ABSTRACT

Advancing along the Southern path, we are now entering its critical realm (level 3), where we meet feminism. Feminism, originating in Europe and America in the 1950s and 1960s, could be considered as a further development of Husserl’s phenomenology. Both methodologies take ‘personal experience’ as a starting point. However, some researchers claim that feminism takes a more realistic position towards the researched ‘life world’. Feminism emerged as an organized movement of social theories, moral philosophies and economic and political thought, all focused on the liberation of women from a perceived subordination to men. With an increasingly broadening focus, feminism can now be regarded as a grassroots movement that does not only focus on gender issues, but seeks to cross boundaries based on social class, race, culture and religion, recently championing the cause of indigenous peoples. Feminist epistemology and philosophy of science studies the ways in which gender does and ought to influence our conceptions of knowledge, the knowing subject and practices of inquiry and justification. It identifies ways in which dominant conceptions and practices of knowledge systematically disadvantage women and other subordinated groups, and strives to reform these conceptions and practices so that they serve the interests of these groups. The central concept of feminist epistemology is that of a situated knower, and hence of situated knowledge: knowledge that reflects the particular perspectives of the subject. Further key tenets of feminist research are that it aims to create social change, that it sees knowledge as a tool for liberation (not domination), that it strives to represent human diversity and sees itself as complementary to an androcentric perspective. The ontological claims of feminism are that both the natural and social worlds are socially constructed, and that these worlds are constructed differently by people who, in different locations, have different life experiences, for example men and women. Conventional dualisms such as fact/value, objective/subjective, reason/emotion and the separation of the knower and the known are rejected as part of androcentric epistemology. Introducing global variations of feminism, we focus in this chapter on Catherine Hoppers’ Indigenous Knowledge Systems. For Hoppers, any dynamic knowledge system has to evolve through the continuance of traditional knowledge and contemporary innovations, and this should be pursued by individuals as well as communities. The present knowledge framework, however, lets knowledge flow in one direction only and excludes indigenous knowledge. Hoppers’ proposal that we legitimize diverse and, especially, indigenous knowledge systems and the one we connect with the feminist case, introduced at the end of this chapter, is the story of the Australian aborigines. Often called ‘the oldest people of the world’, they managed to build the world’s longest-lasting sustainable society, even while, in modern times, they were persecuted by immigrant white populations. Anthropologists and contemporary investigators of indigenous knowledge systems acknowledge their ability to keep knowledge alive through a strong network of relationships (within their community, among communities, to ancestors, nature and animals) and a simultaneous focus on the outer, material (masculine) and the inner, immaterial (feminine) world.