Science Critique

Criticizing Science by Politicizing Epistemology and the Body

This project is a collaborative endeavour together with sociologist Julia Hertlein, philosopher Iris Mendel, and psychologist Julia Riegler. Working together in this fashion has considerably affected our understanding of science as both a collective and a transdisciplinary enterprise.

We take as our starting point the observation that the exclusion or underrepresentation of women in science is a recurring topic not only in the feminist critique of science, but also in present public discourse. The underrepresentation of women in science has been the subject of increased effort by public policy (e.g., “gender mainstreaming”). The implications of androcentric epistemology, methodology and conceptions of the female body, however, constitute hidden mechanisms of power structuring the scientific field. It is our contention that an egalitarian scientific practice demands scrutinizing and politicizing these exact mechanisms on the level of epistemology, methodology, and theory production (in particular with regard to theories of the female body, sexuality, and beauty). It is crucial to first unveil the structures and functioning of androcentrism in science, in order to develop alternative strategies and concepts in a next step. Since androcentrism is a multilayered phenomenon and can only be unveiled by a transdisciplinary research framework. Our common research project focuses (1) on the politics of the body inherent in scientific constructions and normalizations of beauty and sexuality in the context of biomedical discourses, and (2) on the politics of epistemology and methodology in the human sciences.

Our transdisciplinary research agenda is informed by the following key questions: How can androcentrism in science be unveiled? How is “the female” produced by scientific discourses and which norms and normalizations are applied in doing so? What kinds of knowledge and knowing subjects are thus excluded? To what extent is the object (subject) of inquiry itself constiuted by (unconscious) epistemological and methodological assumptions? What would be gained by a feminist constitution of the phenomena studied?

In this context, my project explores the scientific construction of “beauty” and “gender” within evolutionary psychological attractiveness research. The analysis is structured by two different notions of critique in science. The first method of critique is immanent and aims at falsifying scientific hypotheses. Using this perspective, I first interrogate the scientific evidence for central theoretical claims of evolutionary attractiveness research. A second notion of critique analyzes the historic and social conditions of science. According to this line of critique, I ask about the conditions that needed to be given in order for evolutionary psychological perspectives to become dominant within the field of psychological attractiveness research during the 1990s. The analysis aims at determining if and how current social relations and inequalities are naturalized and stabilized by evolutionary psychological attractiveness research.