Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000


Kate Bloor (2000) 'Feminist Analysis of Science and the Implications for Higher Education'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 1, <>

To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary

Received: 9/9/1999      Accepted: 30/5/2000      Published: 31/5/2000


Feminism(s) as practice(s) in the world of the women's movements have frequently either rejected science and scientific approaches or utilised scientific evidence in support of arguments, positions and campaigns. This has happened with some degree of contradiction. Problems of how feminist theory deals with questions about the nature and role of science and scientific techniques and information still remain. The debates that are taking place are complex, and have rarely been utilised or applied in the situation of how higher education might utilise them. This paper attempts to examine current philosophical and feminist ideas about the nature of science, to assess if it is possible to theorise about the possibility of a feminist science. Equally problematic is the application of these ideas to the context of higher education,and providing more women or feminist orientated educational practice. This paper draws links between theory about science, and issues in relation to the higher education curriculum. It argues the case that although this theorising may appear difficult to apply, there are several ways by which it may be used to guide thinking about how education courses may be structured in order to allow students to learn in ways that may not be as limited as previously. These debates are new, ongoing, and yet not fully explored and so this paper provides a position from where this might be explored, and therefore demonstrates some areas for further exploration.

Curriculum; Feminism; Higher Education; Philosophy Of Science; Science Teaching


Examination of the influence of the social context on science, its social construction, and historical and philosophical development have highlighted a number of issues. Feminist analysis of science, (although marginalised),has made an important contribution to these debates and is also informed by them.

The main aim of this essay is to make links between these issues and questions about how the curriculum could be organised in order to produce more appropriate and relevant transferable skills for the real world, bearing in mind that appropriateness and transferability of skills are constantly changing and dynamic. The main emphasis here will be on the intellectual pursuit of science and education, set in the general context of how women are, and could avoid being, excluded from science.

Some effort has been made recently to examine the process of doing scientific research, including critical analysis of its products or results (see, for example, Eichler, 1991). This work has made great progress in terms of understanding (in general) the limitations of science as it is currently practised. However, these efforts may have fallen short of fully developing the positive possibilities of using science in a more socially aware, socially useful or social beneficial way, in particular to reflect the needs of marginalised or excluded groups of people. This paper argues, that these debates may be useful in various ways in the development of teaching and learning, if certain lines of enquiry are pursued.

There will therefore be a focus on feminist understandings both of the social basis of the scientific production of knowledge, but also on the process of research itself, both of which have relevance to the kinds of ways that higher education might provide teaching and learning. In addition, this discussion will be set within the context of general changes in higher education, issues about the content of the curriculum, and advances and changes in attitudes methods of teaching, learning and training.

Underlying these debates are some important and difficult questions about the nature of science and non- science, the role and limitations of feminist theories in dealing with questions such as the nature of objectivity, subjectivity and strategies that might overcome what is considered to be patriarchal and masculinist perspectives and dominance in science practice. Whereas feminist philosophy and theory has made great strides towards solving some of these questions, there is also a very important tension and conflict in the relationship between idealism and practice, the practical and achievable on the one hand, and the philosophical issues on the other.

It may not always be exactly clear what the implications of a particular philosophical question or issue is, in relation to how science might progress to a more critical and useful science. 'Solutions' are not always provided (or forthcoming) in certain areas of feminist analysis, and (to a degree) this is in the nature of the approach, which can be highly influenced by theoretically idealistic thinking. At the same time, there is also another aspect to feminist analysis which, has often been grounded in real life issues and experiences, and therefore solutions to issues are also part of the practice of feminism(s). 'Solutions' can therefore (in the spirit of the philosophy, politics, etc.) be considered as temporary, and inadequate - subject to criticism and review or evaluation, such that new theory can inform and alter and challenge practices, and new experiences can challenge and contribute to the development of theory. The suggestions made about educational are therefore considered as exploratory, since this is still a very undeveloped area. The aim is to provide a platform for further work based on an understanding of the nature of the contribution of feminist philosophy of science to the questions about models for teaching science in higher education.

Women Outside of Science

The initial interest in science among early feminists, focused on how women and their lives were conceptualised, as well as the exclusion of them from the scientific world. An early example of such work is the article (Curren, 1980) Science Education, Did She Drop Out or Was She Pushed? (Brighton Women and Science Group). Attention was also paid to how early educational processes affected gender participation in higher education in different subjects including different areas of science, such as the tendency for women to be attracted to particular areas of science such as Biology. Some attention was also paid to how class roles also affected choices and opportunities in relation to subjects available to different types of children. Factors which influenced access to subjects included the actual exclusion of girls to science subjects; discrimination in testing of children with active bias of marking (boys given preference in testing limits); and sex- role stereotyping in the content in the curriculum, etc.

This early work, began to tackle some complex questions about the 'masculinist' nature of science, and how this influences choices in subjects, as well as the nature of the subject and women's and girls experiences of it. Girls and boys had different images of science, where girls considered that science was inhumane, abstract, impersonal and divorced from its social context, and therefore not attractive as a set of subjects. This was related to the fact that science is attributed to masculine roles and values, (objective, rational and impersonal). Access and participation were seen as the primary solution to 'masculinist' science, with less attention paid to the role and purpose of science, its content and focus, and its epistemological basis and nature. These questions were raised very briefly as problematic: women needed to understand science, so that it was not used against them, such that science should embody ideas of co-operation and sharing of knowledge, for the benefit of 'the community'. At the same time, it was acknowledged that by taking 'science' and simply 'adding girls or women' progress might be limited:

'But we must not lose sight of the fact that science is a male field and not only because it is dominated by men...Equal opportunity is not enough. We must have something much better in mind..' (Curren 1980, p. 41)

Additional difficulties with this early exploration is that it generalised about women and girls as if they were not differentiated via race, class, and a variety of other socio-economic dimensions, thus difference was absent in the analysis.

Rosser (1990) puts these debates in the general context of education systems that encourage disengagement, and disconnection between and within staff and students, such that learning experiences are not integrated, resulting in emotional/intellectual fragmentation which is especially alienating for women and girls (depersonalisation of knowledge).

What is still not clear, is what Curren's 'better' science, actually is. We still need to answer the question of how more women-orientated science might develop, and how cirricula might support such an exercise? Rosser (1990) provides one of the few existing analysis which attempts to answer these questions. 'Women's ways of knowing' are conceptualised as being different from men's, and therefore the demand is that male science should change to be more responsive to women's concerns and female approaches to problem-solving. Based on a logical exploration of difficulties with 'masculinist' science in relation to the research process (very similar to that provided by Eichler, 1991), she argues for the use of 'inclusionary' methods of teaching of science. This would be based on an awareness of the relationship between quantitative and qualitative data collection methods, including the use of several different methods at the same time, based on interactive and interdiscpliniary models spanning natural and social sciences (holistic hypotheses). Feminist science is therefore that which allows explanatory models which examine the complexity of multiple causality, which either avoid dualism's such as subjective/objective or consider both at the same time. The 'distance' between subject and object would be shortened, where interactions between the two are understood, and the quality of the information collected is greater and in more detail. More difficult, perhaps is the problem of removing 'bias' in the theories and concepts employed in science, given that it may not be so clear, how to effect multicausal, relational and interdependent theories (as opposed to hierarchical, reductionist and dualist). It could be argued that some of these 'elements' are not exclusively 'feminist' and can operate outside of a feminist agenda. The missing ingredient is the employment of feminist theory of sexuality, gender roles and relationships, language and culture, and so on, which allow the above activities of 'deconstruction' to take place in relation to the context and practice of research.

This tendency in feminist work was highlighted as problematic (Barr and Burke 1997) due to the fact that it essentialises women (as if differences were somehow determined by sex) as well obscuring important differences between them, raising the complex question of whether it is possible to identify 'women's ways of knowing' as distinctly different (and/or) better than men's ways of knowing.

Seventeen years later, feminist discussion was building on earlier debate looking in more detail at what constituted science. The entry and participation of women in science was seen to extend beyond simply that of 'being there [in science]', to challenge the nature of the scientific enterprise itself. Women's experience of science is seen to be different from men's, acquired informally, based on practice/common sense (of life and social roles) and related more to personal experience and practical/moral/ethical issues and problems (experiential learning). Although this is a convincing view it is also one which is theoretically explored rather than empirically based.

Science education would then have to become far less alienating to women and girls to allow better and full participation, acknowledging and building on different gender based 'ways of knowing'. Women, it is argued, may be able to develop more reflective, critical and complex views of scientific thought and logic. By default women would then have different learning styles from men, particularly in relation to science. This may be because they are placed in opposition and outside of it, due to its 'maculinist' nature. This ideal, however, is immensely difficult to operationalism, for a number of reasons. Firstly, as the authors point out, a focus on women's experience might reinforce existing social roles and not challenge them, and that science needs to include other perspectives not just gender (otherwise difference is not explored and women's oppression is given preference). Although the suggestion put forward, that progress could be made if boundaries between science and non-science could/should be challenged and broken down, by bringing science into social studies (or possibly vice versa). It is not exactly clear how this might work in practice. Equally complex, is the suggestion that this 'boundaryless-ness' might be achieved through changing the separation between science and communities (principally women's communities) where it is seen as part of 'citizenship education'. Specific proposals for these changes are left unexplored, requiring radical and substantial changes to the whole education system and its relationship with community education. At the same time it is still not exactly clear whether this would entail a different 'kind' of science and what form this might take.

Lane (1997) expands on some of these ideas in relation to the labour market and government educational policies. She suggests that the lack of representation of women in various areas of science, on councils and so on focused on science and technology, and throughout (and increasing so upwards) in the higher education system. The important conclusion from this work, was that very serious barriers and misunderstandings about the role of women and society, and the relationship with science, meant that suggestions about increasing participation were not considered relevant or were ignored. This included the suggestion that family-friendly policies such as tax relief on child-care should be introduced, raising important issues about the whole broader social context in which science education and policy are set. These suggestions raise a number of macro issues about women's relationship to work, home, education which are complex and provide a background to the context of science education policy and practice and places it in a social environment.

Feminist Critiques of Science

It can be argued that some feminism(s), both because of their different positions in relation to role of women (and men), and the interaction between gender and other forms of oppression, have been deeply ambivalent about science and technology. On the one hand, feminism has been heavily critical of the ways by which science (particularly medical science) has either exploited them (re-affirming social defined roles of women as natural carers and mothers) or failing to meet their needs including carrying out these roles (natural childbirth, IVF debates, etc.). Science is seen to somehow reflect completely patriarchal values and interests, but at other times be the absolute right of women, and the solution to their liberation and salvation (contraceptive and abortion rights debates are good examples). What is clear from this apparent contradiction is that many women (and feminists) believe that science really does have something to offer women, but at the same time (being controlled by men) is potentially and possibly inherently controlling and oppressive for women. The question then becomes how (and if) this oppressive 'element' to science can be identified and removed, making science more appropriate to the kinds of lifestyles choices that women wish to make. Contradictions on issues related to the practice of science runs through not only different feminist perspectives (radical, socialist, lesbian- feminist, black, liberal, environmental/eco, etc.) but between feminism and related movements that campaign and debate scientific endeavours from other perspectives.

Feminist philosophy of science therefore remains a relatively unexplored area of intellectual pursuit and endeavour, where further progress could be made in terms of historical and political analysis. However, what has been achieved has also been very revealing, primarily because it enters into the heart of the 'science as oppressive vs science as liberatory potential' dilemma, phrased in terms of the main question of what a feminist 'science' might actually look like. The dilemma, put simply, is as follows. If there is something inherently 'bad' for women about science, and we are able to remove or change this, then would science then become something else, would everything then be non- science and therefore relativist. This is the same as saying that science is so exclusively masculinist and patriarchal that to stop its oppressive potential it needs to become something else entirely, or could some elements of its 'scientificness' be retained. However, it may be that this is a question that can or should never be fully answered since it almost requires that kind of predition that cannot be made, and which might be detrimental and restricitve. It may that what we consider to be science (or non-science) may develop or change in some way that cannot at present be known. The question really then becomes, what are the conditions that we need in order that this may be facilitated, particularly in higher education.

Contributions have been made to some very interesting debates about feminist critiques of the process and practice of science and its impact on women's lives (such as reproductive technology, medical technology, the environment, bio- technology, etc.) (Maynard, 1997; Shiva and Moser, 1995; Birke et al, 1980; Harding, 1987; Jacobus et al, 1990; Fox Keller, 1996) from philosophers, whose main interest, by definition, is general epistemological questions rather than specific examples from history and practice. This divorce from real historical and contemporary examples, amongst this philosophical literature, has some limitations, since it makes feminism intellectually 'top-down' as opposed to 'bottom- up', with views from above rather than below, meaning from the perspective of women. Arguments in favour of the validity of women's views from below can be presented in a manner than then inadvertently excludes, them. The main contribution of these philosophical debates is in relation to the question of what might constitute a feminist science, and the possibilities of resolving the objectivist/subjectivist dilemma. Although the implications for education practice and policy may not be very clear, it is hope that these will be highlighted by feminist critiques of how science practice, through research, could progress, and how these ideas might be utilised in the context of education.

Maynard (1997) argues that despite, but not because of, the feminist critiques of science, there may well be some good reasons for embracing science and its underlying power structures to the benefit of women. The argument is principally a 'realist' one, that science and technology can and have made a difference to women's lives, which has not always been negative; that if necessary this could be redefined (parameters and content), in effect to be improved, such that science's true full potential for women could be realised. This would, however, take place in a context whereby the limitations of existing science were understood, such as the mechanisms by which women and women's perspectives were excluded, how women (or gender) as a topic could be included providing a critique, and also the inclusion of multiple and related perspectives relating to certain themes (race, class, colonialism, etc.).

Rose (1997) would be in partial agreement with this view. She argues from an broadly interactionist position that science is both shaped by, and shapes culture and society. In relation to women, attitudes, social roles and values, are reflected in the process and methods of scientific enquiry such that using elements of the traditional methods of science it is possible to expose the shortcomings of science (responsible rationality), based on an understanding of the interactions between belief systems and culture and science, such that we need to;

'..conceptualise both culture and nature as interacting together through time and space constituting both local and global ecosystems..' (Rose, 1997, p. 18)

However, questions remain as the extent to which science (as we know it) would need to be altered in order for this to be achieved, the extent to which we would be looking at rather different set of activities that we might then call 'science'. This problem, it is argued, relates to the difficulty of the exclusion of subjective reasoning in the context of objective arguments, or vice versa. Feminist perspectives arise out of a combination of theory, and the practical and other concerns of 'women's communities', and these principles can be applied to a huge variety of different issues in different ways. This does fundamentally challenge science, in its essence, but also as a social activity with social consequences. Feminist science cannot, by definition, be based wholly on subjective reasoning, or conversely, on objective reasoning, so how are two to be 'combined' together, when they are seen as being in opposition. As expressed by Fox Keller (1996);

'The ideology that asserts the opposition between male objectivity and female subjectivity, denies the possibility of mediation between the two.' (Fox Keller,1996, p. 32)

This dilemma is expressed by a variety of philosophers of science. Keller's general position is that it is possible to reconceptualise objectivity as a 'dialectical process' so as to allow for the possibility of objective effort, distinct from the 'objective illusion'. This is perhaps close to the idea that the ideals of objectivity can be pursued in a different manner such that social context (including values, interests, etc.) can be acknowledged and made part of the process. Different methods of science can be retained but put into a subjectivist context, however, it is not clear exactly which would be retained, and which revised, the debates move on from the 'why' questions to the 'how' questions.

Longino's (1996) view of the development of science examines the manner by which it is created through conflict, dissention and agreement via individuals interacting within communities, including scientific communities. The outcome of this view is that science can be altered and made more 'appropriate' to women's lives through four aims, in order to facilitate 'transformative criticism' of the form, content and practice of science. This post-Kuhnian view of science forces a split (disassociation) between the ideal of absolute truth and useful usable knowledge that is productive. Neither the 'context of justification' nor the 'context of discovery' can be entirely ignored from this social-embedded viewpoint. Conditions of political democracy and cognitive democracy combined to produce democratic science. This can be achieved by providing publicly recognised forums for the criticism of evidence, methods, assumptions, and reasoning; the tolerance of, and acceptance of dissent and consequent change; reviews of standards by which practices evaluated; and finally, communities characterised by equality of intellectual authority (equal access).

Haraway (1996), from a general post-modern perspective, argues that female objectivity is provided by 'vision' which re-heals and joins binary opposition such as mind/body, rational/irrational, hard/soft, etc. This vision is about 'limited location' and 'situated knowledge', presumably located and situated by time, place, space, but also possibly by culture, politics, history, philosophy, etc. The outcome of this view is that 'preferred positionings', those of communities that have historically been marginalised, provide critiques which ultimately improve science, and that this partial knowledge is in essence anti-relativist. Feminist objectivity is not that far from feminist subjectivity, and all are multidimensional, expressed as 'positioned rationality'.

Harding (1996) is in general agreement with this latter position, but emphasises methods to maximise objectivity on the grounds that traditional science practice is weak objectivity because it is orientated to some interests to the exclusion of others. Science is therefore not objective enough because it ignores the voices and perspectives of marginalised groups which must then be incorporated into new scientific practices to ensure that democracy advancing values can systematically generate less partial and distorted beliefs than others. This 'standpoint theorist' perspective requires that science starts from the position of particular communities lives, and the conceptual framework from a particular moment in those lives; that subjects are not dissociated from objects of study; that it is recognised that historic moments produce knowledge; and that subjects are multiple, heterogeneous and contradictory (as opposed to unitary, coherent and homogenous).

It is suggested that they need to operationalise 'standpoint theory' in some way. Although these ideas count as 'knowledge' in their own right it is also important to understand the implications for educational practice. We need to know how it is possible to encourage, through education, the development of 'positional rationality', 'situated knowledge' or maximal objectivity'.

Two possible avenues out of this dilemma might lie in the use and understanding of the term 'science', and also the ways in which the methods of different 'sciences' have been developed in order to accommodate more critical views. Both these views have a direct impact on educational practice, from the point of view of how science and non-science are separated (or not) in the curriculum or combined together, and how the relationships between different 'sciences' (and non-sciences) are dealt with in the curriculum.

Just as feminist theory varies but also shares understanding, methods, and perspectives, so do 'sciences'. The conceptualisation of science as one singular activity, driven by one single motivating logical force, may be misguided. It is possible that a variety of different 'sciences' which may differ more than they share, methods and perspectives. That may mean that in some areas, it is easier, to analyse and place women into the picture, than in others. Some academic disciplines, for example, lie in 'no-persons' land between science and non-science, either utilising methods of both, at the same (in apparent contradiction) or claiming support from both sides of the fence (e.g., economics, psychology, and to a more limited extent, biology). It may be more useful to think of science and non-science as two points on different ends of a continuum, with different sciences or disciplines lying in different 'places'. The 'place' a particular discipline would take, depends on the degree of multi-or interdispliniary content, but is also 'situated' in terms of time, place, history, etc. Towards the science end, the degree of potential 'objectivity' is restricted by that which is socially contextualised (such as choices of relevant research questions, the manner in which the results are utilised in a political context). At the other end, objectivity is even more restricted, such that there is maximum subjectivity, where the whole basis of enquiry is social constructed. It is therefore possible to talk about maximising objectivity or subjectivity (something akin to Harding's maximisation of objectivity) but never achieving 'pure' or 'perfect' objectivity.

Educational Practice, Feminist Science, and Teaching and Learning

Approaches to teaching and learning have already been changing due to the expansion of higher education, the abolition of the binary divide (mass education), and also changes within the new university sectors which have encouraged and supported these approaches. Other more general changes have included modular, semesterised systems of teaching (based on American models of education) where it is possible to pursue mixed arts-science programmes more easily, and combine subjects that hitherto had been deemed incompatible. The whole arena of education has altered considerably already, driven by a mixture of political, educational economic/industrial considerations, not all of which are/were compatible or easily operational. However, it can be said that there are movements towards new student- centred techniques such as interactive or distance learning, deep learning as opposed to surface learning, processual as opposed to outcome orientated assessment (including open exams, tests, projects etc.), resource based or problem-solving based learning, and so on.

The question therefore is whether these new approaches benefit either gender, and if a 'feminist science' (if such an approach is feasible) is facilitated by them. In other words, to what extent can these more interactive or self directed methods of learning, allow or facilitate 'situated knowledge', 'responsible rationality' or 'positional rationality'. A second question is how this might also relate to the content and form of the curriculum, both intra and inter-discipline, relating to the kinds of subjects and topics that could be included in compulsory courses or made available to students in joint-programme or options.

However, generally speaking, much greater attention has been paid to using more project orientated, problem- solving methods for the teaching of areas of science that were previously, taught by the old 'talk and chalk' methods. (Fillebrown, 1994; Gordon, 1995). This has now begun to include such interesting ideas as the use of group work, in the analysis of data with computers in statistical analysis. Although there is still only a limited amount of research to demonstrate exactly what the 'learning potential' of these techniques are, there is some evidence that students prefer it (Garfield, 1993; Keeler and Steinhorst, 1995). Not necessarily by design, but perhaps by necessity, teaching and learning has moved towards methods which may be in essence, woman orientated. Furthermore, the potential for developing both curricula and methods to support it, that allow feminist perspectives to develop are considerable. This is because problem-solving, resource- based, interactive learning, will be more likely to allow a variety of methods of enquiry that relate to students experiences of the real world. This may also be of real benefit to all students, as it allow the 'multiple perspectives' of 'partial rationality' to develop. It was suggested in an earlier discussion that women may prefer these types of approaches, are more happy with group orientated activities, are not competitive and encouraged and facilitate co-operation. It is also possible that the types of skills that this facilitates, may be more relevant both the real world experience of men and women, but also to the needs of employers. Some of these methods of teaching may allow marginalised groups to examine issues that relate to their interests/perspectives and engage with a more critical views, thereby developing more transferable skills that relate to real life problems. However, it is obviously important to recognise that not all these methods are easy to implement, that not all students will find them easy or helpful, and that certain groups of students may experience them differently according to a variety of social and educational differences between them. It is not even currently very clear if gender differences are apparent in relation to some of these specific teaching methods and learning styles. Ironically, it is difficult to 'prove' that particular types of teaching methods are 'better' from the point of view of specific learning outcomes. It may be, however, that the proof may come from students experiences of them.

The second main question asked was about how academic disciplines have and could develop such that 'multiple perspectives' and 'situated knowledge' could be facilitated. This raises two further questions about the possibilities for the nature of 'interdiscpliniary' curricula, and also the inclusion of social context of the research process within it.

Certain academic disciplines, as argue earlier, have their own intellectual development or educational 'history', in terms of the areas covered and the methods used to cover the content. In some cases certain academic disciplines have moved (to a greater or lesser degree) towards more socially-contextualised curricula, for a variety of reasons. Examples include medical science (medical sociology, epidemiology, health sciences, demography etc.). Thus in both cases changes can come from within the discipline, brought about principally by the progress and directions of academic development (and its history in the case of medical science) which identified the need for these more multidisciplinary approaches.

In general, the social context is slowly becoming recognised as important in the context of science education, but perhaps less so in the so-called 'pure sciences'. On the other hand, more recognition is being given to technical, and scientific skills in other areas. For example, compulsory courses in computing, research and statistics, are provided for nearly all social sciences students, and also for many arts and humanities students. This tendency may also be fuelled by the existence of new methods of learning which relate to perceived changes in working patterns and employers skills needs, such as new technology. In general, these changes require putting different boundaries together rather than taking boundaries away. The difficulties with this from an educational point of view is finding the balance between depth and breadth, variety and concentration, in the curriculum. This relates quite well to the 'situated knowledge' of Haraway (1996).

Multidisciplinary learning (meaning many disciplines at the same time) and interdisciplinary teaching (where disciplines and their intellectual, social, political and historical/philosophical boundaries and relationships are explored), are two possibilities.

The former is (at worst) contradictory, incoherent and possibly confusing for students, and at best creative, challenging and relevant. However, it does allow subjects to be understood in their own terms, but perhaps requires that contradictory subjects (such as philosophy and chemistry) are not integrated but studies alongside each other. The latter (interdisciplinary) approaches are (at worst) complex, overwhelming, and confusing for students, and yet possibly also creative, challenging and relevant. However, the potential for 'situated knowledge' is much greater, because to a certain extent this is started by exploring the relevance of subjects to/for each other, by providing material relating to questions that require knowledge from both areas (such as biology and policy or politics). In addition, to be truly situated, knowledge needs to be set in a historical, political, social (etc.) context, and this can only be achieved if the relationships between these areas are known. For example, organisational theory has a sociological and historical basis from the early work of Spencer through to contemporary work of people such as Burns and Stalker (Clegg and Dunkerley, 1980). A considerable amount of systems analysis (computing science) is based on organisational and management theory that has some clear relationships with social theory. Boundaries between most 'hard' sciences and so called subjective areas can be found, or developed.

Boundaries between subjects are not always as fixed and immutable as they seem. Separation between so-called science and non-science is artificial, and does not assist in achieving situated knowledge. Just because science and non-science are not separated does not mean that they are exactly the same. Situated knowledge therefore, does not necessarily in itself, require complete (but partial) re-definition of the nature of science, as long as the relationships are understood. However, the idea of situated knowledge, from the point of view of feminists, was closely related to the idea of access, participation and recognition of and from the position of marginalised and excluded groups. This latter aspects is the pivot point of the argument of Harding, Langino, Harraway, Rose, etc. The knowledge created by teaching and learning methods, therefore, needs to be more than just the 'situatedness' created by interdisciplinary curricula. It is also necessary to make sure, that within this, marginalised perspectives are included, supported, encouraged and 'situated' within the curriculum. It is in this latter sense that many courses of study have failed to provide equality of intellectual activity. The crux of these arguments lies in the nature and relationships of and between theory. Gender, as a topic, does, on its own, not make a subject feminist.

It is generally the case that very little work has tried to address the implications of feminist theory for the practice of science, and made links between this and educational practice. However, due to the more prolonged history of feminist thought and the attention it has paid to the process of research, some literature looks at this process and tries to assess how research can be made less 'bias' towards particular perspectives and interests, that did not include women's views.

The ground-breaking work of Eichler (1991) provided a very in-depth analysis of how research could be improved, and therefore ultimately taught to either scientists or social scienctists (ie non-science). Different types of problems were examined in relation to elements and stages in the research process, such as the component title, language used in research, the concepts employed, research designs, choices of data collection methods, the analysis and interpretation of data, and policy evaluations and recommendations. These problems included overgeneralisation (from one gender to another); overspecificity (generic terms used for sex-specific purposes); androcentricity (concepts expressing relational quality from the perspective of one sex only); double standards (concepts ascribes a different value to traits more commonly associated with one sex); sex appropriateness (concept based on the notion of sex appropriate behaviour or attributes); Familism (concept attributes individual properties to families of households); gender insensitivity and so on. Whereas this analysis provides a much clearer idea of what feminist science might look like, the application of these ideas in terms of teaching and learning is explored in detail by Rosser (1990). This latter analysis is based on an understanding of feminist methodologies in science very similar to the former, and generally calls for a student-centred and socially- embedded methods of teaching science, with attention paid to the structures of support available. This would include not only small problem- solving workshops, to make access to the logic, concepts and methods of science less intimidating, but also networking and special support groups for women. Accessibility of women to science is also seen in terms of the nature of the topics and how they are socially-contexualised, where topics which are considered as relevant, relate perhaps to personal experiences/issues that women have, and where the social benefits (or otherwise) are also explored at the same time. This approach would of course, demand that disciplinary boundaries were challenged.

Feminist theories of science differ to the extent to which they examine or engage with issues such as biological determinism, the nature/nurture debate, objectivity/subjectivity and the relationship between subject and object, the role of the family, relationships with labour market economies, and so on and so on. Equally important, feminist theory also differs in the manner with which it deals with sexuality, race, class, modernity, post-modernity, etc., and the relationships between these areas. Feminist theory, is complex, primarily because it has never recognised academic boundaries, has been by nature 'boundaryless' since gender relations can be said to be universal and therefore spread right across all academic disciplines.

It therefore could easily become a problem to introduce these areas, in an integrated manner, into an multi or interdiscpliniary context. In my mind, there are some easy solutions to this problem, and some less easy solutions, and at the same time these issues cannot be completely solved. There are always limitations to areas of academic study and endeavour. Therefore it is not necessary for all mathematicians to understand the whole of feminist thought since the beginning of pre - history, in order that they have an idea of the kinds of social issues that relate to certain types of research designs and analysis of results. What is required, perhaps for real world problems and issues, is that there is enough understanding (and respect) for feminist and related thought, that communication with people who do have this knowledge is seen as possible and desirable. The orientation of science teaching, in this sense, may not need to find the ultimately perfect 'feminist science' which philosophically we know cannot exist any more than pure and perfect 'science' can, but to allow interchange, communication, exchange between communities and people, and to provide the type of education, and sets of social structures that would allow and facilitate this. Education alone, cannot solve social problems. The exclusion of women (and men) from science is a social problem that lies in a complex political world, in which women are given certain prescribed roles.

The issues raised in this paper are complex, and this is partially created by a 'theoretical dislocation' of theory about teaching and learning, education policy and practice, and the feminist agenda on the nature of science. This paper has specifically addressed the last of these to see if it may make a valid contribution to questions in the other areas. The main question has been what (if anything) might a 'feminist science' look like and how could this be applied in a higher education context. Philosophical approaches have been used since the nature of science has been reformulated by these approaches. Feminist, or more accurately feminism(s) of science contain some element of agreement or common belief that science (as practised) does not meet societies critical needs, that all science is socially constructed and socially embedded and that the nature of science itself can be questioned.

The most useful concept in this literature is Haraway's 'positional rationality', and these ideas can be applied in the following manner. If knowledge is 'situated' by time, place, culture, etc, then different understandings of it will develop according to these dimensions, and also in different communities. Excluded communities may have a particular relationship with different academic disciplines. All knowledge can therefore said to be partial. Therefore good education is that which allows this 'partial knowledge' to develop further, and for its partiality to be understood. 'Positional rationality' is therefore that which is produced when excluded communities do have access to create their own knowledge from position, which may very likely be in opposition to other knowledge.

This could be provided in a curriculum system which allows the 'situatedness' of ideas, knowledge in academic work to be addressed. This might most easily be possible in a situation where the particular relationship between sciences, and social sciences, were demonstrated via interdiscipliniary teaching. This would need to allow both the examination of different subjects in on experience, but also the connections between the two to be demonstrated. An example would be how for instance biology and social science could be combined together with work that allowed the culture and biological basis of say, contraception, to be explored such that that relationship between the two were also explored, such as how biology can be seen as culture, for instance. The question of how science might alter in light of the kinds of challenges to it that have been provided by feminist philosophy, can be turned into a question about access. If the higher education system is such that it allows access to the development of knowledge that is equal, such that excluded and marginalised groups make an equal contribution, then the question of what science will look like will be solved, since it will be created and have some form. This form (or these forms) will also never remain static. Interdiscipliniary programmes, therefore would require a strong element of the 'situatedness' of the knowledge that is developed by those programmes. It would also require that marginalised viewpoints, were able to draw on that 'situatedness' utilising a variety of combined methodologies, on a subjective/objective continuum or map. These are such exciting, demanding and complex prospectives that we may need to address that complexity and meet those demands in further work that explores the kinds of models that might underlie these programmes of education and how this might fit in with issues about methods of teaching and learning.


BARR,J. and BURKE, L. (1997) 'Women, science and adult education: towards a feminist curriculum', in M Maynard Science and the construction of women. UCL, London.

BIRKE,L., FAULKNER W., BEST, S., JANSON- SMITH, D., and OVERFIELD, K . (editors) (1980), Alice through the microscope. Virago, London.

CLEGG, S. and DUNKERLEY, D. (1980) Organisation, class and control. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

CURREN, L. (1980) 'Science education: Did she drop out or was she pushed?', in L Birke, W Faulkner,S Best, D Janson-Smith, K Overfield (editors). Alice through the microscope:the power of science over women's lives. The Brigton Women and Science Group, Virago, London.

EICHLER, M. (1991) Non-sexist research methods. Routledge, London.

FILLEBROWN, S. (1994) 'Using projects in an elementary statistics course for non-science majors', Journal of Statistics Education, Vol.2, No.2, <http://www2.ncsu.e du/ncsu/pams/stat/info/jse>.

FOX KELLER, E. (1996) 'Feminism and science' in E Fox-Keller and HE Longino (editors) Feminism and science. OUP, Oxford.

GARFIELD, J. (1993), 'Teaching statistics using small group co-operative learning', Journal of Statistics Education, Vol.1, No.1, <http://www2.ncsu.e du/ncsu/pams/stat/info/jse>.

GORDON, S. (1995) 'A theoretical approach to understanding learners of statistics', Journal of Statistics Education, Vol.3,No.3, <http://www2.ncsu.e du/ncsu/pams/stat/info/jse>.

HARDING, S., O'BARR, J F. (editors) (1987) Sex and scientific inquiry. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

HARDING, S. (1996) 'Rethinking standpoint epistemology:what is strong objectivity?', in E Fox-Keller, and HE Longino (editors) Feminism and Science. OUP, London.

HARAWAY, D. (1996) 'Situated knowledges: the science question in feminism and the priviledge of partial perspective', in E Fox-Keller, and HE Longino (editors) Feminism and Science. OUP, Oxford.

JACOBUS, M., FOX KELLER, E. and SHUTTLEWORTH, S. (editors) (1990) Body politics: women and the discourse of Science. Routledge, London

KEELER,C M., STEINHORST, R K. (1995) 'Using small groups to promote active learning in the indtroductory statistics course: a report from the field', Journal of Statistics Education, Vol.3, No.2, < /ncsu/pams/stat/info/jse>.

LANE, N J. (1997) 'Women in science, technology and engineering', in M Maynard (editor) Science and the construction of women. UCL,London.

LONGINO, H E. (1996) 'Subjects, power, and knowledge: description and prescription in feminist philosphies of science', in E Fox-Keller, H E Longino (editors) 'Feminism and science'. OUP, Oxford.

MAYNARD, M. (1997) 'Science and the construction of women' in M Maynard (editor) 'Science and the construction of women'. UCL, London.

ROSE, H. (1997) 'Goodbye truth, hello trust: prospects for feminist science and technology studies at the Millenium' in M Maynard (editor) Science and the construction of women. UCL, London.

ROSSER, S V. (1990) Female Friendly Science: Applying Women's Studies Methods and Theories to Attract Science. Routledge, London.

SHIVA, V and MOSER, I (editors) (1995) Biopolitics: a feminist and ecological reader on biotechnology. Zed Pergammon Press, Oxford.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000