What is “Standpoint”?


Where are you coming from in this world? Where are you at in this world? Where does your voice come from in this world? What is your location within humanity? Where does your life connect with the past, with our shared history? What is your sense of place within this world? What do you identify with in this world? What do you resist against within this world? What are you supporting and nurturing within this world? How do you experience yourself through others? What messages does your voice send out into the world? What messages does the world send back to you?

Maybe the best place to start with “What is ‘standpoint’?” is the acknowledgement of the multitude of standpoints on standpoint theory. In other words, standpoint theory is better framed as “standpoint theories.” It is critical to understand that “standpoint” is not merely one’s perspective, because this would be a fundamental misunderstanding of the true depth of standpoint’s meaning.

In Why Standpoint MattersAlison Wylie begins to frame standpoint theory with the following:

Standpoint theory is an explicitly political as well as social epistemology. Its central motivating insight is an inversion thesis: those who are subject to structures of domination that systematically marginalize and oppress them may, in fact, be epistemically privileged in some crucial respects. They may know different things, or know some things better than those who are comparatively privileged (socially, politically), by virtue of what they typically experience and how they understand their experience…. Moreover, it offers a framework for understanding how, far from compromising epistemic integrity, certain kinds of diversity (cultural, racial, gender) may significantly enrich scientific inquiry, a matter of urgent practical and political as well as philosophical concern. (p.339)

With this noted, one can view standpoint as a way of knowing, seeing, and experiencing the world; one’s standpoint can be seen as a sociopolitical place where one’s voice comes from. Does standpoint theory claim that all oppressed peoples necessarily have a more valid understanding upon the world’s humanly constructed events? Assuming this epistemological advantage is true is in some sort of universal way is a misunderstanding of what standpoint is and is not. Wylie notes two points that help with understanding what standpoint theory is not. Standpoint theory is not based on some type of “essentialist definition of the social categories or collectivities in terms of which epistemically relevant standpoints are characterized” (p. 341). This error would come from a fundamental disconnection from the constructed nature of race and the tendency of viewing “others” as being much more homogeneous than they truly are. In other words, race is a social construct (see American Anthropological Association’s Statement on Race) and out-groups (“others”) are commonly misunderstood by not realizing how much diversity actually exists within racial and social groupings. With respect to a second misperception of standpoint theory, Wylie notes that standpoint theory “must not be aligned with a thesis of automatic epistemic privilege; standpoint theorist cannot claim that those who occupy particular standpoints (usually subdominant, oppressed, marginal standpoints) automatically know more, or know better, by virtue of their social, political location” (p. 341). One way to understand standpoint is to see it as something that is earned, and not necessarily granted by one’s particular social position; standpoint is much more than one’s social position or one’s perspective.

Another critical element of understanding what standpoint really means is to acknowledge that one’s place within the world is an ongoing creative process. In other words, one’s standpoint is not a “fixed” location that is somehow unchanging in a constantly changing world. The newly emerging view on the universe and all existence is one that see everything as an ongoing creative process. A particular standpoint only exists within a particular space and time, and should be viewed as a flexible and malleable place of existence in this world.

In recognition of the power of words and a desire to be inclusive, this project’s name was chosen to reflect that “standpoint” does not include all members of humanity. The very term “standpoint” can be viewed as ableist language – one who is biased by their own abilities – that is insensitive to the diversity of abilities within humanity. In other words, not every body is able to stand, and they should not be made to feel inferior because of their particular body’s form or physical abilities. With this noted, this project has chosen to use the word “place” instead of standpoint, because no matter what one’s physical form or abilities may be they certainly have a valid place in this world.

What’s your place in this world?

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