Central Question 7

I still believe the question is a good one. However, it is a much deeper question than I had originally thought. The dichotomy of sex and gender and its implications to the scientific community, specifically the treatment/acceptance of woman/minorities as peers, really pushes deeply held beliefs and boundaries that many people have regarding sex and gender. The Fox Keller piece had much more to do with pushing those boundaries then the Barad piece. As I listened and discussed, I found myself wondering if I might have thought differently about the Fox Keller piece had I watched a presentation by her, as I had watched Barad’s. I plan to do so and see if it makes a difference for me.

Not having a strong background in feminism or feminist theory, I found myself to be somewhat jaded as to what I might hear/read when I began this exercise. My thoughts along those lines have grown some – in that, “the squeaky wheel always gets the grease,” and there is a lot more squeaking that still needs to occur for women in science to be immediately accepted without reservation by their peers. However, and I believe quite important, many women (men & minorities too) do not want to stick out as apart from the group, rather they want to be accepted on behalf of their results. I lean more closely to that group, thus the loud call emanating from a dissatisfied, disgruntled woman tends to make me cringe, as it may for many others'.

I do now have a better appreciation for the value that the feminist position brings to the table: that of simply bringing up issues and concerns that most do not even notice. Again, back to the question, I do still think that word choice, metaphors, and tone are instrumental in creating both inclusion and or exclusion. The goal for me as an STS scholar will be to identify the tone, understand why it was chosen, along with the words and metaphors used, and then attempt to read / understand from "that" perspective. All the while paying particular attention to my perspectives and the baggage that comes with it.

Question: Is ordinary vocabulary problematic in understanding scientific knowledge?

All three authors lead us to language as a location of mistakes and misunderstandings of representations of scientific knowledge and practice. They suggest there is another way to tell “the story,” the stories of scientific knowledge and its production. I query the likelihood that not only is our vocabulary used with bias, thus a place of misunderstanding, but whether it can be altered, redefined, acceptable and respectful with respect to descriptions of the production of scientific knowledge and scientific practices.

Karen Barad tells us that, “agential realism is a feminist intervention in the debates between realism and social constructivists” (7). Agential realism is an epistemological and ontological framework for analyzing the dichotomy opposing realism and social constructivism (2), the nature of these differences and their consequences, and that it provides an understanding of science as “material-discursive” practices: the inseparability of material and the discursive (2). She goes on to state, “gender politics are not simply about relations among men and women but are focused precisely on how to understand agency, body, rationality, and the boundaries between nature and culture” (3).

“The measured properties refer to phenomena, physical-conceptual intra-actions whose unambiguous account requires “a description of all relevant features of the experimental arrangement” and she uses, “intra-actions to signify the inseparability of objects and agencies of observations” (5). Thus, including the apparatus in part of the material-discursive practice (6). Thereby shifting the condition of objective knowledge to a phenomena – not an observation-independent object (5).

Barad’s conclusion is that “we are responsible for what exists not because it is an arbitrary construction of our choosing, but because agential reality is sedimented out of particular practices that we have a role in shaping” (7).

In attempt to better understand what she is talking about I found that Barad uses Thomas Young’s 2-slit experiment to distinguish “the phenomena” from object-observer. In other words, that the apparatus plays a role in the production of scientific knowledge. Her description is of the 2-slit apparatus to determine whether an entity is a particle or a wave. Thus, according to Young, it is possible to characterize all of nature as belonging to either particles or waves. Later Neals Bohr used the 2-slit apparatus to show the distinction of the atom passing through the apparatus, the pattern changes from wave behavior to particle behavior by design depending on how it measured – the intra-action of the entity and the apparatus – the result is entanglement of the object and the agencies of observation.
Feminist Theory Workshop Keynote – Karen Barad (~48:00).

Evelyn Fox Keller tells us that the role of science as typically masculine is socially constructed (238). She described McClintock’s Nobel Prize as an opportunity for many women in science to recognize a change in the science community to include “a richer, perhaps even multifaceted, representation of reality, but not a separate one” (240). She goes on to say that “knowledge is power,” the “power to dominate nature.” (241). “We can see the construction of gender as the construction of exclusion – of women, of what is labeled feminine” (241). Yet, to “be gender blind” carries with it risks of “denial of differences” which could potentially “render women themselves superfluous” (241). She states, “the most central issue at hand is the relation between gender, science, and power – above all the uses of particular constructions of gender and science in structuring our conceptual and political landscape of power”, and that a “different kind of language … spacious enough to enable multiplicity to survive without degenerating into opposition” … “that permits the recognition of kinship in difference and of difference among kin” … “a language that encodes a respect for difference…” is what’s required (242).

Emily Martin suggests intentionally choosing ways to describe the body with respect to immunology and the immune system that remove the masculine / feminine descriptors. Her article compares the uses of masculine wartime events and “male heroes”, supported by the feminine, “females in “symbiotic service”” (365). She suggests the possibility of “powerful links between the particular metaphors chosen to describe the body scientifically and features of our contemporary society that are related to gender, class, and race” – that there are “other ways bodies might be imagined and societies might be organized” (369).

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