Introduction to Feminist Urban Studies

3. What are feminist philosophies of knowledge?

There are three dimensions to any philosophy of knowledge.

  What is this? What are the characteristics of a feminist perspective?
  • A study of what exists. A theory of existence – what can be known; the nature of being, a concern with the basic structure of reality.
  • A primary goal of ontological inquiry is to provide as complete and encompassing an account of the broad nature and structure of reality as possible.
  • Hierarchies of power get mapped onto categories eg. men v women; people v. animals.

  • An anti-essentialist, anti-hierarchical, relational and social ontology.
  • Open to revising categories, such as “women”.
  • For example, what defines women as an oppressed group is our embodiment and bodily connections. Ecofeminism looks at oppression of women and of nature.

  • A theory of knowledge – how can we know?
  • Who can be a knower? The means by which beliefs and information are given the status of knowledge.
  • Rules on what constitute valid knowledge (valid knowledge = knowledge that represents reality)
  • The ways in which gender influences our concept of knowledge.
  • Epistemology has been a central focus of feminist theory.

  • Early feminist research challenged masculinist knowledge production. Instead of scientific approaches that were seen as objective and seeking the truth they were replaced with ideas of all knowledge as situated knowledge and only able to reveal partial truths.
  • No specific method is feminist per se (although qualitative research has been seen as the feminist paradigm) . It was the epistemological stance taken towards the methods that is important for feminist research.
  • Challenges male dominance.
  • Is pro women.
  • Listens to women’s voices and makes women’s lives visible.
  • Exposes gender inequalities and also deconstructed the category of gender and how it interacts with race, class, sexuality, nation etcetera.
  • Based on social justice
  • Committed to dialogic, pedagogic, and political practice: anti-oppression, anti-racist, queer, postcolonial, transgender, and ecofeminist theory and politics.

  • The principles and procedures of inquiry in particular fields of study – how we do research.
  • Complexity of power relations.
  • Ethical issues of power and accountability.
  • Issues of identities and representation.
  • Reflexivity and positionality – the impossibility of transparency.
  • The embodied nature of the field.
  • Emotional entanglements.
  • Collaborative approaches to knowledge production and alternative writing strategies.



What are the politics of feminist research?

 Coming out of the feminist philosophies of knowledge feminist scholarship has evolved a number of political commitments and understandings, including:

  • Openness to multiple ontologies and epistemologies and of pluriversal worlds.
  • Changing ourselves.
  • Changing institutional structures.
  • Acknowledgement of the messy nature of empowerment – that there is no guarantee of emancipatory outcomes.
  • Privileging of storytelling.
  • Working across difference, for example, through collaborations across different social and geographical locations.