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What Is in It for Me? The Benefits of Diversity in Scientific Communities

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Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science

Abstract

I investigate the reciprocal relationship between social accounts of knowledge production and efforts to increase the representation of women and some minorities in the academy. In particular, I consider the extent to which feminist social epistemologies such as Helen Longino’s critical contextual empiricism can be employed to argue that it is in researchers’ epistemic interest to take active steps to increase gender diversity. As it stands, critical contextual empiricism does not provide enough resources to succeed at this task. However, considering this view through an employment equity lens highlights areas where such theories need to be further developed. I argue that views such as Longino’s ought to attend to nuances of community structure and cultural features that inhibit critical social interactions, if we are to maximize the epistemic as well as the ethical improvements associated with a social approach to knowing. These developments advance these epistemic theories for their own sake. They also help develop these theories into a tool that can be used by those calling for increased diversity in the academy.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In this paper I am primarily focusing on gender diversity. By doing so it is not my intention to minimize the epistemological and ethical concerns relating to the underrepresentation of members of other marginalized groups.

  2. 2.

    I refer the reader to the following excellent sources of data on the representation of women and minorities in STEM and the academy more generally, and for summaries of social science research that shed light on the causes of these inequities: West and Curtis (2006), The National Academy of Sciences (2007), Wylie et al. (2007) and Xie and Shauman (2003).

  3. 3.

    See Wylie (this volume) for a similar strategic use and development of standpoint theory.

  4. 4.

    Longino is also sensitive to the fact that people have differences in training and ability that may grant them a cognitively privileged position in communities, but that does not impact the respect that ought to be shared among community members.

  5. 5.

    Solomon and Richardson (2005) and Solomon (2006) also argue that Longino’s conception of ideal epistemic communities is problematic. Solomon and Richardson argue that we lack historical and contemporary cases of scientific practice that meets these ideals; as a result we lack evidence that following them will lead to better science. Solomon (2006) argues that group deliberative processes can be influenced by biasing mechanisms associated with groupthink that are not transparent to members of groups and that her aggregative procedures lead to better epistemic outcomes than rational deliberative procedures such as Longino’s. However see Wylie (2006) for arguments that Solomon’s aggregative procedures as well as Longino’s deliberative procedures are subject to implicit cognitive errors associated with gender schemas. I argue that views such as Longino’s ought to attend to nuances of community dynamics and cultural features that inhibit critical social interactions, if we are to maximize the epistemic as well as the ethical improvements associated with a social approach to knowing.

  6. 6.

    This pattern can be especially prevalent with regard to institutional service work performed by women faculty (Bird et al. 2004) and faculty of color (Monture-Okanee 1995; Baez 2000).

  7. 7.

    Thanks to Heidi Grasswick for making this point.

  8. 8.

    Thanks to Sandy Gahn for suggesting the name ‘diversity development’.

  9. 9.

    I address situational and epistemic diversity in Fehr (2007).

  10. 10.

    Table 6 shows data ranging from 1997 to 2000. Although there is variation among these years, in all cases low numbers of women, isolation and lack of credibility and respect are identified as significant challenges facing women scientists.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Heidi Grasswick for generous help with various drafts of this paper and for unflagging professional and personal support. Warm thanks also to Sharon Bird, Sandra Gahn, Margaret Holmgren, Katie Plaisance, Anastasia Prokos, Diane Price-Herndl, Dave Saldana, Kate Padgett Walsh, Brad Wray, Alison Wylie and audiences in the philosophy departments at Duke University, Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0450821. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Carla Fehr .

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Fehr, C. (2011). What Is in It for Me? The Benefits of Diversity in Scientific Communities. In: Grasswick, H. (eds) Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-6835-5_7

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