- Introduction:Feminist Epistemologies of Ignorance
Feminist epistemologies of ignorance were born out of the realization that we cannot fully understand the complex practices of knowledge production and the variety of features that account for why something is known, without also understanding the practices that account for not knowing. Ignorance is a phenomenon that is often overlooked in traditional epistemological scholarship. Often assumed to be a simple lack of knowledge, a systematic study of ignorance is typically seen as irrelevant to epistemological concerns. The essays in this volume urge feminists to study ignorance far more attentively, for practices of ignorance are often intertwined with practices of oppression and exclusion. Given this, the study of ignorance is a valuable tool for liberatory epistemologies.
The study of ignorance has roots in feminist and other liberatory scholarship. Feminist standpoint scholarship, to take one instance (see Harding in this issue), has focused on identifying and eradicating patterns of systematic ignorance. In addition, Marilyn Frye, Charles Mills, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick have examined links between ignorance and oppression. But it is our belief that, despite their work, ignorance is too often ignored in feminist epistemological scholarship. The essays in this volume well illustrate why this state of affairs cannot continue.
It is difficult to acknowledge all who are to be thanked for a volume such as this. Nancy Tuana's attention to ignorance emerged from conversations with her colleague Robert Proctor, who argued in Cancer Wars (1995), his study of the politics of cancer research and dissemination, that we must "study the social construction of ignorance. The persistence of controversy is often not a natural consequence of imperfect knowledge but a political consequence of conflicting interests and structural apathies. Controversy can be engineered: ignorance and uncertainty can be manufactured, maintained, and disseminated" (Proctor 1995, 8). At his urging, she began to think about how feminists and other [End Page vii] liberatory theorists were attending to ignorance. In conversation with the participants of the agnatology workshop that Proctor and Londa Schiebinger organized at Penn State University in April 2003, which included Ken Alder, Peter Galison, Clive Gamble, Dominique Pestre, Mary Poovey, and Alison Wylie, Tuana developed her own account, "Coming to Understand" (Tuana 2004).
This research on ignorance became the basis of discussion for the final week of an NEH Summer Seminar on Feminist Epistemologies, codirected by Nancy Tuana and Shannon Sullivan in 2003. That seminar was the cauldron out of which much feminist epistemological insight boiled. The seminar involved fifteen participants: Rita Alfonso, Lisa Diedrich, Carla Fehr, Mary Margaret Fonow, Heidi Grasswick, Catherine Hundleby, Debra Jackson, Marianne Janack, Nancy McHugh, Patricia Moore, L. Ryan Musgrave, Mariana Ortega, Mary Solberg, Alice Sowaal, and Penny Weiss, along with four visiting scholars: Linda Martín Alcoff, Lorraine Code, Lynn Hankinson Nelson, and Charlene Haddock Seigfried. That seminar led in 2004 to the Penn State Rock Ethics Institute Conference, "Ethics and Epistemologies of Ignorance," the success of which was due in large part to the support of the many feminist and liberatory scholars who responded to our invitations to dialogue on this important topic. Participants in the conference included Linda Martín Alcoff, Susan Babbitt, Robert Bernasconi, Peggy Zeglin Brand, Tina Chanter, Lorraine Code, Harvey Cormier, Penelope Deutscher, Marilyn Frye, Sandra Harding, Lisa Heldke, Sarah L. Hoagland, Patti Lather, María Lugones, Charles Mills, Lucius Outlaw, Lynn Hankinson Nelson, Naomi Scheman, and Gail Weiss, as well as many of the participants of the 2003 NEH Summer Seminar anda number of the feminist scholars who participated in the first NEH Summer Seminar on Feminist Epistemologies, directed by Nancy Tuana in 1996.
The conference sparked a great deal of interest, dialogue, and exciting new work, more of which can be found in the forthcoming collection, Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance (Sullivan and Tuana, forthcoming). The second NEH Summer Seminar and the "Ethics and Epistemologies of Ignorance" conference gave birth to a new scholarly organization, Feminist Epistemologies, Metaphysics, Methodologies, and Science Studies (FEMMSS), which had its inaugural meeting at the University of Washington in 2004. We would like to thank all the feminist and race theory scholars who supported the conference and the development of FEMMSS...