Social Situatedness and Standpoint Theory

For those who have read my About Me  you will be aware that I am a first year student, studying for a Professional Doctorate in Education (EdD) at Birmingham City University, and having completed a position paper for a critical perspectives module, a clear conclusion emerged relating to my ontology … that I was ‘ontologically insecure’.  To ‘unpick’ this concept, I want to begin by considering key concepts for insider-researcher.  Having dipped my toe into the research method of Participatory Action Research (PAR) I quickly stumbled across ‘social situatedness. So it makes sense to begin here…

Social situatedness is a key concept of learning, first introduced as early as the 1920’s by Vygotsky (1986), and informs the reader that in order to learn about, and learn from the researched, or better still the ‘participant’ the researcher needs to be aware of social and cultural forces, and their relevance in context – the where, the when and the background. Situatedness emerges from the exchange between the researcher, the circumstances and most importantly the researcher’s position within it, to be exact, as a novice researcher, ‘my habitus’.  Being a children’s nurse, registered with the Nursing Midwifery Council, and a senior lecturer working for a university, I hold a position of responsibility to both my peers and to students.  The organisation I work within, my  work-colleagues and the students I teach may all potentially impact upon my chosen topic of interest and the way in which I choose to conduct research. Consequently, to further consider my social situatedness, I need to revisit my identity … again.

Franks (2002) classifies three key factors of identity, that of standpoint, situatedness and positionality, and considers these components to be of crucial importance to a researcher.  The researcher standpoint theory is of primary consideration, and with the pursuit of a postmodern approach, the primary focus is gender, which results in the standpoint theory been central to the feminist viewpoint.  Feminist scholars such as Hilary Rose (sociologist), Patricia Hill Collins (contemporary philosophist) and Sandra Harding (20th century philosophist), justly give voice to the lived experiences of women, as the beginning point of a scientific enquiry.  The ‘caring’ experiences have tendency to take preference, such as caring for the sick and/or the elderly.  Reading of these feminist scholars, with their emphasis on ‘caring’ reminded me of my ‘habitus’, as a young and newly qualified registered enrolled nurse, and the awareness I had of a cleft habitus (Bourdieu, 2004).  Over the years, as discussed in my position paper, my habitus invariably matured and adjusted to several positions, including my ‘social’ position.  Bourdieu’s recognition of habitus and the concept of it ‘evolving’ and ‘changing’, upon reflection is reassuring and informs me of the importance to be conscious as a researcher of one’s personal values and social structures, and that knowledge creates a habitus which not just alters, but changes to accommodate a new and unfamiliar field. And for me that unfamiliar field is that of a researcher.

Nancy Hartsock (1943-2015), a feminist philosopher rejects the postmodern acceptance of the multiplicity of a feminist standpoint.  To emphasise this point she compares the relationship between men and women, with the analogy of a man with working class background, commonly referred to by Karl Marx (1818-1883), as a proletariat, to the domestic labour of women.  She does this to demonstrate the ‘original’ role of woman and the importance or recognising their originality (Hekman, 1997). Hartsock challenged the ‘acceptance’ of multiplicity and wanted to attribute value and appreciation to these profusions, and strived for them to be recognised for what they are. As an insider-researcher, awareness is paramount to ensure that the knowledge and beliefs of each participant is brought ‘into’ the research, to enable the true meaning of participatory action research to take form.

Each group speaks from its own standpoint and shares its own partial, situated knowledge. But because each group perceives its own truth as partial, its knowledge is unfinished. Each group becomes better able to consider other groups’ standpoints without relinquishing the uniqueness of its own standpoint or suppressing other groups’ partial perspectives (Hill-Collins, 1990: 236).

Youtube video contains language which may offend (Carruesco, 2012).

Social situatedness emerged in the 1970’s with an emphasis on knowledge of the socially situated (lived experiences).  For example, a person of a lower status within a community, is more likely to have endured difficulties/struggles, and may therefore have the associated awareness of the social situation they are in.  Situatedness provides marginalized people with the knowledge and foundations to be aware of their ‘concerns’ and how they affect them as individuals.  The importance of day to day experiences features highly and impacts on a person’s perspective or opinion.  As a researcher considering my standpoint would require me to consider the possible and likely power I would have as a researcher within PAR.  Perceptions are influenced by past experiences, and my past experiences construct my epistemology, and create what I believe to be the truth.  My truth being, those who are, or perceive themselves to be, marginalized should have fair and equal access, and the opportunity to participate in.  To build upon the standpoint theory, Sandra Harding reiterates the need to begin with the lived experiences, as she feels that ‘more objective’ and ‘more relevant knowledge’ can be obtained, resulting in a ‘strong objectivity’ (Alcoff and Potter, 1993).

Only through such struggles can we begin to see beneath the appearances created by an unjust social order to the reality of how this social order is in fact constructed and maintained. This need for struggle emphasizes the fact that a feminist standpoint is not something that anyone can have simply by claiming it. It is an achievement. A standpoint differs in this respect from a perspective, which anyone can have simply by ‘opening one’s eyes’ (Harding, 2004: 127).

In my next blog I will attempt to explore strong objectivity, value-neutrality and becoming a reflexive researcher.

References

Alcoff, L. and Potter, E. (1993) Feminist Epistemologies (Thinking Gender). 1st edn. London: Routledge.

Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London: Routledge.

Carruesco, A. (2012) Crash characters and how their standpoints influence their perception. Available at: https://youtu.be/zmBMcTVXgrk.  (Assessed: 12 May 2016).

Franks, M. (2002) Feminisms and Cross-ideological Feminist Social Research: Standpoint, Situatedness and Positionality – Developing Cross-ideological Feminist Research. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 3(2), 38-50.

Harding, S. (2004) Rethinking feminist standpoint epistemology: What is “strong objectivity”? In Sandra Harding, (Ed.), The feminist standpoint theory reader: Intellectual and political controversies. New York: Routledge.

Hekman, S. (1997) Truth and Method: Feminist Standpoint Theory Revisited. Chicago Journals, 22(2), pp 341-365. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3175275[Accessed [15 May 2016].

Hill-Collins, P.  (1990) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman. pp. 221–238.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1986) Thought and Language. London, England: MIT Press.

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4 thoughts on “Social Situatedness and Standpoint Theory

  1. I really enjoyed reading this Jaye and feel that you are really getting a handle on the whole situatedness theory thing keep these wonderful blogs coming !!!

    Liked by 1 person

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