December 10, 2011
School of International Development
University of East Anglia
School of International Development (DEV) at UEA
• Introductions
• Workshop purposes
Development research priorities:
Poverty and wellbeing
Social justice and inequality
Environmental sustainability
Studying change
Disciplines, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary
Key terms
• Theories of knowledge
• Justificatory strategies
The knowledge required for a particular theoretical
The means of acquiring that knowledge – testimony,
observation and measurement, historical traces.
Social social science epistemologies
‘Evidence is there, in its primary form, not to disclose its
own meaning, but to be interrogated by minds trained in a
discipline of attentive disbelief’
(EP Thompson ‘The poverty of theory’)
Natural and social sciences and the extent to which
the observer and the observed are separated. ‘The
view from nowhere’.
Social science epistemologies must deal with the
influence of the subject on the object – and the
consequences of this for the process of knowing and
for the knowledge produced.
Objectivity, subjectivity, and bias
For social sciences, knowledge depends on understanding, and
regulating, the relationship between researcher and
• A source of ‘bias’ for economists… ‘measurement error’
• Important in how social social scientists understand the
research process and the character and reliability of research
The sociology of science:
• is a view from nowhere possible?
• is science value-free?
Thomas Kuhn and paradigm shifts:
• Paradigm shifts depend not on truth but on social
• Scientific knowledge is subjective.
• [aside] Competing paradigms are frequently
Amartya Sen and ‘positional objectivity’.
• ‘The nature of objectivity in epistemology, decision
theory, and ethics has to take adequate note of the
parametric dependence of observation and inference on
the position of the observer.’
• ‘What we can observe depends on our position vis-a-vis
the objects of observation. What we decide to believe is
influenced by what we observe. How we decide to act
relates to our beliefs’.
Identities of scientists:
• Gendered exclusions – unmarked
identities, interests and values
• Primatology (Donna Haraway)
• Brain and biology (Janet Sayers).
Social constructionism
• People always see the world through the lens of
their own values, experience etc.
• The post modernist end point.
• Critical realism - Roy Bhaskar. Socially
constructed perceptions of researchers exist
within a reality external to researchers. (Sayers,
Archer, Collier)
What constitutes knowledge in
social anthropology?
1. Anthropology is often seeking knowledge about meanings:
Geertz - culture is the webs of significance that humans spin for
themselves, and the analysis of culture is ‘not an experimental science in
search of law, but an interpretive one in search of meaning.’ (1973:5).
This focus on meaning, and how to grasp it across the cultural divides
between researchers and respondents, shapes much of what is
characteristic about how anthropologists think about what constitutes
reliable knowledge.
The project is a very different one to research which aims – through
statistical analysis to reliably describe how things are. Thus the criticism of
the absence of typicality in some of the methods of anthropology is wide of
the mark.
The telling rather than the typical
. Distinctive approach to inferences
Quantitative data include two kinds of inference:
a) enumerative induction – sampling theory and practices ensure that
the sample is representative of the wider population in terms of
population values
b) analytical induction – inference that the theoretical relationships
observed in the sample also hold for the population.
Inferences from case studies are based analytical induction.
Thus case studies need to be ‘telling’ rather than ‘typical’ (Clyde
Thick description
A thick description of a human behavior is
one that explains not just the behavior, but its
context as well, such that the behavior
becomes meaningful to an outsider.
• See Geertz on the wink
(1973 ‘Thick description: towards an
interpretive theory of culture’ page 6-7)
Ways of knowing: testimony and
Emic and etic derived from the linguistic terms terms
phomenic and phonetic
Proposed as a way to clarify the ‘objective’.
• emic – testimony given by a person within the culture,
and in terms meaningful to her.
• etic - description given by an observer, in terms that can
be applied to other cultures, attempting to be 'culturally
Linguistic anthropology of speech.
Erving Goffman distinguishes between
 the animator of the words,
 the author who establishes what is being said
 the principle whose interests drives the content
We also know that
 some people are more or less able, to or entitled, to speak than others
• there are many registers, styles and genres of speech – eg oratory, private
talk, etc.
• testimony is a cultural product – eloquence, directness, lying, metaphors,
silences – and cannot be taken as a direct expression of a personal ‘voice’.
Epistemological doubt over testimony as evidence
[Participant] observation
Malinowski, Trobriand Islanders, 1914.
• long-term work, language knowledge, and an openness to
experience and voices, rather than a pre-determined set of
• Knowledge from extended first hand experience through
fieldwork is a foundational epistemology in anthropology.
• Gluckman and the bridge
• Geertz and the cock fight
Rigour in anthropological knowledge
• Depth of knowledge
• Falsification
• ‘Evidence is there, in its primary form, not to disclose
its own meaning, but to be interrogated by minds
trained in a discipline of attentive disbelief’ (EP
Thompson The poverty of theory)
• Triangulation
see Robert Chambers
Feminist epistemologies
Politics and objectivity:
Feminist epistemologies – a pro-women stance.
Can an explicit social justice orientation strengthen research, rather than
constituting ‘bias’?
Feminist theorists argue for
• the value of tapping into the particular knowledges of women
• the importance of their inclusion to produce less distorted, truer, knowledge
• the compromised claims to objectivity of mainstream social science.
Eg sample surveys
• an equal chance of inclusion?
• an equal ability to ‘speak’?
• an equal ability to be understood?
Context and ‘strong objectivity’
“[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we
do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know.”
(Donald Rumsfeld ex- Sec State Defense)
Feminist critics argue that science lacks objectivity in the ways research questions are
arrived at, weighted and ranked, and supported.
Standpoint theory has a ‘strong’ objectivity compared to the ‘weak’ objectivity of science,
as it includes objectivity in the context of discovery.
Unconscious bias - double-blind, multi-centre, placebo controlled testing of drugs, are
used precisely to exclude the effects of values and biases, … make the point that
‘feminist empiricist epistemology …produces arguments of the same type as those
already accepted by our knowledge practices’ (2005:191).
Thus feminist epistemology is an explicitly political enterprise, but one that is justified by
epistemic values, such as reason and empirical adequacy, to which science `already
declares its allegiance.’ (Anderson 2005:192)
Researcher identities and reflexivity
Reflexivity - we are part of that order we research and as
researchers we create the reality we seek to describe.
Awareness of how data is influenced by respondent views
about the researcher, the research, the possible
consequences of particular responses and so on.
For example, Tixier y Vigil and Elsasser (1976).
Relevant to all development studies researchers.
Data is co-created.
Researcher subjectivities
The personal histories we take into encounters with others can be both enabling
and inhibiting.
Dialectical ‘tacking’ between local detail and larger structural
Neither imposition of researchers views on the subject of study nor abject
acceptance of the views of the researched.
Critical engagement of researcher as sceptical interpreter.
The legitimacy, in feminist epistemologies, of personal experience
Subjectivities and interdisciplinary research? the elemental knowledge-carrier is
the person, as individual researcher. ‘[P]ersons ferry knowledge about, drawing on
quite different aspects of their own biographies, in ways that might be quite
unpredictable’. (Strathern 2004: 25)
Other ways of knowing
Maternal thinking (Ruddick).
Rationality – empathy as expanded rationality
Emotional epistemologies
– Gloria Goodwin Raheja (1996) on women’s speech practices in rural north India.
‘Call me back quickly, mother/Beg with folded hands’
– I believe this to be true because my own life experience tells me so.
Disciplinary and political bridgeheads.
Admitting one’s own ‘knowing by feeling’.
Sen’s ‘reasoned scrutiny’ could admit knowing by feeling, as one
kind of knowledge to triangulate with others.
Testimony and power
Testimony – a primary way in which we come to know. A complex social
process. Attention to power.
Speech and silence…..
‘In the feminist practice of ‘reading’ silence, our caution must be neither
to pronounce definitively that ‘the subaltern cannot speak’ nor to
romanticise silence as the subaltern’s refusal to speak’ (Rajan
Feminist approaches to testimony
• differential abilities to ‘speak’ and to ‘hear’,
• reliance on direct speech alone, as evidence, is unwise,
• speech is not to be equated with power and silence with weakness.
Sen A (1993) Positional Objectivity Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 126-145
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Evens T and Handelman D (2008) The Manchester School: practice and ethnographic praxis in anthropology
Berghahn Books
Moore H and Sanders T (2006) Anthropology in theory: issues in epistemology Blackwell
Ellen R (1984) Ethnographic research: a guide to general conduct Academic Press
Jackson C (2006) ‘Feminism spoken here’ Development and Change 37(3) 525-527
Anderson E (2005) ‘Feminist epistemology: an interpretation and a defense’ in Cudd A and Andreasen R (eds)
Feminist Theory: a philosophical anthology Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp188-209
Harding S (2005) Rethinking standpoint epistemology: what is ‘strong objectivity’?’ in Cudd A and Andreasen R
(eds) Feminist Theory: a philosophical anthology Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 218-236
Rajan R (1993) Real and imagined women: gender, culture and postcolonialism London: Routledge
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Strathern M (2004) ‘Commons and borderlands. Working papers on Interdisciplinarity, Accountability and the
Flow of Knowledge’. Oxford: Sean Kingston Publishing
Wolf D (1996) ‘Situating feminist dilemmas in fieldwork’ in Wolf (ed) Feminist Dilemmas in Fieldwork Boulder,
Colorado: Westview Press, pp1-55
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Press pp1-19
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perspective Sociologia Ruralis XXXII, 367-388
Haraway D (1988) ‘Situated knowledges: the science question in feminism and the priviledge of partial
perspective’ Feminist Studies 14(3) 575-99
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politics Blackwell

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