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Chapter 29Feminist Standpoint Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Standpoint theorists suggest our view of the world depends on our social location.
  2. That social location is shaped by our demographic characteristics, including sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic status.
  3. As Julia Wood puts it, “the social groups within which we are located powerfully shape what we experience and know as well as how we understand and communicate with ourselves, others, and the world.”
  4. Standpoint theorists believe that knowledge starting from the social location of marginalized people “can provide a more objective view than the perspective from the lives of the more powerful.”
  5. We must start with a critique of epistemology—or, how do we know what we know?
  1. Philosophical foundations: A standpoint necessarily opposes the status quo.
  1. Georg Hegel revealed that what people “know” depends upon which group they are in and that the powerful control received knowledge.
  2. Early feminist standpoint theorists were influenced by Marx and Engels’ idea that the poor can be society’s “ideal knowers.”
  3. By substituting women for proletariat and gender discrimination for class struggle, early feminist standpoint theorists had a ready-made framework for advocating women’s way of knowing.
  4. Standpoint theory is also influenced by symbolic interactionism, which suggests that gender is socially constructed, and by the postmodernism of theorists such as Jean-Francois Lyotard, which suggests a critique of male-centered epistemologies.
  5. They warn that a standpoint is not the same thing as a social location, an opinion, or a perspective. A standpoint is more because it emerges from careful thought about why society privileges certain social locations.
  6. A standpoint opposes the status quo.
  7. Most critical scholars today demand that all concerns regarding sex and gender must take into account the intersectionality of identity.
  1. Intersectionality and Black feminist thought
  1. For critical scholars, intersectionality refers to how identities occur at the crossroads of gender, race, sexuality, age, occupation, ability, and many other characteristics.
  2. We can’t understand the social location of a person without having a complete picture of their identity.
  3. Patricia Collins claims that “intersecting oppressions” put Black women in a different marginalized social location than either white women or Black men.
  4. Collins refers to this social location as “outsider within.”
  5. Four ways that Black women validate knowledge.
  1. Lived experience as a criterion of meaning.
  2. The use of dialogue in assessing knowledge claims.
  3. The ethic of caring.
  4. The ethic of personal accountability.
  1. Shardé Davis appeals to Collins’ description of the strong Black woman controlling image, which is “a socially constructed ideal that oppresses Black women by celebrating our attempts to meet impossible expectations of strength at all times.”
  1. Women as a marginalized group.
    1. Standpoint theorists see important differences between men and women that affect their communication.
  1. These differences are a result of cultural expectations and the treatment that each group receives from the other.
  2. Culture is not experienced identically by all members of society because of inequities.
  1. An intersection of minority positions creates a highly looked down-upon location in the social hierarchy.
  2. Collins refers to these intersecting dimensions of privilege as a matrix of domination.
  1. Knowledge from nowhere versus local knowledge.
  1. People at the top of the societal hierarchy have the power to define others.
  2. Standpoint theorists believe that those who define a field shape the picture of the world that emerges from that field.
  3. This view contrasts sharply with the claim that “truth” is value-free and accessible to any objective observer.
  4. Harding and other standpoint theorists insist there is no possibility of an unbiased perspective that is disinterested, impartial, value-free, or detached from a particular historical situation.
  5. She does not want to abandon the search for reality; she simply believes that the search should begin from the lives of those in the underclass.
  1. Like all knowledge, the perspectives arising from the standpoint of women or any other minority are partial or situated knowledge.
  2. However, standpoint theorists believe that the perspectives of marginalized groups are more complete and thus better than those of privileged groups in a society.
  1. Strong objectivity: Less partial views from standpoints at the margins.
  1. Harding emphasizes that it’s the perspective generalized from women’s lives that provides a preferred standpoint from which to begin research.
  1. She calls this approach “strong objectivity.”
  2. By contrast, knowledge generated from the standpoint of dominant groups offers only “weak objectivity.”
  1. Wood offers two reasons why the standpoints of women and other marginalized groups are less partial, distorted, and false than those of men in dominant positions.
  1. Marginalized people have more motivation to understand the perspective of the powerful than vice versa.
  2. Marginalized people have little reason to defend the status quo.
  1. They believe a feminist standpoint is an achievement gained through critical reflection on power relations.
  1. Theory to practice: communication research based on women’s lives.
  1. Wood’s study of caregiving in the United States exemplifies research that starts from the lives of women.
  2. Davis contends that the opposing, gender-based privileges and restraints creates an even more acute struggle for Black women who are caregivers (as compared to white women).
  3. Wood suggests that a standpoint approach is practical to the extent that it generates an effective critique of unjust practices.
  1. Ethical reflection: Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice
  1. Society assigns greater worth to some knowers than it does to others.
  2. Miranda Fricker refers to epistemic injustice as the harm resulting from that bias, and believes it’s a serious ethical problem.
  3. Testimonial injustice occurs when prejudice on the hearer’s part causes them to give the speaker less credibility than they would otherwise have given.
  4. Hermeneutical injustice occurs when people participate unequally in the practices through which social meanings are generated.
  5. Epistemic injustice is tackled through reflecting on one’s biases and addressing broader social structures and systems.
  1. Critique: Can standpoint theory be misused?
  1. Communication scholars insist that our understanding of people will be incomplete unless we seriously consider social locations beyond the white, male, heterosexual, nondisabled, socioeconomically comfortable norm.
  2. They also believe serious reckoning with power differences must lead to societal reform to end oppression.
  3. John McWhorter, a Black professor of English at Columbia University, is concerned that some people use standpoint theory’s logic oppressively.
  4. Other critics see the concept of strong objectivity as inherently contradictory, since it seems to appeal to universal standards of judgment
  5. Standpoint theory energizes Idaho State University rhetorician Lynn Worsham and others in the theory’s broad community of agreement who believe that minority standpoints can be a partial corrective to the biased knowledge that now passes for truth.


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Theory Outlines
11th Edition

From the Instructors Manual

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Chapter 29Feminist Standpoint Theory


  1. Introduction.
  1. Standpoint theorists suggest our view of the world depends on our social location.
  2. That social location is shaped by our demographic characteristics, including sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic status.
  3. As Julia Wood puts it, “the social groups within which we are located powerfully shape what we experience and know as well as how we understand and communicate with ourselves, others, and the world.”
  4. Standpoint theorists believe that knowledge starting from the social location of marginalized people “can provide a more objective view than the perspective from the lives of the more powerful.”
  5. We must start with a critique of epistemology—or, how do we know what we know?
  1. Philosophical foundations: A standpoint necessarily opposes the status quo.
  1. Georg Hegel revealed that what people “know” depends upon which group they are in and that the powerful control received knowledge.
  2. Early feminist standpoint theorists were influenced by Marx and Engels’ idea that the poor can be society’s “ideal knowers.”
  3. By substituting women for proletariat and gender discrimination for class struggle, early feminist standpoint theorists had a ready-made framework for advocating women’s way of knowing.
  4. Standpoint theory is also influenced by symbolic interactionism, which suggests that gender is socially constructed, and by the postmodernism of theorists such as Jean-Francois Lyotard, which suggests a critique of male-centered epistemologies.
  5. They warn that a standpoint is not the same thing as a social location, an opinion, or a perspective. A standpoint is more because it emerges from careful thought about why society privileges certain social locations.
  6. A standpoint opposes the status quo.
  7. Most critical scholars today demand that all concerns regarding sex and gender must take into account the intersectionality of identity.
  1. Intersectionality and Black feminist thought
  1. For critical scholars, intersectionality refers to how identities occur at the crossroads of gender, race, sexuality, age, occupation, ability, and many other characteristics.
  2. We can’t understand the social location of a person without having a complete picture of their identity.
  3. Patricia Collins claims that “intersecting oppressions” put Black women in a different marginalized social location than either white women or Black men.
  4. Collins refers to this social location as “outsider within.”
  5. Four ways that Black women validate knowledge.
  1. Lived experience as a criterion of meaning.
  2. The use of dialogue in assessing knowledge claims.
  3. The ethic of caring.
  4. The ethic of personal accountability.
  1. Shardé Davis appeals to Collins’ description of the strong Black woman controlling image, which is “a socially constructed ideal that oppresses Black women by celebrating our attempts to meet impossible expectations of strength at all times.”
  1. Women as a marginalized group.
    1. Standpoint theorists see important differences between men and women that affect their communication.
  1. These differences are a result of cultural expectations and the treatment that each group receives from the other.
  2. Culture is not experienced identically by all members of society because of inequities.
  1. An intersection of minority positions creates a highly looked down-upon location in the social hierarchy.
  2. Collins refers to these intersecting dimensions of privilege as a matrix of domination.
  1. Knowledge from nowhere versus local knowledge.
  1. People at the top of the societal hierarchy have the power to define others.
  2. Standpoint theorists believe that those who define a field shape the picture of the world that emerges from that field.
  3. This view contrasts sharply with the claim that “truth” is value-free and accessible to any objective observer.
  4. Harding and other standpoint theorists insist there is no possibility of an unbiased perspective that is disinterested, impartial, value-free, or detached from a particular historical situation.
  5. She does not want to abandon the search for reality; she simply believes that the search should begin from the lives of those in the underclass.
  1. Like all knowledge, the perspectives arising from the standpoint of women or any other minority are partial or situated knowledge.
  2. However, standpoint theorists believe that the perspectives of marginalized groups are more complete and thus better than those of privileged groups in a society.
  1. Strong objectivity: Less partial views from standpoints at the margins.
  1. Harding emphasizes that it’s the perspective generalized from women’s lives that provides a preferred standpoint from which to begin research.
  1. She calls this approach “strong objectivity.”
  2. By contrast, knowledge generated from the standpoint of dominant groups offers only “weak objectivity.”
  1. Wood offers two reasons why the standpoints of women and other marginalized groups are less partial, distorted, and false than those of men in dominant positions.
  1. Marginalized people have more motivation to understand the perspective of the powerful than vice versa.
  2. Marginalized people have little reason to defend the status quo.
  1. They believe a feminist standpoint is an achievement gained through critical reflection on power relations.
  1. Theory to practice: communication research based on women’s lives.
  1. Wood’s study of caregiving in the United States exemplifies research that starts from the lives of women.
  2. Davis contends that the opposing, gender-based privileges and restraints creates an even more acute struggle for Black women who are caregivers (as compared to white women).
  3. Wood suggests that a standpoint approach is practical to the extent that it generates an effective critique of unjust practices.
  1. Ethical reflection: Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice
  1. Society assigns greater worth to some knowers than it does to others.
  2. Miranda Fricker refers to epistemic injustice as the harm resulting from that bias, and believes it’s a serious ethical problem.
  3. Testimonial injustice occurs when prejudice on the hearer’s part causes them to give the speaker less credibility than they would otherwise have given.
  4. Hermeneutical injustice occurs when people participate unequally in the practices through which social meanings are generated.
  5. Epistemic injustice is tackled through reflecting on one’s biases and addressing broader social structures and systems.
  1. Critique: Can standpoint theory be misused?
  1. Communication scholars insist that our understanding of people will be incomplete unless we seriously consider social locations beyond the white, male, heterosexual, nondisabled, socioeconomically comfortable norm.
  2. They also believe serious reckoning with power differences must lead to societal reform to end oppression.
  3. John McWhorter, a Black professor of English at Columbia University, is concerned that some people use standpoint theory’s logic oppressively.
  4. Other critics see the concept of strong objectivity as inherently contradictory, since it seems to appeal to universal standards of judgment
  5. Standpoint theory energizes Idaho State University rhetorician Lynn Worsham and others in the theory’s broad community of agreement who believe that minority standpoints can be a partial corrective to the biased knowledge that now passes for truth.


You can access the Outline for a particular chapter in several ways:

  • Switch to View by Theory, then select the desired theory/chapter from the drop-down list at the top of the page. Look in the list of available resources.
  • To quickly find a theory by chapter number, use the Table of Contents and link from there. It will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.
  • You can also use the Theory List, which will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.

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