Donna Haraway’s treatment of ‘Vision’ in her 1988 Situated Knowledge text is extremely helpful for my work, as it explores Vision in a political and epistemological context, giving a switched on academic framing to my use of (audo)visual research techniques. Haraway uses Vision as a metaphor to unpack ways of seeing, knowing and positioning.
She criticises the all-seeing Eye of the God-trick (the conquering gaze from nowhere that represents and marks bodies, while itself remaining unrepresented and unseen).
She advocates for embodied situated Vision that recognises and deconstructs it’s own positionality, specificity, difference, technologies and prosthetics for seeing; in the process making itself accountable, responsible, answerable.
She problematises ‘Seeing from Below’ and the vantage points of the subjugated:
On the one hand acknowledging their promise of a more adequate, sustained, objective, transformative account of the world (knowledgeable of modes of denial through repression, forgetting and disappearing acts). On the other hand warning of the danger of romanticisng and/or appropriating the vision of the less powerful.
What appears missing from the headlines of the 1988 text and the discussion of ‘seeing from below’ is the correlative work of owning and decentering the ‘Eyes’ of our own powerful positions. And I guess I’m writing as a white woman here. And Donna Haraway is also white.
Deconstructing our own Eyes is implicit in the combined Situated Knowledge projects of: deconstructing our own positions; favouring webbed connections over master theory; and understanding ‘Seeing from Below’, including the risk of appropriation.
However, it is not drawn out, concluded and foregrounded in the same way as other points. Rather the the conclusion of the 1998 article places the project ahead under an unqualified Feminist umbrella and there is a presumption of allyship between Feminism and all the ‘subjugated’ positions mentioned in the article.
Therefore, in working with Haraway’s Vision and developing my own research approach, I am doing so in dialogue with texts/practices that focus on decentering power with an intersectional recognition of the multiple power axes active at any time (race, whiteness, gender, class, ableism, the list goes on).
This is partly a work with “the literature” and the archives. For example, there is a key text on Decentering Whiteness that goes back to 1997 (Hitchcock and Flint). And Sara Ahmed’s book Living a Feminist Life makes the necessary distinction between White Feminism and Intersectional Feminism (2017).
But importantly, this is also about the air we breathe, and real world events and debates going on here and now. For example, there is a set of work about Decentering Knowledge and Decolonizing Research that may be more easily found in contemporary conference descriptions, online articles and debates, than peer-reviewed academic journal articles (Decolonisation in Praxis Symposium, 2018; Moreno Figueroa, 2019; Mwambari, 2019).
OK. Need to go and detach little one from their screen addiction! But more soon… in particular how Situated Knowledge and positionality also frames my question ‘Who Are the Storytellers?‘ …
Ahmed, Sara (2017). Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press, Durham.
Decolonisation in Praxis Symposium (2018). Symposium organised by the SOAS Research Student Association (RSA) and the SOAS Journal of Postgraduate Research (SJPR). SOAS, London. June 2018. Available at: https://www.soas.ac.uk/doctoralschool/news/07jun2018-decolonisation-in-praxis.html
Haraway, Donna (1988). ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’, Feminist Studies, Vol 14. No. 3 (Autumn 1988), pp. 575-599.
Hitchcock, Jeff and Charley Flint (1997, 2015). Originally published as “Decentering Whiteness. The WHITENESS PAPERS”, No. 1, February 1997. Center for the Study of White American Culture (CSWAC), New Jersey. 2015 Edition available online at: www.euroamerican.org/public/DecenteringWhiteness.pdf
Moreno Figueroa, Monica (2019). “Hearing the voices of women who need to be heard. In April of 2019, the activist, scholar and political icon Angela Davis visited Cambridge for two prominent events: a public conversation with poet and novelist Jackie Kay, and a symposium titled “Pathways to Liberation: Celebrating Black British Feminisms”. Available at:
Mwambari, David (2019). “Africa’s next decolonisation battle should be about knowledge. Local researchers whose voices are silenced in the black market of knowledge production need recognition and safety.”
Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/africa-decolonisation-battle-knowledge-190906074211760.html