoint Theory: this article explains the Standpoint Theory in a practical way. It covers what standpoint theory is, what epistemology is and what the feminist standpoint theory is. It furthermore provides examples and criticism, and ends with a summary. After reading this article, you will understand the basics of this powerful theory within sociology.
What is Standpoint Theory?
The Feminist Standpoint Theory, also known as feminist standpoint epistemology, is a feminist theoretical perspective used in academic disciplines and argues that knowledge arises from social position.
The theory further states that authority is rooted in perspectives and personal knowledge of individuals and the power that comes from that knowledge.
The most important aspect is that an individual’s perspectives are shaped by his or her social and political experiences.
Standpoint Theory definition
Standpoint theory describes a postmodernist perspective on people and knowledge distribution. The perspective denies that traditional science is objective and suggests that traditional research has ignored and marginalized women and feminist mindsets. The Standpoint Theory stems from the Marxist argument that lower class people do not have access to the type of knowledge that is accessible to higher class people.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge. Professionals who deal with this are called epistemologists. They are engaged in two tasks:
- Determining the nature of knowledge
- Determining the extent of human knowledge
Determining the nature of knowledge means: what does knowledge and knowing actually mean? What determines whether someone knows or does not know something? And what does it mean that someone has more or different knowledge than the other? These questions are about understanding knowledge and situated knowledge.
Determining the extent of knowledge is an important secondary task for epistemologists. In order to determine this, they are concerned with the question of how much people know or could know.
How can the human mind, senses and resources be used to acquire knowledge? What limits are there to the assimilation of new knowledge? Are there things that you cannot think about? Is it possible that man does not know as much as we think? Should man be concerned about skepticism? Skepticism in epistemology is the view that we know nothing at all and that we can’t do anything.
Feminist Standpoint Theory
Feminist writers (scholars) like i.e. Nancy Hartsock began in the 1970s to investigate how the difference between men and women might have led to differences in knowledge production, which lead to several feminist theories. These investigations and research (subjectivity and objectivity) are linked to epistemology, a branch of philosophy that examines the nature of origin of all knowledge.
This branch also emphasizes that knowledge is almost always socially situated. That is, in societies stratified by gender or other categories such as race and class, an individual’s social position determines what he or she may have gained in knowledge.
At the beginning of the first wave of feminism, University of California lecturer Dorothy Smith looked at the experience of female academics.
She began collecting stories from these women and turned her attention to the development of a ‘sociology for women’. She then founded the feminist standpoint theory. This theory looked at the world and the way this world treats women from a women’s perspective.
Patricia Hill Collins
The American sociologist Patricia Hill Collins is a frequently recurring name when it comes to feminist standpoint theory.
Patricia Hill Collins presented a perspective of African American women in the United States in her 2019 book Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment.
Patricia Hill Collins argued that the matrix of oppression, being a system of oppression and privilege, allowed American women to develop a different perspective than marginalized women.
She showed how African American women were oppressed by the economic exploitation of their labor, the political denial of their fundamental rights and the use of controlling cultural practices that created harmful stereotypes.
Standpoint Theory example
As explained, the main concept is that an individual’s own perspectives are shaped by his or her experiences and social influences / groups. Take, for example, a group of Hispanic women.
These women’s views may be similar in terms of racial backgrounds or gender characteristics, but if their socio-economic status is different, it is more likely that their views are not quite the same. This socio-economic difference is also said to be the cause of the difference in knowledge between these women.
Standpoint theory, therefore, focuses mainly on the gender perspective in the differences between people and the distribution of knowledge.
Marginalized Social Groups
The standpoint theory would remind individuals why a naturalistic conception of knowledge and knowing is important. Knowledge helps man to understand a part of the world and the universe. Gaining knowledge only happens in specific circumstances and has direct consequences for the way a person can live his or her life.
In this way, it is also politically important, for example, which concepts are understandable to whom, which statements are heard and understood by whom and which conclusions are credible for different people.
It emphasizes what feminist theorist Sandra Harding describes as strong objectivity, or the idea that the perspectives of certain (marginalized) groups can help create more objective stories about the world. She explains this concept in her book: The Science Question in Feminism.
By involving the perspective of outsiders, these individuals are placed in a unique position that people from the dominant groups do not recognize. Standpoint theory, therefore, gives a voice to oppressed or marginalized groups to challenge the status quo.
Criticism of point of view theory
The (feminist) standpoint theory has had important consequences for science education. Naturally, this has also been criticized. The criticism focuses mainly on the assumptions that different social positions produce different kinds of knowledge. The difficulties in the theory make it problematic to adopt the theory.
Frequently heard criticism also concerns the way in which education is designed. Education should return to the kind of education in which students are instructed to explore argument, experiment and be successful for themselves rather than asking who is presenting knowledge.
Scientific achievements should be looked at more, rather than the group to which a person belongs. Women should not be discouraged from participating in ‘regular’ education and men should not be discouraged from participating in so-called ‘women’s disciplines’.
The message from critics is that there is no specific kind of science for just men or just women.
The Standpoint Theory summarized
This philosophy can be summarized in the following characteristics:
- This philosophy focuses on the concept of consciousness and knowledge
- It is about the mental position of an individual or group compared to others
- It assumes that the world and social reality are determined by points of view and perspectives
- Marginalized views and perspectives provide a more objective and accurate worldview
- Oppressed groups have a unique position and greater social power to validate their perspectives
- It increases people’s sense of belonging to a group
- Views and perspectives differ due to class differences
- It sees the world from 1 single lens
- It supports and encourages objectivity
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation about Standpoint Theory? Have you ever heard of standpoint theory? Which marginalized or suppressed perspective do you think should be more validated? Do you have any tips or comments?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Hekman, S. (1997). Truth and method: Feminist standpoint theory revisited. Journal of women in culture and society, 22(2), 341-365.
- Collins, P. H. (1997). Comment on Hekman’s” Truth and method: Feminist standpoint theory revisited”: Where’s the power?. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 22(2), 375-381.
- Harding, S. G. (Ed.). (2004). The feminist standpoint theory reader: Intellectual and political controversies. Psychology Press.
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Published on: 14/03/2018 | Last update: 12/02/2022
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