On the Possibility of Feminist Philosophy of Physics

  • Maralee HarrellEmail author
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science book series (BSPS, volume 317)


The dynamic nature of physics cannot be captured through an exclusive focus on the static mathematical formulations of physical theories. Instead, we can more fruitfully think of physics as a set of distinctively social, cognitive, and theoretical/methodological practices. An emphasis on practice has been one of the most notable aspects of the recent “naturalistic turn” in general philosophy of science, in no small part due to the arguments of many feminist philosophers of science. A major project of feminist philosophy of physics has been to shine a critical light on the social and cognitive practices in physics, and how those ultimately influence other aspects of the science. Here we argue that traditional philosophy of physics has focused exclusively on the theoretical/methodological practices of physics, and that feminist philosophy of physics seeks to broaden the focus to include the social and cognitive practices as well.


Physics Feminist philosophy Women Masculinity Female nature War Cognitive practice Knowledge construction Objectivity 



I would like to thank David Danks for extensive comments on earlier drafts.


  1. Albert, D. Z. (2000). Time and chance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Albert, D., & Loewer, B. (1988). Interpreting the many worlds interpretation. Synthese, 77(2), 195–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Auchincloss, P. (1998). Physics and feminism. APS News, 7(5), 8.Google Scholar
  4. Barad, K. (1995). A feminist approach to teaching quantum physics. In S. V. Rosser (Ed.), Teaching the majority (Vol. 20, pp. 369–375). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  5. Barad, K. (1996). Meeting the universe halfway: Realism and social constructivism without contradiction. In L. H. Nelson & J. Nelson (Eds.), Feminism, science, and the philosophy of science (pp. 161–194). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barad, K. (1999). Agential realism: Feminist interventions in understanding scientific practices. In M. Biagioli (Ed.), The science studies reader (pp. 1–11). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bohm, D. (1952). A suggested interpretation of the quantum theory in terms of “hidden” variables, I and II. Physical Review, 85(2), 166–179, 180–193.Google Scholar
  9. Bub, J., & Clifton, R. (1996). A uniqueness theorem for “no collapse” interpretations of quantum mechanics. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 27(2), 181–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bub, J., Clifton, R., & Goldstein, S. (2000). Revised proof of the uniqueness theorem for “no collapse” interpretations of quantum mechanics. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 31(1), 95–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bug, A. (2000). Gender and physical science: A hard look at a hard science. In J. Bart (Ed.), Women succeeding in the sciences: Theories and practices across disciplines (pp. 221–244). West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cassirer, E. (1957). Substance and function and Einstein’s theory of relativity. New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  13. Commission, European. (2006). She figures 2006. Luxembourg: OPOCE.Google Scholar
  14. Correll, S. J. (2001). Gender and the career choice process. American Journal of Sociology, 106(6), 1691–1730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Correll, S. J. (2004). Constraints into preference. American Sociological Review, 69(1), 93–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cushing, J. T. (1994). Quantum mechanics: Historical contingency and the Copenhagen hegemony. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  17. Danielsson, A. T. (2009). Doing physics—doing gender. Uppsala: University Printers.Google Scholar
  18. Danielsson, A. T. (2010). Gender in physics education research: A review and a look forward. In M. Blomqvist & E. Ehnsmyr (Eds.), Never mind the gap! (pp. 65–83). Uppsala: University Printers.Google Scholar
  19. Dyson, F. (1984). Weapons and hope. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  20. Earman, J. (1995). Bangs, crunches, whimpers, and shrieks. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Earman, J., & Glymour, C. (1980a). Relativity and eclipses: The British eclipse expeditions of 1919 and their predecessors. Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 11(1), 49–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Earman, J., & Glymour, C. (1980b). The gravitational red shift as a test of general relativity. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 11(3), 175–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Earman, J., Smeenk, C., & Wuthrich, C. (2009). Do the laws of physics forbid the operation of time machines? Synthese, 169(1), 91–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Easlea, B. (1986). The masculine image of science with special reference to physics: How much does gender really matter? In J. Harding (Ed.), Perspectives on gender and science (pp. 132–158). New York: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  25. Easlea, B. (1987). Fathering the unthinkable: Masculinity, scientists and the nuclear arms race. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  26. Easlea, B. (2002). Patriarchy, scientists, and nuclear warriors. In J. A. Kourany (Ed.), The gender of science (pp. 98–112). New York: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  27. Ecklund, E. H., Lincoln, A. E., & Tansey, C. (2012). Gender segregation in elite academic science. Gender and Society, 26(5), 693–717.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ehrenfest, P., & Ehrenfest, T. (1959). The conceptual foundations of the statistical approach in mechanics. New York: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Everett, H. (1957). “Relative state” formulation of quantum mechanics. Reviews of Modern Physics, 29(3), 454–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Feynman, R. (1965). The character of physical law. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  31. Fiorentine, R., & Cole, S. (1992). Why fewer women become physicians. Sociological Forum, 7(3), 469–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Foschi, M. (2000). Double standards for competence. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 21–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Friedman, M. (1986). Foundations of space-time theories: Relativistic physics and philosophy of science. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Goldberg, P. (1968). Are women prejudiced against women? Trans-Action, 5(5), 28–30.Google Scholar
  35. Griffiths, R. B. (2002). Consistent quantum theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Griffiths, D. J. (2004). Introduction to quantum mechanics (2nd ed.). New York: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  37. Haraway, D. (1990). Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  38. Harding, S. (1986). The science question in feminism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Harding, S. (1991). Whose science? Whose knowledge?. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Hasse, C. (2002). Gender diversity in play with physics: The problem of premises for participation in activities. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 9(4), 250–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Heilman, M. E., Wallen, A. S., Fuchs, D., & Tamkins, M. M. (2004). Penalties for success. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(3), 416–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Heinsohn, D. (2000). Thermodynamik und Geschlechterdynamik um 1900. Feministische Studien, 18(1), 52–68.Google Scholar
  43. Holland, J. (2006). Die Zeit der Indifferenz. Johann Wilhelm Ritter und die Weiblichkeit. In S. Nieberle & E. Strowick (Eds.), Narration und Geschlecht (pp. 335–347). Cologne: Bölhau.Google Scholar
  44. Jammer, M. (1966). The conceptual development of quantum mechanics. New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  45. Jantzen, B. (2011). An awkward symmetry: The tension between particle ontologies and permutation invariance. Philosophy of Science, 78(1), 39–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kahle, J. B. (1987). Images of science: The physicist and the cowboy. In B. J. Fraser & G. J. Giddings (Eds.), Gender issues in science education. Perth: Curtin University of Technology.Google Scholar
  47. Keller, E. F. (1985). Reflections on gender and science. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Kitcher, P. (2001). Science, truth, and democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Lewontin, R. (1980). “Honest Jim” Watson’s big thriller about DNA. In G. S. Stent (Ed.), James D. Watson, the double helix: A personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA (p. 186). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  51. Longino, H. E. (1990). Science as social knowledge. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Malament, D. (1977). Causal theories of time and the conventionality of simultaneity. Nous, 11(3), 293–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Manchak, J. B. (2009). On the existence of “time machines” in general relativity. Philosophy of Science, 76(5), 1020–1026.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Maudlin, T. (2011). Quantum non-locality and relativity (3rd ed.). Malden, MA: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Megaw, W. J. (1992). Gender distribution in the world’s physics departments. Physics in Canada, 48(1), 25–28.Google Scholar
  56. Merchant, C. (1982). Isis’ consciousness raised. Isis, 73(3), 398–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mermin, N. D. (1998). The Ithaca interpretation of quantum mechanics. Pramana, 51(5), 549–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Merton, R. K. (1957). Priorities in scientific discovery. American Sociological Review, 22(6), 635–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Messiah, A. (1999). Quantum mechanics. New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  60. Murdoch, D. (1987). Niels Bohr’s philosophy of physics. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Norton, J. D. (2011). History of science and the material theory of induction. European Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 1(1), 3–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Omnes, R. (1999). Understanding quantum mechanics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Paludi, M. A., & Strayer, L. A. (1985). What’s in an author’s name? Sex Roles, 12(3), 353–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Potter, E. (1993). Gender and epistemic negotiation. In L. Alcoff & E. Potter (Eds.), Feminist epistemologies (pp. 161–186). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  65. Potter, E. (2001). Gender and Boyle’s law of gases. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Reichenbach, H. (1958). The philosophy of space and time. New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  67. Rolin, K. (1999). Can gender ideologies influence the practice of the physical sciences? Perspectives on Science, 7(4), 510–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rolin, K. (2008). Gender and physics: Feminist philosophy and science education. Science and Education, 17(10), 1111–1125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rovelli, C. (1996). Relational quantum mechanics. International Journal of Theoretical Physics, 35(8), 1637–1678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sakurai, J. J. (1994). Modern quantum mechanics. New York: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  71. Sarkar, S., & Stachel, J. (1999). Did Malament prove the non-conventionality of simultaneity in the special theory of relativity? Philosophy of Science, 66(2), 208–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Schiebinger, L. (2008). Getting more women into science and engineering-knowledge issues. In L. Schiebinger (Ed.), Gendered innovations in science and engineering (pp. 1–21). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Shapin, S. (1994). A social history of truth: Civility and science in seventeenth-century England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  74. Shapin, S., & Schaffer, S. (1985). Leviathan and the air pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the experimental life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Sklar, L. (1977). Space, time, and spacetime. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  76. Sklar, L. (1995). Physics and chance: Philosophical issues in the foundations of statistical mechanics. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Spelke, E. S. (2005). Sex differences in intrinsic aptitude for mathematics and science? American Psychologist, 60(9), 950–958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Steinpreis, R. A., Anders, K. A., & Ritzke, D. (1999). The impact of gender on the review of the curricula vitae of job applicants and tenure candidates. Sex Roles, 41(7/8), 509–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Taylor, C. J. (2010). Occupational sex composition and the gendered availability or workplace support. Gender and Society, 24(2), 189–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Torretti, R. (2000). Spacetime models for the world. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 31(2), 171–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Traweek, S. (1988). Beamtimes and lifetimes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  82. Traweek, S. (1992). Big science and colonialist discourse: Building high-energy physics in Japan. In P. Galison & B. Hevly (Eds.), Big science: The growth of large-scale research (pp. 100–128). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  83. Urry, C. M. (2008). Are photons gendered? Women in physics and astronomy. In L. Schiebinger (Ed.), Gendered innovations in science and engineering (pp. 150–164). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  84. Weinreich-Haste, H. (1986). Brother sun, sister moon: Does rationality overcome a dualistic worldview? In J. Harding (Ed.), Perspectives on gender and science (pp. 113–131). New York: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  85. Werndl, C. (2009). Are deterministic descriptions and indeterministic descriptions observationally equivalent. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 40(3), 232–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Werndl, C. (2011). On the observational equivalence of continuous-time deterministic and indeterministic descriptions. European Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 1(2), 193–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Whitten, B. (1996). What physics is fundamental physics? Feminist implications of physicists’ debate over the superconducting supercollider. NWSA Journal, 8(2), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations