restricted access 104 White Men Can Jump: But Must Try a Little Harder
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104 White Men Can Jump: But Must Try a Little Harder PETER HALEWOOD I hope to demonstrate that progressive, committed, white male law teachers should engage in scholarship investigating the relation of law to social and political subordination , provided that they do so in ways that respond to feminist and minority critiques, and provided that in doing so they do not preempt or displace scholars who are white women or people of color. I think that while specific forms of subordinated experience are not at hand to white male scholars on which to base their scholarship, nonetheless one usually has some fragment of such experience from which to build bridges to other groups' experiences of subordination. Furthermore, I think that the perspective of subordinated groups is likewise inherently partial-the experiences of white women, for example, do not mirror those of women of color. Consequently, the best scholars can hope for is to work together and to combine perspectives, each contributing to an improved picture of the social whole.... By "epistemology," I mean the theory of knowledge one applies in making scholarly or philosophical claims about the nature of reality, whether legal, social, or political reality, or an amalgam of these. I am concerned specifically with the claims one makes about law's relation to oppression. Conventional Western epistemology has posited an objectivist or representational relationship between the knower and reality; reality, it was claimed, could be mapped objectively onto our consciousness. Knowledge properly conceived must be abstract and perspectiveless; the knower must be a disembodied knower. From post-structuralist and linguistic critiques of conventional epistemology in the 1960s and 1970s have emerged new, postmodern or pragmatic feminist and critical race theory critiques of epistemology. These reject the objectivist, representational aspects of epistemology and posit in their place an embodied , contextualized, and experiential theory of knowledge. Knowledge is narrative. Perspectivelessness is now seen as an ideological move;1 knowledge properly conceived is (and can only be) concrete and perspectival. Our knowledge of oppression is augmented by including the perspective of embodiment and the subjective narratives of the oppressed.... It seems to me that if white male academics accept the feminist and critical race theory epistemological argument, they can learn about the perspectives of the oppressed from the oppressed themselves-the white male's privileged role in the formation of oppressed perspectives can be acknowledged-and in turn apply these perspectives on oppression to their scholarship in ways which improve its accuracy and usefulness.2 From "WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP: CRITICAL EPISTEMOLOGIES, EMBODIMENT, AND THE PRAXIS OF LEGAL SCHOLARSHIP ." Reprinted by permission of the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Inc. from the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, Vol. 7 No.1, pp. 1-36. Copyrighted Material 628 Peter Halewood This claim should not be mistaken for a defense of existing white male legal scholarship on oppression. And while it may seem like the same point about well-intentioned liberal scholarship made another way, I think it differs in crucial ways from an argument about intention. Many progressive men seem to think that the entire matter is answered by attitude or intention: that once they have adopted a feminist or anti-racist "stance" and proceed with good intention, then their analysis-corrective and objective-simply flows from their intentions. Such an argument is fundamentally flawed, both as an analytic point of departure and as a basis for conducting scholarship. I think that a very different approach must be taken. Adopting a "bottom-up" rather than the conventional "top-down" epistemological analysis means that white male scholars must engage in scholarship on oppression by "looking to the bottom"3-learning, by careful and respectful study, a perspective on the particular form of subordination one wishes to study from those who actually live that perspective rather than attempting to master it in the abstract. This means adopting a whole new theory of the relation of experience to knowledge , and rejecting the notion of "authoritative" interpretation. It means rejecting conventional models of mastery and expertise for something more partial. Above all it means restructuring one's understanding of objectivity, recognizing both the partiality of one's own perspective and the authenticity of the plurality of perspectives"from below ." This transformation entails adopting a different view of one's scholarly role; one should strive to become less the prevailing neutral expert (Kingsfield) or master theoretician (Kennedy)4 than an interpretivist, promoting the exploration of someone else's (duly attributed) perspective and insights in one...