Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Other Sides of the Coin. A Feminist Perspective on Robustness in Science and Knowledge Production

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Other Sides of the Coin. A Feminist Perspective on Robustness in Science and Knowledge Production

Article excerpt

Driving forces behind the occurrence of either paradigm shifts in science, or the development of new orientations within science, are often linked to demands for an increased validity or reliability in knowledge production in science. With this as a starting point, I discuss parallels and diversities between gender and feminist research and interactive research orientations1. Both traditions have a joint democratic ambition, as well as an aim to increase reliability of science. Reliability will be discussed as "social robustness" (Novotny et al. 2001). Focus will be on contributions from gender and feminist research that can lead to a joint qualifying process for both research traditions. Starting from a general discussion using "reflexive gender reminders", to frame knowledge production, I then discuss dilemmas of robustness in interactive research processes, and researcher and participant subjectivity

Key words: Interactive research, gender reminders, robustness, validity, democracy

1. Reliability as socially robust knowledge

Today scientific knowledge is, to a much higher extent, integrated and permeates all sectors in society. Novotny, Scott and Gibbons (2001), stress in their book Re-Thinking Science - Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty that: "Great conceptual, and organizational, categories of the modern world - state, market culture and science - have become highly permeable, even transgressive. They are ceasing to be recognizably distinct domains" (Novotny/Seott/Gibbons 2001: 166). This transformation is driven by many Swedish and European financial research bodies, through the increased requirements to involve actors outside the academy, through, for example, demands on co-financing research from the market. This merge between science and society is today also seen in new forms of governance in partnerships for growth, such as innovation systems and clusters.

One conclusion Novotny, Scott and Gibbons (2001) draw from this transformation is that this has radical implications for the demarcations between science and non-science, and for notions of professional identity and scientific expertise. They strongly argue for a move from what they call a weak contextualisation, to a stronger contextualisation, by including different knowers outside the academy in scientific knowledge production. They argue that

"The more strongly contextualized a scientific field or research domain is, the more socially robust is the knowledge it is likely to produce" (Novotny/Scott/Gibbons2001: 167)

This move to a stronger contextualisation and its local dimension should not be confounded with the post modernist relativistic concept of "situated knowledge" (Haraway 1991). They understand social robustness as relational, and not as a relativistic or absolute idea, and therefore they add a special quality in grounding and extending the conceptualisation of validity in going beyond the relativistic post-modern idea about situated knowledge.

I will in this chapter use their idea of a stronger contextualisation and their concept of social robustness as reliability in science, as an argument for also including gender and feminist research in the field of interactive research. I use their idea of a stronger contextualisation in a double sense: firstly in a broader sense to extend knowledge production to incorporate women's experiences, interests and practices in general in science, secondly through a stronger contextualisation on different levels to understand gendered meanings of work, the link between paid and unpaid work, work - life balance and variations of space of action between women and men, but also in interactive research processes, the researcher - participant relation, and the researcher and participant subjectivity.

The Nordic democratic turn as social robustness

In the Nordic countries a strong "democratic turn" from the mid-seventies to the late eighties, expressed for example by the Codetermination Act in Sweden, was an important stream in the overall "participatory turn" in society as Sheila Jasanoff (2003) describes it. …

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