- Reconstructing Science and Technology StudiesViews from Feminist Standpoint Theory
Like feminist studies, science and technology studies (STS) emerged from the crucible of social protest. Both arose from the democratic social movements of the 1960s. Proponents of the field that consolidated as interdisciplinary STS took science and technology as objects of political critique from the anthropological, historical, philosophical, and sociological perspectives out of which STS emerged. The analysis of scientific practices, technologies, and the sociotechnical outcomes and effects of science and technology became the basis of knowledge practices in the field.1 The legacy of this activist history is not unlike the construction of women’s and gender studies as the “academic arm” of the women’s movement. STS and feminist thought converge at several points, particularly in the project to grapple with social inequality and the desire to contribute scholarly support to movements for social and environmental justice. Shared goals include enabling more egalitarian practices in technoscientific fields themselves; redistributing social goods; pointing out the wrongs that result from not doing so; and rendering research and development (R&D) enterprises more dependable allies in struggles for social justice.
Despite overlaps, however, STS and feminist studies inhabit different conceptual and political universes. Working both domains invites a profound fear that one will prove irrelevant or epiphenomenal to the other. This article spells out how these two epistemologically and politically related enunciative communities2 are relevant to expanding the discursive universes of each. The goals of STS cannot be met without deeper-seated incorporation of feminist insights regarding standpoint epistemology as a research methodology, and further reflection on the specificity and multiplicity of social standpoints from which research might be generatively directed. Nor can feminist theory or gender studies afford to ignore allies in STS, who are helpful for avoiding the pitfalls of under-analysis of technoscience and social relations configured [End Page 1] in and through science and technology. A feminist analysis of social configuration is highly consequential for science done and undone, research questions asked and unasked, and technologies developed and undeveloped.
“Undone Science”: The Reconstructivist Agenda in Science and Technology Studies
“Science and technology are socially constructed” is the central tenet of the anthropological, historical, and sociological imaginaries from which STS flows. If even science, technology, and knowledge are socially and culturally constructed, so the logic goes, then they could be reconstructed otherwise. The mutually co-constituted character of bodies, the sciences that claim to make sense of them, and the technologies that act upon and within them are shown to be social (and thus mutable) rather than “natural,” “innate,” or “essential.” Pervasive throughout STS runs an anti-essentialist acknowledgement that science and technology are culturally embedded, symbolically meaningful, and shaped by specific social forces and cultural imperatives. Now encompassing a vast literature documenting the social construction of everything from obviously gendered technologies such as contraceptives and new reproductive technologies to those less obviously but clearly uneven in their gendered effects such as bicycles, laboratories, or microwave ovens, the field has gone well beyond its initial insight into social construction.3 Some scholars in this field rely on the metaphor of “‘shaping,’ rather than the more popular ‘social construction,’ in part because the latter is too prone to the misconception that there was nothing real and obdurate about what was constructed.”4
To focus attention on social inequality, feminists tend to emphasize that social construction is real in its material effects: “In developing a theory of the gendered character of technology, we are inevitably in danger of either adopting an essentialist position that sees technology as inherently patriarchal, or losing sight of the structure of gender relations through an emphasis on the historical variability of the categories of ‘women’ and ‘technology.’”5 Within STS, science and medicine comprise a “domain in which a host of political problems can get worked out—the nature of social justice, the limits and possibilities of citizenship, and the meanings of equality and difference at the biological as well as social levels.”6 Academic constructions of bodily difference and group difference, as well as those that activists put into play, are debated with nearly the same intensity in...