UpDate - Vol. 11, No. 3, Page 6
September 19, 1991
'Whose Science?': Sandra Harding's book nominated for award

     In her newest book, Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking
From Women's Lives, Sandra Harding, professor of philosophy and
director of the Women's Studies Interdisciplinary Program, examines
theories about how the sciences work and sets forth a well-grounded
case for recovering the alliance of science with projects to
advance democracy.
     Harding argues that, while Western sciences certainly have
helped to develop some part of society, they have simultaneously
helped to disempower others-such as many people of Third World
descent, women and the poor, both here and around the world.
     "We must learn to link the projects of the sciences more
firmly to the needs of all the world's peoples," she said, "not
just to the wishes of those who are already over-advantaged."
     A second theme in the book is that feminists must integrate
the perspectives of the other liberatory social movements even more
deeply into their own projects, and thus also become more capable
of making effective alliances with them.
     "Feminist science projects have borrowed from and made
contributions to anti-militarism, the ecology movement, anti-racist
and postcolonial struggles, and the health and workers movements,"
Harding said. "All of these groups say that there must be better
ways to gain empirical knowledge in order to make, in Galileo's
phrase, 'science for the people.'
     "But each group must learn to think from the perspective of
the lives of all of the humans whose interests they claim to
represent, and this is true of feminism, too. 'Thinking from
women's lives' means thinking from all women's lives."
     To advance these themes, the book is divided into three parts.
The first examines concerns about the natural sciences and analyzes
the resources feminist approaches bring to maximizing objectivity
as well as to democratizing the projects of these fields.
     In the second part of the book, Harding discusses traditional
and recent theories of knowledge. One kind of new theory argues
that everyone should start asking scientific questions from the
perspective of women's activities in order to gain a more critical
perspective on otherwise unquestioned assumptions, and she examines
the postmodernist challenges to such a subject.
     "If we start research from women's lives," she said, "we will
ask different questions, gather different data and end up with a
less partial and less distorted picture of the world.
     "This is not so radical as it may seem," she continued. "Even
the National Institutes of Health now recognizes that it is no
longer acceptable to exclude women from the experimental groups
used to test drugs that women, too, will take. They now say that
the day is over when they will permit women's health questions to
be regulated to only secondary importance."
     The third portion of the book, "Others," urges readers to
begin thinking about themselves, nature and social relations from
the standpoint of the lives of groups that have been marginalized
in Western thought.
     "If economically privileged people can learn to think from the
lives of the poor, and if white women can learn to think from the
lives of women of color-as at least a few have done-then men can
learn to think from the lives of women," Harding said. "Not to
think as male sexists," she added, "but to think original feminist
thoughts as men."
     Harding said she is encouraged by the growing number of
scientists and fans of science who want to talk about social
issues. She also hopes to see changes in science education.
     "We need to make sure everyone gets a good science
education,." she said. "As John Dewey pointed out, making democracy
means ensuring that those who bear the consequences of decisions
have a fair share in making them.
     "But people who aren't scientifically literate can't share in
making the decisions about science that will affect them, too."
     Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? has already been nominated for
a Los Angles Times Book Award in the science category. Harding's
l986 book, The Science Question in Feminism, won several awards,
including a Jessie Bernard Award from the American Sociological
Association. She also has edited four earlier collections of essays
on science and epistemology issues.
                                        - Beth Thomas