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Situated Knowledge instead of Presumed Neutrality

From their beginnings, both Women’s/Gender Studies and Postcolonial Studies have had critical perspectives on the dominant conceptions of scholarship and its epistemological underpinnings. One aspect is the role of academics in the process of knowledge production, for example their relationship to the object(s) of investigation.

“Knowledge from the point of view of the unmarked is truly fantastic, distorted, and irrational.” (Haraway, 1991, p. 587)

The insistence on neutrality in research, as in the findings’ independence from the researchers, has been widely questioned. For instance, Women’s Studies scholars have shown that an ostensibly neutral and universal perspective in fact often exhibits a gender bias. Such androcentrism, which implicitly takes masculinity as the norm, is one reason that literary studies entirely failed to recognize as literature certain genres such as personal letters and diaries, for example. It took a discussion about writers’ production conditions and the standards of evaluating their work in order to create a new perspective on who has been included in and excluded from the literary canon. Postcolonial Studies has shown that knowledge presented as universal is often Eurocentric and not, indeed, neutral. Some of the critiques have argued that political science research about non-Western countries often unthinkingly copies models and standards from European or North American countries. This is especially evident when it comes to topics and concepts such as democracy, progress, and development.

When knowledge production and research findings are regarded as fundamentally situated, the underlying power relations and epistemic violence are brought into focus: Who is speaking? Who is heard? Whose questions, concerns, problems, and needs do scholars notice and take seriously? What methods are used to collect and analyze which data?

When treating gender and diversity as content for teaching and learning, the insights of situated knowledge reveal the necessity of deconstructing knowledge production in politically critical, intersectional terms as part of research and teaching. More on this under Academic Critique of One’s Discipline.


Castro Varela, María do Mar, und Nikita Dhawan. 2015. Postkoloniale Theorie: Eine kritische Einführung. Bielefeld: Transcript-Verlag.

Haraway, Donna."Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective." Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3. (Autumn, 1988), pp. 575-599.

Ziai, Aram. 2016. Postkoloniale Politikwissenschaft. Bielefeld: transcript-Verlag.

Ziai, Aram. 2011. Die Peripherie in den Sozialwissenschaften. In Politik und Peripherie. Eine politikwissenschaftliche Einführung. Atac, Ilker u.a. (Hrsg.).24-38. Wien: Mandelbaum.

Version April 2017. Unless otherwise stated, this content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.