Feminist Critique Towards The Construction Of Science


The 21st century is the era of innovation, research, and the creation of better futures. Apart from these characteristics, the 21st century is also the century of trying to make science more active and more engaged in life. While science is trying to enhance societies, the construction of science is also important. This paper explores the construction of science in daily life by referencing Michel Foucault’s notion of power/knowledge in a Feminist Critique context. 

Keywords: science, knowledge, social construction, Michel Foucault, feminism


Science has been the most influential area in the human world. With its importance increasing day by day, science also has biases too. One might think that science has the purest information. In actual terms, it has wrong information as well as biases. In order to deconstruct the biases, we need to have a critical sense. According to Wendy Brown, critical theory is important. It is a way of reclaiming the present from conservative hold on it that is borne by the charge of untimeliness (Brown, 2005:4). Feminism has been the ongoing critique for the social sciences. Feminism gives the idea that gender is also a construction. With these constructed norms, we also find the science’s bias towards gender too. In this article, I will examine the theories of Michel Foucault’s power/knowledge within the science from a feminist perspective. 

1. Foucault’s Power/Knowledge Theory

In his terminology, the first thing we need to know is discourse. He uses it to describe “a certain way of speaking”

Another important terminology of him is archaeology. Archaeology is about examining the discursive traces and orders left by the past in order to write a ‘history of the present’. In other words, archaeology is about looking at history as a way of understanding the processes that have led to what we are today (Michel Foucault, 2021). Genealogy deals with history of the present. In genealogy, he deals with how the past discourses shapes the todays. Technique is the instruments to govern rationalities (e.g., disciplinary technique). Technology is the assembly of techniques (Hearn, 2004).

For him, power is relational, productive, power is not simply a property of the State. Power is not something that is exclusively localized in government and the State, which is not a universal essence (Foucault, 2021). In other words, power is omnipresent. It is in every human relation. The microphysics of power are found in the most daily life human interactions too. 

When it comes to knowledge, he thinks that there is no absolute scientific knowledge since the knowledge is produced by and from power relations (Hearn, 2004). But at the same time, he does not claim that power and knowledge are the same thing. He is just interested in investigating the relationship between them. 

A scientific practice, in Foucault’s account, is a particular set of codified relations between a precisely constructed knower and a precisely constructed object, with strict rules which govern the formation of concepts (Foucault, n.d.). He thinks in a way which the scientific knowledge can be produced only with the power relation’s domination within the field itself. The field is not independent on its own. 

2. Construction of Science

In its simplest form, the social construction of science means that there is no direct link between nature and our ideas about nature -the products of science are not themselves natural. Social constructivists therefore do not recognize a sharp distinction between the production and the consumption of knowledge (Encyclopedia, n.d.)

With different approaches to the field of science, another field has emerged, namely sociology of science. Sociology of science established on such assumptions has gone from declaring that nature is not just ‘out there’, that our knowledge of it is mediated and shaped by social constructions, to losing sight of nature. It misdirects attention away from nature’s effect on scientific accounts towards, solely, the social construction of accounts of nature (Murphy, 1994: 958). 

In order to understand the construction of science, we need to know the three types of social constructivism. The first kind of social constructivism essentially comes to mean that things could have been different – there was nothing inevitable about the current state of affairs and it was not determined by the nature of things. The second kind of social constructivism focuses on the politics of categories and points to how classifications are always human impositions rather than natural kinds. The third kind of social constructivism points to how stability and success in scientific theories are due to external, rather than evidential, reasons (Sociology of Science, 2021). 

To give examples to demonstrate the construction of science is that to understand the external factor’s influences. Nicholas Rose’s classification of 21st century biopower concept, he defines the bioeconomics. In this, the truth is produced, rather than spreading the falsehood. These biotech companies do not merely “apply” or “market” scientific discoveries: the laboratory and the factory are intrinsically interlinked- the pharmaceutical industry has been central to research on neurochemistry, the biotech industry to research on cloning, genetech firms to the sequencing of the human genome (Rose, 2007: 31). 

One way of understanding science as socially constructed is to point to obvious and external social factors, such as funding structures or political influences. These affect the way in which science develops; business interests can determine which projects are pursued, policy decisions can effectively close down entire avenues of research, and so on (Sociology of Science, 2021). Where the political and economic concerns are into play, the science production also affected by them. Rose puts this in this way: 

Where funds are required to generate potential truth in biomedicine, and where the allocation of such funds depends inescapably upon a calculation of financial return, commercial investment shapes the very direction, organization, problem space, and solution effects of biomedicine and the basic biology that supports it.” (Rose, 2007: 31-32).

But the construction of science does not mean that there is no absolute truth within the field. Sociology of science deals with the construction part of the field itself. Sociological descriptions and explanations of the production of scientific knowledge from the true mediative position would incorporate both the effect of social circumstances and of nature. They would bring out how nature, as well as social circumstances, influences the accounts of scientists (Murphy, 1994: 959). 

3. Feminist Approaches to Scientific Knowledge

We need to know the historical backgrounds for the feminist science. Wylie, puts this history into two types:

Two types of explanatory resource figure prominently in the initial formulations of feminist standpoint theory that appeared in the 1970s and early 1980s. To account for how distinctive epistemic resources could arise from gendered identities and social relations, Marxist feminists posited gender-specific modes and relations of production, and those influenced by object relations theory appealed to the psychoanalytic processes of infantile gender socialization (Wylie, 2012).

Different feminist approaches have different ideas towards patriarchy and its formation. Without considering those differences, the common point is to change and transform the patriarchy within the world societies. Within patriarchy, there are many different branches that it deals the social world. One of them is the field of science. With the constructionist perspective, we can undo the patriarchal context in any scientific fields. Foucault’s power/knowledge relations can be expanded into feminist perspective on the science as well. Social theorists such as Helen Longino and Evelyn Fox Keller have pointed to how male dominance in society in general, and in the scientific profession in particular, has resulted in certain kinds of scientific knowledge. The definition of scientific problems and framing of hypotheses come with a gender bias (Encyclopedia, n.d.). To give an example to the problem itself, male contraception is an under researched area because reproductive responsibilities are firmly placed with women in our society, and it is thus assumed that it is the female body that is to be manipulated (Encyclopedia, n.d.). 

The reason why we have the notion of women in science and the scientific paradigm towards women is because the Cartesian dualism of body and mind. This body and mind problem lies on the idea of nature and culture. The nature and culture perceived as separate entities. The reason for that is men tend to be free to engage in intellectual activity without having to take responsibility for their own or others’ bodies. This idea puts men in selfish position, and they regarded as the leader without considering the others, in terms of emotions and bodily measurements. This is not only due to “female” questions falling outside the framework of what is perceived to be “real science, but because our entire view of knowledge is a (male) ideological construct. The precondition for this male focus on matters intellectual is that women take care of the shopping, cooking, child-rearing, laundry, cleaning, and other tasks that subsequently are not included in men’s abstract conceptualizations of reality (Encyclopedia, n.d.). 

Longino puts this problem as the separate science from male/masculine bias. She puts in this way:

Each strategy understands both the bias and its remedy differently. One holds out the original ideal of uncontaminated or unconditioned subjectivity. A second identifies bias as a function of social location. A third identifies bias in the emotive substructure produced psychodynamics of individuation (Longino, 1993: 105).

Longino also puts the notion of ideology before gender or sex. As she puts:

From this perspective, certain areas of science having to with sex and gender are deformed by gender ideology, but the methods of science are not themselves masculinist and can be used to correct the errors produced by ideology (Longino, 1993: 106).


Science has shaped our lives in many ways. Science’s contributions to the human world inevitably cannot be ignored. But just like everything, science also has some “less good” sides. Those sides are the constructed part of the field science itself. With a critical sense towards the field as well as making it a better way, we can make the field itself more progressive. Michel Foucault’s conceptualisation of power/knowledge paradigm and feminist theory, when combined, can be a better solution to fix the problem of the constructed part of the science. 

Apart from Foucault’s notion, feminist philosophy, especially feminist epistemology, puts the problem in another way. Feminist epistemologists have commonly taken up questions concerning the kind of knowledge we produce, understanding these issues as inherently epistemological as well as ethical, and rejecting the traditional segregation of epistemological questions concerning the states of knowledge claims- their rationality and epistemic merit from ethical questions concerning the direction of research and knowledge production (Grasswick, 2011: xviii). 

Özden Bulutbeyaz

TUİÇ Akademi


Brown, W. (2005). “Untimeliness and Punctuality”, pp. 1-16 in Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics. Princeton University Press. 

Foucault, M. (n.d.). Key Concepts https://michel-foucault.com/key-concepts/ accessed November 2021. 

Grasswick, H. E. (Ed.). (2011). Feminist epistemology and philosophy of science: Power in knowledge. Springer Science & Business Media.

Longino, H. (1993). Subjects, power, and knowledge: Description and prescription in feminist philosophies of science. Feminist epistemologies, 101-120.

Murphy, R. (1994). The sociological construction of science without nature. Sociology28(4), 957-974. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0038038594028004010 

Rose, N. (2007). The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power and Subjectivity in the Twentieth Century. In Selection: “Biopolitics in the Twentieth Century” (pp. 9-40). Princeton University Press.

Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Social construction and scientific knowledge. Accessed November 2021. https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/social-construction-scientific-knowledge 

Sociology of Science. (n.d.). Social Construction of Science, accessed November 2021. http://sociology.iresearchnet.com/sociology-of-science/social-construction-of-science/

Hearn, M. (2004). Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège De France: 1975-76.

Wylie, A. (2012, November). Feminist philosophy of science: Standpoint matters. In Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association (Vol. 86, No. 2, pp. 47-76). American Philosophical Association.

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Sosyal Medyada Paylaş


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