Learn To Unlearn To See
In her article « Situated Knowledges : The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perpective », Donna Haraway is questioning the traditional scientific approach that claims to be completely objective. A neutral standpoint whose main aim is to be « the truth ». However, she wonders to what extent is this constructed scientific knowledge really objective and detached from any other quest.
In this essay, Haraway will refute this traditional approach, stating that it is everything but neutral and that such false universalism hides complex power plays, based on reductionism and by keeping some voices shut. She then will presents, how a feminist approach to the science question could be developed through new visions, new ways of seeing; not from a detached eye but from a situated and physical body.
Also, in this post, I will start by comparing the traditional and omniscient vision to a more partial and situated one, the one defended by Haraway. I’ll try to explain why it applies to feminism. In a second part, I will present some ways of how this new approach could be applied in practice for a future application and insist on the importance of not creating a new dogma.
Partial vs. Relative & Total – Development of a New Vision
« Only partial perspective promises objective vision »
(Haraway, 1988, 583)
This omnipotent gaze, echoing the famous Orwell’s Big Brother or also Tolkien’s Sauron, that no one can escape as it is deprived from any corporality. This gaze looking from above, seeing everything and, more importantly, seeing truly. This theme of an universal eye has already been introduced in this blog, here. It was an article about the modernist movement and its close relationship to the eye from above. It was mainly due to the development of new technologies, especially aircraft. As a result, the view from above, detached from any context, any « social and political realms » (…) became the new norm. The view from the ground, thus through the body, became secondary. A new hierarchy was born, implying « I am above, I see, thus I know », placing the architect in an dominant position, god-like.
This detachment, physical as well as emotional, is interpreted in the scientific field as a proof of neutrality, thus truthfulness. This is a valid observation, not only for scientific knowledge, but also for any kind of specialized field, like art critique for instance, like Rendell states in the introduction of her book „Site Writing“
« […] tradition that the interpreter must be neutral or disinterested in the object, which he/she judges »
(Rendell, 2010, 5)
However, it is exactly this neutrality, this objectivity that Haraway contests in her article and she is not the only one as Amelia Jones also writes in her book « Performing the Body. Performing the Art » taking about any kind of specialist
« one who desires to identify particular meanings for particular, higly invested, reasons »
(Jones, 1999, 3)
As a matter of fact, science has always been a tool to power through history and a good way to assert one’s authority is to keep the voices of minorities shut. As a result one expert, mainly masculine, was to interpret the things he saw, detached and unrelated to them, and reduce them to a single meaning, writing it down and making it the truth. However, this pretended neutrality and universality has always been written in the masculine form (Frichot, 2016, 52).
As alternative to this global vision, Haraway offers the partial gaze, not the one that pretends to see everything from only one standing point and making it a generalization but the partial view of a « here and now » of one embodied eye
« Situated knowledges are about communities, not about isolated individuals. The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular »
(Haraway, 1988, 590)
« I am arguing for the view from a body, always a complex, contradictory,and structured body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplicity »
(Haraway, 1988, 589)
This situated knowledge, engaged in a context, in a body brings another important factor : responsibility. If you are detached, you cannot be reponsible. Everyone becomes responsible of interpreting. Interpretation and responsibilty are no passive actions, they necessitate the implications of the viewers, physical and emotional. Thus, it becomes important to find the « critical distance », the right middle between too far or too close. Suddenly, to accept a diversity, a difference is to accept that
« No meaning can be secured »
(Jones, 1999, 2)
This notion of fluidity, of constant change is a very important in the notion of the situated knowledges. However, as it has already be discussed here about creating a queer space, power does not accept this inconstancy as it is harder to have authority on it.
Everything is happening here and now, « the relationship between the construction of subjects and the politics of location » (Rendell, 2010, 2) cannot be ignored. There is not only one language/one truth/one vision and it is impossible to grasp everything from one standing point. The only way to create a better vision of the world is to assemble it from a constellation of partial sights.
« Objectivity cannot be about a fixed vision »
(Haraway, 1988, 588)
A New Vision – Tool for a critical interpretation
« To transform the way we look at, engage with, and comprehend »
(Jones, 1999, 8)
Now, that we have established that the universal vision is a myth, the question that comes is how we can actually learn to unlearn to see not to create new dogmas. As a matter of fact, change implies vision but this does not help us to know what change and with which vision.
« it is often hard to see or recognise when and where you are oppressed »
(Frichot, 2016, 8)
Not to fall back again into the tricks of an omniscient science, it is primordial to raise doubts,
to question everything that we take for granted and not to wait for ready-made answers. When everything has to change, there are no ready-made answers as the questions do not exist yet.
We have to stop to accept this hierarchy and allow each one of us dare to try, to seek, and more importantly to express. We have to get our voice back. Aslo, we should encourage
« productive lack of certitudes that would encourage new critical perspective »
(Jones, 1999, 4)
« Feminists have to insist on a better account of the world »
(Haraway, 1988, 579)
In order to do so, nothing can be considered as being the truth. We are no gods, we are constantly learning, trying, inventing new ways of doing. It is only by accepting our partiality that we will be able to englobe all, or as many as possible, visions to create new images, not based on dichotomy but on reasonance ((Haraway, 1988, 588).
As a final note, Amelia Jones invites us to
« a commitment to heterogeneity […] possibility of admitting ambivalence, confusion, and subversive diversities »
(Jones, 1999, 4)
Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”, Feminist Studies, vol. 14, no. 3 (Autumn 1988), 575–599
Hélène Frichot, How to Make Yourself a Feminist Design Power Tool (Baunach: Spurbuchverlag, 2016)
Amelia Jones and Andrew Stephenson (eds), “Introduction”, in: Performing the Body. Performing the Text (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 1–9
Jane Rendell, “Prologue: Pre-Positions”, in: Site-Writing. The Architecture of Art Criticism (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010), 1–20
Also, in one of our previous posts, the work of the Matrix Feminist Design Cooperative was presented. It is a good example of a feminist alternative in architecture practice. The article can be found here.