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Feminist Standpoint Theory
Transcript of Feminist Standpoint Theory
Feminist Standpoint Theory claims that women's (and all people's) experiences, knowledge, and communication behaviors are shaped in large part by the social groups to which they belong.
This framework is built on knowledge generated from the everyday lives of people - acknowledging that individuals are active consumers of their own reality.
Feminist Standpoint Theory advocates criticizing the status quo because the status quo represents a power structure of dominance and oppression. Furthermore, in this crtique are possibilities for 'envisioning more just social practices' (Hartsock).
Although communication researchers and theorists have only recently begun to apply this framework to the studies of communication behavior, the general framework itself has an extensive history.
Feminist Standpoint Theory's Critique of Theory and Research
Feminist Standpoint Theory, unlike many other theoretical frameworks, begins by highlighting the relationship between power and knowledge.
Assumptions of Feminist Standpoint Theory
Added to the five assumptions, most conceptions of the theory hinge on a set of four beliefs about knowledge and knowledge gathering (ontology and epistemology).
Relationship to Communication
In the early 1990s, Julia Wood brought the ideas of Feminist Standpoint Theory to the field of communication studies. Wood shows how it isn't the specific nature of women that affects their communication behaviors as much as it is their shared standpoints. In turn, researchers became interested in how one's social location relative to the power structure impacts women's interactions. The framework is popular with communication researchers because FST advances a reciprocal relationship between communication behavior and standpoints.
Key Concepts of Standpoint Theory
This theory focuses on several concepts to gain a clearer and more concise understanding.
The Feminist Standpoint Theory is derived from the Standpoint Theory, which originated in 1807, when the German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel discussed how the master-slave relationship engendered different standpoints in its participants. Hegel argued that despite the closeness in proxemity of slaves and masters, their knowledge of society is vastly different. His primary argument was that there can be no single vision concerning social life.
Nancy Hartsock drew on Hegel's ideas and Marxist theory to begin to adapt Standpoint Theory for use in examining relations between women and men, thus creating Feminist Standpoint Theory. In 1983, she began the adaptation by publishing "The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism"
In doing so, Feminist Standpoint Theory tries to hold together two tensions: the search for better knowledge and the commitment to the idea that knowledge is always intertwined with issues of power and politics. Essentially, FST began with an imperfect epistemology, one devised by men in power, and seeks to develop a better epistemology, while recognizing that knowledge is not separable from politics.
Feminist Standpoint Theory is indeed a critical theory, but in many ways, expresses and embodies a critique of other mainstream theories and approaches to research. The critique begins with the observation that most research in the past has been founded in a common perspective: that of the white, middle-class male.
Material life (or class position) structures and limits understanding of social relations.
When material life is structured in two opposing ways for two different groups, the understanding of each will be an inversion of the other. When there is a dominant group and a subordinate group, the understanding of the dominant group will be both partial and harmful.
The vision of the ruling group structures the material relations in which all groups are forced to participate.
The vision available to an oppressed group represents struggle and an achievement.
The potential understanding of the oppressed (the standpoint) makes visible the inhumanity of the existing relations among groups and moves us toward a better and more just world.
All knowledge is a product of social activity, and thus no knowledge can be truly subjective.
Cultural conditions "typically surrounding women's lives produce experiences and understandings that routinely differ from those produced by the conditions framing men's lives" (Wood). These different understandings often produce distinct communication patterns.
It is a worthwhile endeavor to understand the distinctive features of women's experiences.
We can only know women's experience by attending to women's interpretations of this experience.
This theory points to the use of communication as a tool for changing the status quo and producing change. By giving voice to those whose standpoints are infrequently heard, the methods associated with the theory focus on communication practices.
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