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Colonialism and Knowledge in Feminist Discourse Essay

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Updated: Jun 7th, 2021

Introduction

Power imbalances affect human societies in multiple ways, and one of the phenomena that are important from this perspective is the intersection of colonialism and knowledge. Despite the general belief that knowledge is based entirely on facts, the way humans construct knowledge is affected by multiple factors (Schiebinger, 2004). Powerful groups are capable of controlling information, which has an impact on the way knowledge is developed, framed, and disseminated. This topic is important for the colonizers and colonized and has significant implications related to the way they consume and produce information.

From the perspective of colonization, the intersection of colonialism and knowledge is a source of power. The fact that the voices of marginalized groups have been historically silenced is noted by multiple feminist researchers (Green, 2017; Schiebinger, 2004). By silencing non-dominant groups, colonizers ensure the complacency of the people who are not aware of the negative outcomes of discrimination because of their own privilege.

Information control is a very powerful tool, which is why it is important to be critical of the knowledge received. Checking new information while introducing different viewpoints is a logical approach from this perspective, which is especially true for postcolonial theorists.

For the colonized, the intersection of colonialism and knowledge is a problem that various marginalized groups can attempt to resolve through action. As noted by Green (2017), one of the primary ideas of feminism is that the perspectives of marginalized groups are significant and need to be taken into account in order to achieve improved equality within our society. Based on this premise, it is apparent that the impact of colonialism on knowledge is not unlikely to be detrimental to social justice causes. However, the statement also implies that there is a direct course of action that can remedy the situation. It consists of voicing the concerns of the colonized and insisting on them being heard.

However, it can also be suggested that the intersection of colonialism and knowledge is not one-sided. When the colonized voice their opinions and concerns, they introduce new knowledge which can help to undermine the dominance of the colonizing group and its hold over information. Put simply, by providing evidence which debunks what can be considered colonizer myths, the colonized can use knowledge to deconstruct colonialism.

As highlighted by Green (2017), this process is not always simple; she notes the pervasiveness of the myths that defame the movements which exist to change and alter the dominant groups’ hegemony. Such defamation can understandably result in people, including those belonging to marginalized groups, being hesitant to join such movements. However, from this perspective, it is important to remember that knowledge is grounded in facts. By employing facts, human rights activism has been successfully and insistently drawing attention to the negative impacts of power imbalance (Naples & Gurr, 2016). Thus, the interaction of colonialism and knowledge makes it more difficult for human rights movements to advance their causes, but it does not deprive them of the powerful tool that is knowledge.

Epistemology: Feminist Postcolonialism

From the perspective of the theory of knowledge, feminists employ multiple standpoints. One of them is feminist postcolonialism, which considers the intersectional approach to oppression analysis. Historically, feminism was developed in colonialist contexts, and it was affected by them. In particular, early feminisms could focus only on gender, neglecting other factors that are relevant in the discussion of oppression (Naples & Gurr, 2016).

This approach can be detrimental because real-world systems of oppression do not exist in isolation (Green, 2017). Consequently, postcolonialism perspectives in feminism attract attention to the intersections of such systems. It has been suggested that the introduction of feminist perspectives into postcolonialism approaches benefits the latter due to the encouragement of more critical views on gender (Parashar, 2016). Thus, the combination of feminism and postcolonialism resulted in the creation of an enriched hybrid tool that has become another epistemological stance that can inform the acquisition of knowledge.

The postcolonialism feminist stance can be summarized as an intersectionality-based approach that focuses on the intersections of race and gender and considers the impact of colonialism on women across the world. A major feature of feminist postcolonialism from the perspective of epistemology is the consideration of the “colonial science,” that is, the science that was developed by colonizers (Schiebinger, 2004, p. 235).

The intersecting systems of oppression affect the way knowledge has historically been constructed and disseminated, even though, as pointed out by Schiebinger (2004), the outcomes of these effects may vary. From this perceptive, it is key that groups that remain in a position of power have historically had an impact on the way knowledge is produced. In other words, the concerns about the validity of colonial science are similarly applicable to the male-dominated and male-centered one. Thus, the understanding of the impact of power imbalances on knowledge is a significant topic for feminist postcolonialism.

Furthermore, the feminist postcolonialism epistemology can be used to inform the topics of research in a variety of sciences or frame relevant findings. While the investigation of various events and phenomena from the feminist perspective is not uncommon, feminist postcolonialism introduces a focus on colonialism, its effects, and the intersection of systems of oppression, especially gender and race.

For instance, Schiebinger (2004) who has an interest in botany, proposed the consideration of the role of plants in furthering or fighting colonization, as well as other systems of inequality (in particular, slavery). One of Schiebinger’s (2004) examples is the use of various abortion remedies by the colonized and the failure of European colonizers to incorporate the knowledge about them, which prevented European women from enjoying their effects.

In summary, feminist postcolonialism draws upon the ideas of both feminism and postcolonialism. The resulting epistemology takes into account the effect of power imbalances on knowledge production and framing and invites researchers to investigate new and old topics critically. The feminist postcolonialism approach to knowledge theory can inform the research that takes into account the historical and current effects of gender inequalities and colonialism, as well as their interconnections.

Feminist Practices: Intersectionality

An intersectionality is a tool that has been employed by feminist theorists and researchers, as well as in other fields. The term is believed to have been introduced at the end of the 1980s by Kimberle Crenshaw, but the related theories were developed even by the US Abolition movement (Naples & Gurr, 2016, p. 311). In addition, Naples and Gurr (2016) highlight that the works of African American feminists of the 1970s became the foundation of what currently is understood as intersectionality. According to Lutz (2015), intersectionality has been treated as a concept and theory, but it can also be used as a method. From this perspective, an intersectionality is an analytical tool that can help to inform activist practice with its particular approach to the intersection of systems in human societies.

The general idea of intersectionality can be summarized in the following statements. When discussing a particular group, it is important to take into account the differences within it; these differences can be used to define specific subgroups. The reason for this approach is that the various oppressive structures of human societies do not exist in isolation; they intersect and interact in multiple ways.

Consequently, people may experience the oppression of several structures, and the different combinations of discrimination tend to result in specific experiences that are similar to and different from those of the people who belong to other subgroups (Lutz, 2015; Naples & Gurr, 2016). For example, as shown by Green (2017), an indigenous woman experiences oppression related both to her gender and ethnicity. On the one hand, her experiences are similar to those of a white woman and an indigenous man, but they are also different.

The method can be applied to activism, as well as theory. Intersectionality invites activists to pay attention to intersecting power structures, cultural phenomena, particular actors within the studied context, and various experiences of discrimination (Lutz, 2015).

Lutz (2015) highlights the fact that depending on the situation, particular factors that are commonly analyzed may be more important than other ones, but it is necessary to ensure that their prioritization is justified. This analysis helps to understand a given problem, its causes, and its outcomes. From this perspective, the primary advantage of intersectionality is its ability to produce an understanding of the complex experiences that different groups face as a result of social inequality.

Conclusion

Furthermore, it is necessary to take into account that intersectionality is also concerned with cooperation. The invitation to consider the intersections of different oppressive systems is not intended to draw the members of subgroups away from each other (Naples & Gurr, 2016). Rather, intersectionality aims to ensure that all the different voices within the considered groups are heard and taken into account while enabling the cooperation of the people involved.

To summarize, the intersectionality method assists in taking into account the complex nature of oppression and uses it to understand different groups and combine efforts between them to achieve common goals. Thus, intersectionality is an essential tool for modern-day feminist activism.

References

Green, J. A. (2017). Taking account of indigenous feminism. In J. A. Green (Ed.), Making space for indigenous feminism (pp. 20-32). Halifax, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Pub.

Lutz, H. (2015). Intersectionality as method. Digest. Journal of Diversity and Gender Studies, 2(1-2), 39-44. Web.

Naples, N., & Gurr, B. (2016). Genders and sexualities in global context: An intersectional assessment of modern scholarship. In G. Ritzer (Ed.), The Wiley-Blackwell companion to sociology (pp. 134-146). Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

Parashar, S. (2016). Feminism and postcolonialism: (En)gendering encounters. Postcolonial Studies, 19(4), 371-377. Web.

Schiebinger, L. (2004). Feminist history of colonial science. Hypatia, 19(1), 233-254.

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