- Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas
It is no coincidence that Hilary Rose gins her study of contemporary feminist critiques of science with the words of Virginia Woolf. Over the last twenty years feminists have revealed the extent of women's exclusion from the practice of science, documented the impact of patriarchy upon the creation of the institutions of science and exposed the masculinism of scientific knowledge. Rose makes original contributions to each of these areas of research in Love, Power, and Knowledge.
This impressive project is organized around two axes. The first axis consists of an investigation of the relations contained within the title of Rose's book - the relations between love, power and knowledge. The second axis includes three related themes: first, an analysis of the content, context and history of feminist critiques of science, with an emphasis on their development within Britain and the United States: second, the structure of the scientific knowledge system and the locations of women within it; and third, the culture of science, specifically how the methods of science are socially shaped. The book's most valuable contributions relate to the first two of these themes: the perception of women scientists within the scientific academy and the history of feminist critiques of science. Rose's investigation of the relationship between love and knowledge is, unfortunately, less successful.
Although Rose begins her discussion of the situation of women within the institutions of science with an overview of the types of barriers impeding the achievement of the feminist objective of "nothing less than half the labs," her most original contribution to this topic is her expose of the way a small group of men have obstructed women scientists from realizing the recognition they deserved - specifically, membership in the British Royal Society and the award of the Nobel Prize. Drawing on careful research in the archives of the Royal Society, Rose is able to document the ways men "man" aged the admission of women into this elite institution of science.
The story of the Royal Society's failure to admit - or even consider - women as Fellows, and in particular of the long years between 1922, when the legal advice the Society was given made it clear that such exclusion was no longer tenable, and 1945, when the first two women candidates were finally elected, would seem on prima facie grounds to require a conspiracy of silence as an explanation. (p. 116)
Rose's discussion of the life and candidacy of electrical engineer Hertha Ayrton, whose nomination to the Royal Society was refused in 1902, addresses the necessity as well as the difficulty of fighting for space for women within the organizational structures of knowledge production. In the subsequent stories of the crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale and the biochemist Marjory Stephenson, the first two women to be elected to the Royal Society, Rose examines the management of their admission by Sir Henry Dale, President of the Royal Society, to reveal not only "how much control lies in the hands of very few men but how they use it."
An excellent study of the politics of the Nobel Prize reveals the complexity of the power of sexism to impede appropriate recognition of women scientists' accomplishments, as well as the obstacles barring women scientists from positions of cultural and political power. The history of the nine women Laureates - Gerty Cori, Marie Curie, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Gertrude Elion, Maria Goeppert Mayer, Irene Joliot Curie, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Barbara McClintock, Rosalyn Yalow - and a few of their sisters whose genius was not recognized, including Mileva Einstein Maric, Lise Meitner and Rosalind Franklin - provides "a microcosm of the history of gender politics in science this century."
Rose closes her account of these scientists with a challenge that should be posed repeatedly to those who hold positions of power within the institutions of science: "Can committees and procedures predominantly composed of men scientists under immense pressure to recognize other men scientists acknowledge the contribution of women unless they open their committee structures themselves to women, who are in an age of gender consciousness less likely to be gender blind?"
Although there have been a number of splendid studies of gender issues in science, such as Sandra Harding's Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? (Cornell University Press, 1991), Helen Longino's Science as Social Knowledge (Princeton University Press, 1990) and Lynn Hankinson Nelson's Who Knows? (Temple University Press, 1990), Rose is the first to look carefully at the specific historical and geographical contexts of these feminist critiques of science. I found particularly informative her account of the relationship between the radical critique of science developed by such theorists as Richard Lewontin, Joseph Needham, and herself with Steven Rose, in the 1960s and 1970s, and "the growing body of feminist scholarship which developed partly in co-operation with, and partly against, the androcentric voice of the radical science movement."
Rose is not the first to analyze the impact of the academicization of feminism, but she is the first to do so in the context of a careful sociology of feminist critiques of science. She argues, for example, for the importance of studying the research support for feminist inquiry and how private and governmental funding, or the lack thereof, has influenced the direction of feminist production. In the case of British feminism, scarce funding resources and consistently woman-unfriendly politics have resulted in an oppositional feminism, compared to the US and Scandinavia, where both private and governmental support of feminist research has been comparatively generous.
Rose also cautions us to consider the effect of changes within the women's liberation movement itself. Whereas the 1960s and 70s were a time of feminist activism, when feminist theorizing developed out of practice and was influenced by the "collective process of consciousness-raising groups," feminism in the 1980s and 90s has shifted its center to the academy.
Rose views this academic address as both a success and a failure: a success in that feminism has sustained an influential critique of androcentric knowledge, but a failure in that "the critical knowledges of feminism have facilitated the modernization project of capitalist patriarchy" and have become far less applicable to or accessible to the vast majority of nonacademic women. Rose questions the growing ascendancy of the "feminist theorist" over the community activist, sustaining divisions which are "not separable from the class and race differences between women."
While impressed with the connections Rose makes between various kinds of power and knowledge in these sections of the book, I found her discussion of the relations between love and knowledge less successful. The second chapter, "Thinking from Caring: Feminism's Construction of a Responsible Rationality," argues for the importance of transforming knowledge by using women's lived experiences, particularly women's experiences of work both within and outside the family, as a resource. While reminding us of the centrality of "caring labor" as one of women's social roles, and detailing the processes by which such labor and its associated skills - empathy, interrelatedness and intuition - have been devalued, Rose does not develop a clear model of what she calls "loving rationality." She notes that women's caring practices "foster a more relational understanding both socially and bodily," but does not flesh this out with examples from the practices of women within science that would illustrate this type of knowing, or consider how it might lead to types of knowledge different from the masculinist rationality typically idealized in theories of scientific method.
Nor is this theme developed as consistently throughout the book as is the analysis of the relationships between power and knowledge. Rose concludes her book with the counsel that "it is love, as caring respect for both people and nature, that offers an ethic to reshape knowledge, and with it society." But apart from various hints scattered throughout the book, she leaves the conception and nurturing of this transformation to her readers.
The range of Rose's study of science is impressive. I have no room to discuss her analysis of feminist responses both to the new reproductive technologies and to the Human Genome Project, or her chapter on feminist science fiction as a laboratory for "dreaming the future," to "explore and experiment with other ways of knowing, other sciences and other futures." Though this range and the number of themes she attempts to juggle sometimes make it difficult to follow the connections between the various chapters, this is a book well worth the struggle. Anyone looking for an introduction to issues of gender and science will find in Love, Power, and Knowledge a wealth of information, while those who are well-read in this area will be repeatedly challenged and transformed by the originality and insight of its arguments.
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|Publication:||The Women's Review of Books|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1995|
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