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A sociological study of feminist approaches to biology.

Dumais, Lucie (1990) A sociological study of feminist approaches to biology. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This research aims to evaluate the attempts of Anglo-Saxon feminists to elaborate a new practice for the natural sciences. It focuses on biology, a discipline which extends beyond the realm of social science, and on which basis feminist critics have undertaken to reform the norms of scientific practice and to recast scientific epistemology. The central question of this research is: Is a feminist science of biology possible, both epistemologically and as a social practice. If so, what would it be like; and under what kind of practical conditions. The arguments of this thesis are developed in three steps. The first part consists of an analytical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the feminist critiques and suggestions to reform the scientific norms of biological research, including what many of them see as 'context-bound scientific canons' such as 'objectivity'. These criticisms thus range from theory choice to the very epistemological foundations of biology which are all conceived of as contributing to the development of spurious explanations of women's biology and behaviours. The second part investigates the contribution of sociologists of knowledge and philosophers, focusing more specifically on Habermas, Hesse, and Gellner. It aims at shedding light on the particularities of both the ontologies and social norms and values that distinguish the epistemologies of the social and natural sciences. It is believed that these aspects need to be discussed more fully in order to elicit the models of explanations used in biology and the criteria of validation that feminists could not dispense with in their projects of implementing the practice and knowledge produced by feminist biologists. The third part of the thesis analyses interviews of mainstream biologists and two case studies of practising feminist biologists. First, it shows the points of convergence and rupture between the norms of practice in conventional biology and in feminist biology. Secondly, it highlights the originality of the actual contribution that feminists have made in the domain of biology both sociologically and scientifically (i.e. epistemologically, methodologically, conceptually). Thirdly, it discerns the gaps and continuity between feminist theory and feminist practice of science. It also suggests, however, that the resistance of mainstream biologists to the feminist critiques and concrete projects of biology in the past decade remain partly political (i.e. hostility to feminism) and normative (i.e. according to institutionally acceptable scientific rules). For, while the idea of a feminist biology derives fruitfully some original conceptual tools and designs of enquiry from the social sciences (especially in the areas human biology and clinically-oriented research), one can as yet recognize that the epistemological conditions and methodological norms of production biological knowledge nevertheless constitute the shared framework of both feminist and mainstream researchers in most areas of biology. Hence, the shift of recent feminist critics of science (such as Harding and Longino), from an epistemologically-oriented critique of scientific knowledge to a critique in terms of theory building and ideological assumptions, may appear as more fruitful in the institutional legitimation and advent of concrete projects of feminist biology. (Abstract shortened by UMI.).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sociology, Theory and Methods
Sets: Collections > ProQuest Etheses

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