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Harding, Sandra (1935–)


Sandra Harding is an American philosopher of science whose research interests include feminist and postcolonial theories, epistemology, and science studies. She received her PhD from New York University in 1973 and is a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. She is a former coeditor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society and former director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women. Harding has authored four books and numerous articles and edited eight anthologies. She is best known for her work in developing feminist-standpoint theory. Initially focused on illuminating the gendered contexts of science, Harding has gone on to investigate other aspects of the social and cultural contexts of science, including its "racial" and colonialist contexts. Seeking to explore ways in which science can become a more significant force for human well-being, her work has analyzed various social and political contexts of science, including its implication in the exploitation of nature, non-Western cultures, and women.

Harding's work in the 1980s helped shape the landscape of developing feminist epistemology and feminist science. Discovering Reality, coedited with Merrill Hintikka (1983), and Harding's The Science Question in Feminism (1986) were groundbreaking efforts applying gender to epistemology and the philosophy of science. In The Science Question, Harding analyzes then-current feminist epistemologies and their ability to justify feminist science critiques. Although she urges ambivalence toward the frameworks, she suggests that feminist-standpoint theory is the most promising. Standpoint theory traces its roots to Hegel's argument, later developed in Marxist theory, that divisions in power yield corresponding divisions in worldviews: those in dominant positions have a distorted worldview that suggests their privilege is "natural," and those subordinated have the potential to achieve a less distorted view of the relevant social relations. Early feminist-standpoint theory proposed that men and women are, respectively, disadvantaged and potentially advantaged in this sense and stressed the role of the women's movement in helping women achieve a less distorted, feminist standpoint.

In The Science Question Harding identifies several problems in then-current versions of feminist-standpoint theory. One is that the theory assumes that there are experiences that are unique to women qua women, but Harding argues that is unlikely given differences in race, class, sexuality, and culture, among other factors. Another problem she notes is that there are as many standpoints as there are substantial divisions in power, unbridgeable chasms between the worldviews of those in dominant positions and those subordinated in a social hierarchy.

In Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women's Lives (1991), Harding argues that those politically advantaged can and should come to understand the lives and perspectives of those not. This broadening of the notion of a standpoint has several consequences. It allows Harding to argue not that women as a group have an epistemic advantage over scientists but that, if scientists were to begin to research from the perspective of women's lives, new questions would emerge, along with data and theories that would prove more fruitful scientifically and socially. Harding also embraces the implication of multiple standpoints and contends that these are not unbridgeable. Each of us can work to "reinvent ourselves as 'others'" both to understand other standpoints and better understand the partiality and specificity of our own perspectives.

These several lines of argument come together in Harding's account of objectivity. In contrast to a traditional emphasis on a scientist or scholar's detachment from social contexts, Harding advocates what she calls "strong objectivity." To be objective in this sense requires a "robust reflexivity" that would oblige scientists and philosophers of science seek an understanding of the parochialism of the contexts within which their science and culture have coevolved. In Is Science Multicultural? Postcolonialisms, Feminisms, and Epistemologies (1998), Harding maintains that such reflexivity requires literacy in the sociology of science and social histories of science literatures, postcolonial and feminist science studies, and other critical science literatures. Only when scientists and science studies scholars achieve such reflexivity, Harding argues, will it be possible for the sciences to change in ways that will enable them to become an unproblematic and significant force for human well-being.

See also Feminism and the History of Philosophy; Feminist Epistemology; Feminist Philosophy; Feminist Philosophy of Science; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Marxist Philosophy; Philosophy of Science, History of; Women in the History of Philosophy.


With Merrill Hintikka. Discovering Reality (1983). 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic, 2003.

The Science Question in Feminism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986.

Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women's Lives. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Is Science Multicultural? Postcolonialisms, Feminisms, and Epistemologies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

additional edited collections by harding

Can Theories Be Refuted? Essays on the Duhem-Quine Thesis. Boston: D. Reidel, 1976.

Feminism and Methodology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

With Jean O'Barr. Sex and Scientific Inquiry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

The "Racial" Economy of Science: Toward a Democratic Future. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

With Uma Narayan. Decentering the Center. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies. New York: Routledge, 2003.

With Robert Figueroa. Science and Other Cultures. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Lynn Hankinson Nelson (2005)

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