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Exploring Feminist Epistemology: Deconstructing Mainstream Paradigms And Cultivating Inclusive Knowledge

Exploring Feminist Epistemology: Deconstructing Mainstream Paradigms and Cultivating Inclusive Knowledge

Session Report
Nivedita Sinha

IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, in collaboration with its Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) conducted its second successful cohort of Feminism: Theory and Praxis between 23rd and 25th of January 2024. The goal of this program was to equip the participants with the analytical tools and vocabulary to understand the feminist movement ranging from its epistemology, its trajectory in history to its contemporary concerns and contentions.

On Day 1 distinguished professor at IMPRI and the chair of the program, Dr Vibhuti Patel addressed the panel and the participants with a comprehensive introduction to Feminism, taking them through its basic definitions and questions. 

Dr Leena Pujari is a visiting senior fellow at IMPRI and she  also heads the Department of Sociology, K C College, Mumbai and the PG Program in Liberal Studies at HSNC University. In the first session Feminism:Theory and Praxis, named“Feminist Epistemology”, Dr Pujari begins by setting the context and defining several key concepts — epistemology refers to how we generate knowledge, paradigm refers to the widely accepted interpretive framework that helps us analyse concepts, and methodology tells us what the broad principles that we use in our investigations.

After describing conventional epistemology which borrows from the natural sciences and believes in supreme objectivity and the truth and reality being absolute entities, she invokes the work of feminist philosophers in the seventies and eighties who critiqued mainstream epistemology in the social sciences and claimed that they were de-contextualized, apolitical, and did not account for the multiple truths and contexts of women’s lived realities. 

Challenging Mainstream Epistemology in Feminist Perspective

She uses the work of Patricia Hill Collins, Donna Haraway, Emily Martin and Nancy Hartstock to present her arguments. She gives us several examples of how the production of any knowledge or theoretical frameworks seldom consider women as producers and knowers of language and look at their perspectives.

They are rife with stereotypes and masculinist assumptions that all seem to be naturalized and justified under the guise of biology. To recollect one such example, Emily Martin writes about how the language used in biology pedagogy is inherently sexist because of the way it depicts the sperm cell as an active agent and the egg cell as a “damsel in distress” in the fertilization process despite the fact that they both cellsplay an equal role in the process. 

Dr Pujari then speaks of situating knowledge in the context and social location of the person producing it and the epistemic dominance of cis-het, able bodied, white men throughout history have made mainstream paradigms exclusionary and narrow in their approaches. Feminist Standpoint theory believes that knowledge must come from experiences and everyday realities. People who come from marginalized communities must be able have access to knowledge born out of their lived realities, cultures, language and worldviews. 

Dr. Pujari’s session was enlightening and set the tone and epistemic foundation for the next few sessions to come. The primary learning from the session was the knowledge that feminism is not a homogenous singular entity and feminist knowledge comes from various different sources, social and geographical locations. 

Acknowledgment: Reet Lath is a research Intern at IMPRI.

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