Standpoint Theory

Posted: 15th June 2013 by admin in Articles, Uncategorized

by swlancas

Standpoint theorists such as Dorothy Smith would state that the bodily experience of genders-that differ from the dominant white male one-need to be explored more from sociologists as these gender’s perspectives and interests still remain marginal (Smith 1987). Smith would argue that the concrete activities these various genders are taking part in on a day to day basis are the meat and potatoes so to speak of the construction of social life which are continually ignored and disregarded. Standpoint theorists would also suggest that the lived experiences of a multitude of gender groups, from a variety of racial, ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds which include poor urban black female educators, working class male Asian-American shop owners, and elite Latina maids and cleaners are crucial to sociologists understanding of the complexity of gender especially in terms of its interactions with the other significant variables as mentioned as well as understanding the marginalized in a way that is both objective and that adequately captures the various nuances within the lived experiences of these various gendered groups. For instance, understanding the members of these gendered groups work schedules, modes of transportation, interaction with coworkers, friends and family members, as well their rate of pay, style and levels of recreation, and overall attitudes towards their occupations and ways of living would be beneficial in understanding how these groups are significant yet overlooked members of society.

In order to best explain inequality among these gendered groups, these processes must be observed in greater detail by stand point theory sociologists over to capture how particular processes of inequity, such as unequal pay, less than adequate motivation within systems of education, employment opportunities, and benefits continue to affect these gendered groups in ways they have in the past as well as how they are perpetuated in new forms in present times. For instance, how are female African-Americans continuing to face inequalities in terms of less than equitable access to quality forms of education and thus quality professions in ways that are both similar to what past generations have experienced (the impacts of Plessy vs. Ferguson, Brown vs. Board of Education, affirmative action) as well as contemporary issues in education that may affect minority genders disproportionately (charter programs, marketization of academia, student as consumer mentality).

Collins would argue that the interpretation of Black women’s oppression is based on an interpretation of Black feminists-and sociologist’s- thought based on: 1) common knowledge 2) and expert knowledge. African-American academics who attempt to reshape Black women’s perspectives, “just as the material realities of the dominant produce separate standpoints each group may also have distinctive epistemologies or theories of knowledge” (Collins 1989: 753). Collin’s also argues that evaluating someone’s claims to knowledge also assesses an individual’s ethics, value, and character traits. It could be stated that it is the responsibility of sociologists who use standpoint theory to seriously assess the unique knowledge claims various genders are able to possess and explicate, and to fit their explanations into a framework that objectively considers how their knowledge is framed and whether or not their knowledge is valued by experts or the very least by members of the general populous.

The implications of the standpoint theory approach are that it would create a higher methodological standard for research procedures to follow, as proper examination of these groups may require longitudinal research that made use of rigorous and dynamic approaches such as grounded theory method that have the potential to capture rich descriptive qualitative data regarding the micro-level interactions as well as the macro and meso level processes that shaped these various gendered groups lives over pure statistical/demographic data from surveys or latitudinal studies that are only able to capture a glimpse at the lived experiences. As Smith might argue, sociologists would have to move beyond the use of past written documents, images, journals, books, and recorded speech and instead become increasingly engaged in long term person to person interaction (Smith 1987). This rigorous standpoint theory approach would re-shape the way in which sociologists present their questions as they would have to involve rich description of the various processes as well as potential spurious variable in a format that illustrated the underlying social phenomena behind the face to face interactions and the lived experiences of such group members.

Generally speaking a paradigmatic shift to a standpoint theory approach would require an acceptance of research methods that would capture the lived experiences and knowledge claims of various gendered groups in order. These methods may be very similar to grounded theory method and would most likely require more longitudinal level analysis either via long term face to face interviews or ethnographic data. The type of questions asked would have to consider rich details of these various gendered groups lived experiences and knowledge, perhaps even specific questions regarding minutiae in their lives including the types of items they purchase in a week, the amount of time they speak on the phone daily, the amount of calories they, similar to Bourdieu’s description of habitus in Forms of Capital. This would be incredibly rigorous, detailed research that encompassed a wide variety of information that would also require a large amount of time and resources. However, this type of research would have potential to capture the various specific elements of these gender groups’ lived experiences which at the very least could provide information regarding the micro-level interactions of these groups. Macro level processes that affected these groups could be inferred from this type of data as well even if not explicitly expressed.


Works Cited:

Smith, Dorothy. 1974 [1987]. “Women’s Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology.” Feminism & Methodology: 84-96.

Collins, Patricia Hill. 1989. “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought.” Signs 14(4):745-773.