Starting this thread feels like a risky thing to do...

(164 Posts)

…but here goes.

I had the idea of starting this thread as I was driving home from a meeting today. In fact, I return to a discussion on the 'find me evidence for why its OK for women to be surgeons' thread that really encapsulates the sort of thing I want your help with.

<readers imagine large pointy finger, Kitchener style>

I am writing the conclusion of my PhD thesis at the moment, the thesis itself is about a research method that is about as far away from science / positivism as it is possible to be without falling off the edge of the world. My conclusion is, essentially, on the subject of what is research and what is it for.

I am writing two conclusions, actually. One is a conventional conclusion written in the way I was trained to write, according to normal social science convention, which talks mostly about ethical issues.

The other conclusion, the 'alternative' one (in several senses of the word) I want to write as epistemological science fiction.

<readers think Huh? You what?>

My argument is that a big reason why we are trained to write in the way we do as academics (removing ourselves from the writing, talking about 'facts' as separate from the influence of bias and the language used to express them) is because of the social power of the scientific method. As demonstrated aptly by the OP on the other thread's 'traditionally' minded fellow student. "Find me unbiased evidence" they call "or I will not accept that what you say has any worth".

So for my epistemological SciFi, I would like to imagine how we might judge, conclude and write about things differently, if there had always been a different power structure in society.

Imagine if the contribution of privileged academics was considered less valuable than a person who had lived through all sorts of different experiences: been to prison, been dirt poor, travelled, lived in different cultures. That experience rather than unbiased method was the queen of proper knowledge. Imagine if women, rather than men, had dominated intellectual life. Or southern hemisphere cultures rather than European. That sort of thing. Alternate reality stuff. Don't worry, this is justifiable academically, though it is, ahem, a bit unusual. And I am covering myself with the conventional conclusion.

<readers think riiiiiiiiight. So what do you need us for>

What I'd really like to do is explore ideas with you for what might have been different, what moment in history might have been the turning point? What largely unrecognised female or alternative thinker could have become as famous as Newton or Darwin?

I would be eternally grateful and appreciative of any reactions or thoughts you might have on this idea of alternate, evidence-less-valuable-than-experience reality.


OK, scary moment. I will press <post>

slug Wed 02-Apr-14 14:14:05

I can't see organised religion fitting into this world. Most if not all organised religions consist of men interpreting 'god's' word, usually to define a world that suits them. Remove the need for an interpreter and theology ceases to exist.

HelpfulChap Wed 02-Apr-14 14:17:28


How about if the Gospel of Mary of Magdalene had, instead of being left out of the bible/ignored by the sexist leaders of the Catholic Church had been included & gone on to be regarded as the 'definitive' gospel.


the gospel opens in the middle of a scene portraying a discussion between the Savior and his disciples set after the resurrection. The Savior is answering their questions about the end of the material world and the nature of sin. He teaches them that at present all things, whether material or spiritual, are interwoven with each other. In the end, that will not be so. Each nature will return to its own root, its own original state and destiny. But meanwhile, the nature of sin is tied to the nature of life this mixed world. People sin because they do not recognize their own spiritual nature and, instead, love the lower nature that deceives them and leads to disease and death. Salvation is achieved by discovering within oneself the true spiritual nature of humanity and overcoming the deceptive entrapments of the bodily passions and the world. The Savior concludes this teaching with a warning against those who would delude the disciples into following some heroic leader or a set of rules and laws. Instead they are to seek the child of true Humanity within themselves and gain inward peace.

Yes, I thought that about religion too. It stifled lots of learning anyway, didn't it.

Maybe instead of organised religion with powerful figures benefiting from maintaining their position as arbiters of truth, the accepted form of spirituality is that each person finds their own path, maybe in communion with others or maybe not. They are free to move between groups.

Argh! This is hard. My brain isn't functioning today and now I am doubting that I can even pull this off in the way I had hoped. sad

Oh, that's very good. You live up to your nomer!

HelpfulChap Wed 02-Apr-14 14:22:21

Glad to be of help.

I will rack my brains further.

Freyalright Wed 02-Apr-14 14:55:32

Are you putting the sci fi bit in your thesis? Or is that a seperate blog?

Maybe listen to john lennon's imagine.

slug Wed 02-Apr-14 15:21:22

Carrying on from the religion theme, if we look at human history as it is presented to us it is an ongoing story of fighting for power over resources and people. What, instead if it was the story of fertility and renewal? Of bonds being forged between families and the cooperation of human groups for the better of all the community rather than just the holders of power?

<<expressing this badly>> <<Hums Imagine..>>

FairPhyllis Wed 02-Apr-14 15:23:59

I was thinking about this as a result of that thread too. I think the problem with identifying people like this is that by definition they are going to be ignored by history that is written with male priorities.

Maybe an example for theology would be theologians whose thought was based on personal mystical experiences rather than on the Western rationalist tradition. So less Augustine of Hippo, more Julian of Norwich.

I do feel as though a Christian theology that had developed like this might just have kept lurching off into Gnosticism and all kinds of heresy though, so it does feel a bit risky saying something like this.

There is quite a good article about feminist epistemology on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy site (apologies if you're a philosopher and you already know about it!).

NeoFaust Wed 02-Apr-14 15:33:17

You might be interested in this series:

While including a certain degree of magic in it's mythos, it examines a world in which Hypatia of Alexandria, a real-world female christian theologian with a distinctly tolerant bent, wasn't beaten to death by a mob of monks.

I don't see why evidence based thinking should be considered masculine, however. And a world that relied on lived experience over provable theory would be so conservative that nothing new would ever be invented at all. We'd still be using flint hand axes. As to why the world has conflict in it -that's just the nature of... nature. A matriarchal world or religion would just be a different set of justifications.

A matriarchal world or religion would just be a different set of justifications.

I guess so. Different, how?

a world that relied on lived experience over provable theory would be so conservative that nothing new would ever be invented at all. We'd still be using flint hand axes

I just can't see how that can be true! Not all innovation has come about through positivist logic-deduction. Has it? confused

Thanks so much all of you, this is really helpful. Though for some reason I also find this task I've almost set myself very scary shock

Keepithidden Wed 02-Apr-14 15:37:52

Cool stuff Buffy! I'd love to write an academic document conclusion like that. Just doing an MSc at the moment so my dissertation may have to expand into this territory! Anyway this bit:

of any reactions or thoughts you might have on this idea of alternate, evidence-less-valuable-than-experience reality

Immediately made me think of EM Forster's "The Machine Stops" I'm sure you've come across it in your extensive academic/sci fi travels. The section of that short story that focuses on lectures and how the original content of the lecture didn't matter as much as the 'lens' (or perspective) through which the lecturer projected it. As the knowledge was passed through ten plus personalities the messages changed, sort of like chinese whispers. Yet the focus tended to be on what that particular lecturer brought to the audience, their underlying psyche and how that interacted with previous perspectives rather than the original topic.

I probably didn't explain that too well...

Ah no, I haven't read that story, though by coincidence I've used the metaphor of a telescope a lot. When you turn it around, everything you thought looked big and important suddenly looks different. And smaller!

I will have to check out that story, thanks!

PS. I really do know very little about scifi. It's more the writing process I am interested in and I want to push boundaries in myself.

slug Wed 02-Apr-14 16:04:18

And one more idea...Consider if hiring practices were not influenced by gender expectations. (A subject close to my heart as I work in IT) We know that men are more likely to be hired for technology, maths and science roles regardless of how more or less qualified they are than women. What would our society look like if this had never happened? If the best minds and the most qualified people are employed what would this do to productivity of companies and the advance of science? Would we as a culture be more productive and scientifically advanced if half the population were not excluded simply because they have the wrong genitals? (The same can be thought of in reverse, more men in childcare and nursing for example)

slug Wed 02-Apr-14 16:07:18

Actually, adding to that thought, the first astronaut would most likely have been a woman as the greater proportion of water in the female body makes them far better at withstanding G Force stresses.

One small step for a human, one giant leap for humankind

MadamBatShit Wed 02-Apr-14 16:10:10

Are you also thinking along the lines of... How it would have been had women not been excluded from midwifery and the healing professions with accusations and executions based on witchcraft?
After that purge it took women until the 19th century to get back, but by then it was academic in medical schools?

TheGirlFromIpanema Wed 02-Apr-14 16:22:07

I always wonder what the world would be like if China or some other ancient powerhouse country had become the USA of the world and what if we in the UK were a small outpost, poor, undeveloped etc.

Different religions would have had different powers (possibly no Vatican or no Anglican.) Wars would, I'm sure, be different; but how?

Also yes, what if female had been the gender which led the world in the way males have.

Wow, massive question. My head would burst if I even thought about it all for too long grin

The central thing I'd like to explore is that our current criteria for judging whether something is "true" or not are based largely on thinking from the physical sciences.

So to draw on a recent MN example, those threads where feminist posters have argued with punters, a cornerstone of the arguments of many punters has been that the data doesn't support that there is real harm. Consequently, they dismiss counter arguments on the basis that they are unrepresentative or ideological.

But in an alternate world, a world where method from the physical sciences hadn't expanded to make itself synonymous with 'truth' then lived experience and even creativity, rhetoric, language, could have been the gold standard instead.

I am thinking in particular about the ways in which 'scientific' social research is privileged over other kinds, but inherent in this approach (I argue) is an element of power and politics. So what if these methods weren't the powerful ones? What if the power resisted in the lived experience, the creative, the rhetorical? How might what we 'know' about social life be different? And because our knowledge would be different, how might life itself be different?

I am grasping for wisps that might become strands of an idea at the moment.

It's very much more difficult to try and remove oneself from the way one has been trained to write as as social scientist. I can make the argument above quite easily in my normal frame of reference (indeed, it's not even new, not by a long stretch) but I want to experiment with writing it in a different way.

*resided, not resisted.

almondcake Wed 02-Apr-14 16:31:39

This is a boring answer. But one of the main benefits of a more empirical method over an individual's experience is that is allows us to identify problems held in common by a particular group. So in your scifi version, that would be achieved by different means. It would mean that to express common experiences, people with those experiences would have to come together to share them and work for collective solutions. Which would bring it back around to the human groups point Slug was mentioning.

You would then be perhaps be looking at workers' collectives in the form of something like anarchosyndicalism, with no rulers, no experts based on authority, but people taking ownership of something based on the fact the particular group of people were the ones living the experience, but then extend that far beyond the work place into all facets of life.

You could perhaps look at 'Woman on the Edge of Time' for imagined other societies vs. scientific experts. The Handmaid's Tale is also good for describing a lived experience which is then 'discussed' by a group of experts in the final chapter (20 years since I read it, so hopefully I didn't imagine that).

MadamBatShit Wed 02-Apr-14 16:34:31

This alternate world could be something like the buddhist view in places like Bhutan and Tibet? Pre- opening up to Western influences?
Truth was found more by way of introspection, of course also founded in al lineage of authorities but not so much set in this Baconian tradition.
Of course though.. men.

Today i read that Jacques Le Goff died. Yes again a man, but he was one of the first to open up different perspectives on history, not so much the rule of kings but lives of people.

Scientific research methods are different when you look at cultural factors.. like continental versus analytical philosophy.

Just some thoughts.

almondcake Wed 02-Apr-14 16:35:49

Buffy, could you look at a feminist psychoanalyst, like Susie Orbach, where she extends and develops arguments by talking about a woman's own psychological responses to her lived experience and then relates it to wider society? That could help you develop a writing style that is different to 'scientific' social research.

Women on the Edge of Time sounds a bit like when Buffy is in an institution and dreams she isn't the Slayer grin

<lowers tone>

I already have a writing style that is different to scientific social research. I am trying to see if I can push this boundary into the stratosphere with a piece of really experimental writing.

Partly as an exercise in knowledge creation - to see what comes out of it. Which might be a big pile of steaming...

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