Two, three, many epistemologies

There was a call for papers on the Women’s Studies List yesterday, for a Women’s and Gender Studies conference in March 2009 in conjunction with an Association I hadn’t heard of before, called the Association of Feminist Epistemologies, Methodologies, Metaphysics, and Science Studies. That’s a lot of things to be in one Association, especially when they’re all plural. Out in the conventional world of course there’s just epistemology, but this Association gets to have lots of them (of the Feminist variety). One wonders how that works. One also wonders what this Association is like.

FEMMSS (Feminist Epistemologies, Metaphysics, Methodology and Science Studies) continues to be concerned about the importance and difficulty of
translating knowledge into action and practice. Ours is a highly interdisciplinary group of feminist scholars who pursue knowledge questions at the interstices of
epistemology, methodology, metaphysics, ontology, and science and technology studies.

Ah, that’s what it’s like. Wordy, jargony, self-admiring, and – clueless. It apparently doesn’t even know what ‘interstices’ means – it seems to think it’s a more elegant version of ‘intersections.’ Anyway, what the hell would an intersection or an interstice ‘of epistemology, methodology, metaphysics, ontology, and science and technology studies’ be? What on earth is that absurd formula supposed to mean? Anything? Does this highly interdisciplinary group of feminist scholars know anything about all those subjects, or is it just deploying vocabulary?

FEMMSS 3 seeks to deepen the understanding of the politics of knowledge in light of the increasing pressures of globalization, neoliberal
restructuring, and militarization. Calling an array of theoretical frameworks including transnational feminism, post-colonial theory, cultural studies, epistemologies of ignorance, feminist epistemologies, and feminist science studies, this conference works to understand the ways in which knowledge is politically constituted and its material affects on people’s lives. The politics of knowledge can be discerned through the allocation and the appropriation of intellectual and natural resources, through the allocation of research funding, the control and commodification of the health sciences and health care by multinational corporations, and the
dominance of Western knowledge over that of the Two-Thirds world. Furthermore, the politics of knowledge can be seen in the way groups and
communities actively resist troubling affects (sic) of knowledge production through grass-roots organizations such as the Third World Network, community
action groups, the citizens’ science movement, environmental justice groups, and the various women’s health movements.

Why do I get the feeling that one can figure out in advance what the ‘array of theoretical frameworks’ will end up understanding? I guess because that paragraph pretty much says it will. Why does that paragraph make me feel slightly ill? I guess because I think every single one of the cited ‘theoretical frameworks’ is tendentious bullshit rather than any kind of scholarship or inquiry – that’s why. (What the fuck is ‘epistemologies of ignorance’ you wonder? Google it. I can’t bring myself to go into it. It’s a phrase some guy used in a paper once [no, excuse me, he ‘introduced’ it] that people latched onto with squawks of glee as if it were the key to all mythologies, the way they always do, the sheep.) Because if I really wanted to know something about the politics of knowledge and globalization I wouldn’t go to someone in postcolonial theory or cultural studies to find out.

Whose Knowledge Matters?
How do class, gender, race and ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and other formations of difference shape what counts as expertise, what questions are
considered relevant, and which outcomes emerge from clashes and negotiations between different forms of expertise?
How have epistemologies of ignorance emerged as important conceptual and political approaches to not only reveal patterns of active unknowing, but
also to point to strategies for resistance?

And so on. Do you feel a keen curiosity to know the answer to those questions? I’m guessing you don’t. I know I don’t. I’m confident they’ll be all too familiar, and written in a style all too similar to the style of the questions themselves, and above all predetermined by the questions themselves.

‘Feminist Epistemologies’ is a genyoowine academic subject though, don’t you think it isn’t.

Mainstream epistemology seeks to found universal theories of Truth, to develop the means to achieving objectivity, and to discover a deep structure of human language and an intelligible reality. Feminist epistemologists, on the other hand, argue that knowledge is always partial, situated, and embodied. In this course, we will study several themes and theories of knowledge developed by feminists working out of analytic, pragmatist, continental, queer and postcolonial contexts: standpoint theories, situated knowledges, the matrix of power/knowledge, the workings of epistemic privilege, the pragmatist link between knowledge and action, and the role of emotions, embodiment, and desire in knowledge.

There’s mainstream epistemology, and then there’s Feminist Epistemology (except when there are Feminist Epistemologies). To put it another way, there’s rational and then there’s raving bat-loony. There’s even a course in Feminist Theory: Epistemologies of Ignorance. It’s about reading memoirs. They use the word ‘Epistemologies’ in the title so that it will sound more academic-like. Or something.

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