Objectivity and Diversity Another Logic of Scientific Research
by Sandra Harding
University of Chicago Press, 2015
Cloth: 978-0-226-24122-7 | Paper: 978-0-226-24136-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-24153-1
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226241531.001.0001


Worries about scientific objectivity seem never-ending. Social critics and philosophers of science have argued that invocations of objectivity are often little more than attempts to boost the status of a claim, while calls for value neutrality may be used to suppress otherwise valid dissenting positions. Objectivity is used sometimes to advance democratic agendas, at other times to block them; sometimes for increasing the growth of knowledge, at others to resist it.

Sandra Harding is not ready to throw out objectivity quite yet. For all of its problems, she contends that objectivity is too powerful a concept simply to abandon. In Objectivity and Diversity, Harding calls for a science that is both more epistemically adequate and socially just, a science that would ask: How are the lives of the most economically and politically vulnerable groups affected by a particular piece of research? Do they have a say in whether and how the research is done? Should empirically reliable systems of indigenous knowledge count as "real science"? Ultimately, Harding argues for a shift from the ideal of a neutral, disinterested science to one that prizes fairness and responsibility.


Sandra Harding is Distinguished Professor of Education and Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Distinguished Affiliate Professor of Philosophy at Michigan State University. She is the editor of The Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader and the author of Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities, and Modernities.


"The way the term 'objective' has been wielded in science and in everyday life, to police the academy as well as public testimony, has itself not been terribly objective. Harding provides here an informative overview of the real world applications of objectivity, using some fascinating case studies. She looks closely at the debates about the value of diversity in relation to objectivity. A very timely book!"
— Linda Martín Alcoff, Hunter College, City University of New York

"Sandra Harding’s important work on standpoint methodologies and strong objectivity has influenced a generation of scholars. In Objectivity and Diversity readers will find a detailed map of methods for achieving strong objectivity, including the study of knowledges rooted in social movements, poor women in the developing world, and indigenous societies. But they will also encounter analyses of how the concepts of objectivity, positivism, and secularism are deeply interwoven in their Western cultural and historical contexts. This book will appeal to experienced scholars already familiar with Harding’s work, and it will also serve as a concise and comprehensive introduction for young scholars."
— David J. Hess, Vanderbilt University

"In a comprehensive analysis of the historical conditions and social movements that have challenged dominant conceptions of scientific objectivity, Harding persuasively argues that diversity is not solely about inclusion but is essential to a pro-democratic and objective social analysis. Her argument clearly explains why objectivity is fundamentally about whose knowledge, whose agenda, and whose lives matter."
— Margaret L. Andersen, University of Delaware

"Sandra Harding is one of the founders of feminist epistemology. In this important and clearly argued book she addresses some of the big issues of philosophy of science. She revisits her well-known positions on standpoint theory and strong objectivity and shows how they are enriched by encounters with the social sciences in the shape of  development policy and postcolonial science and technology studies. She advocates for a philosophy of science for all research disciplines which permits a form of objectivity allied with a deep concern for social justice."
— Trevor Pinch, Cornell University

"Harding's new book Objectivity and Diversity raises new questions about two central concepts in STS – objectivity and diversity – and in doing so it allows us to animate them in new kinds of relationships and shows that objectivity and certain forms of diversity can be mutually supportive. Harding does this in two major ways: by considering specific cases where science has been shaped by social values and interests and drawing conclusions about the 'logical positivist legacy' from them; and by locating these issues within particular historical contexts. Though the 'social' tends to be treated as an impediment to scientific research rather than a source of new resources and pathways, social and political movements have deeply shaped the practices and philosophy of science. . . . It's a wonderful, clear read."
— Carla Nappi, New Books in Science, Technology, and Society

“In her most recent book, Harding moves seamlessly because of her intersectionality from attention to sexism to postcolonialism, and even to religion….Harding’s new work in standpoint epistemology aids novices, including graduate students, who are only familiar with her earlier work on feminism and science. As always, she chronicles recent work in liberatory science studies and sets the agenda for future scholarship.”
— Metascience




- Sandra Harding
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226241531.003.0001
[cold war, globalization, logical positivists, objectivity, strong, philosophy of science, social justice movements, Vienna circle, view from nowhere]
The prevailing philosophy of modern Western science took its current form in the aftermath of World War II. The logical positivists of the Vienna Circle, upon emigrating from Europe to the United States, then encountered McCarthyism and the Cold War. This led them to transform their originally anti-fascist philosophy of science into logical empiricism’s “icy slopes of logic.” Advocating the “view from nowhere” seemed the best way to maximize the objectivity of research in that dangerous world. Subsequently, decolonization, the rise of social justice movements in the 1960’s and 70’s, the emergence of globalization, the end of the Cold War, and now a new wave of anti-authoritarian and poor people’s movements around the globe have produced a world that is animated by vastly different social impulses. What would be a relevant philosophy of science for today’s world? What could a stronger objectivity look like? (pages 1 - 25)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Sandra Harding
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226241531.003.0002
[diversity, epistemology, methodology, objectivity, strong, research, social justice, standpoint]
It is an epistemological mistake to conflate the motivation of research by social values or interests with an inevitable deterioriation of its reliability and predictive powers. After all, corporate, imperial, or military interests and motives don’t make weapons less reliable at killing; nor do environmental or health concerns in themselves damage the reliability of research they motivate. Only in some cases, but not all, do social values and interests have that effect. The social justice movements have produced a standpoint methodology more competent to maximize objectivity. The need for standpoint’s “strong objectivity” arises when research communities lack diversity and are isolated from pro-democratic social tendencies. Research that starts off questioning nature and social relations from the daily lives of economically and politically vulnerable groups can increase its reliability and predictive power. Such research insists on the conventional goals of fairness to the data and to its severest criticisms. It retains central commitments of the conventional notion of objectivity while escaping its limitations. (pages 26 - 51)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Sandra Harding
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226241531.003.0003
[development, economism, labor, caring, double-days, informal, objectivity, poverty, women, World Bank]
The strong objectivity standard is also relevant to social science research. For example, starting off research about Third World development policy from the daily lives of the poorest women in the Global South reveals many factual errors in development assumptions that shape World Bank policy. Women were not left out of development, as some thought. Instead, the appropriation of women’s and peasants’ land rights and labor have provided resources for the expansion of market economies. Moreover, such economism is a faulty measure of human development. The vast majority of the world’s poor are women and their dependents, yet development policy rarely is focused directly on improving their conditions. Indeed, during the “development era,” the gap between the rich and poor has vastly increased. In official statistics, most of women’s double-days of work is treated as not real work. Yet women’s domestic and caring labor, work in informal markets, and volunteer work are all socially necessary labor. Thus women’s labor subsidizes capitalist expansion and state obligations for citizen welfare. Development policies that fail to take account of the daily needs of the poor always impoverish and immiserate them even further. (pages 52 - 79)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Sandra Harding
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226241531.003.0004
[biodiversity, culture, empirical reliability, indigenous knowledge, modernity, incomplete]
Many assumptions and practices of indigenous knowledge systems produce reliable empirical knowledge. Yet, these systems tend to be unjustifiably discounted by Northern scientists because the former are permeated by local cultural assumptions. It turns out that not only are these indigenous systems largely empirically reliable for interactions with the range of natural and social environments for which they were designed, but also that their sustainability makes important contributions to preserving global biodiversity. Moreover, they produce new facts about nature and social relations that can be valuable to everyone. And they lack the limitations created by modernity’s favored binaries, such as natural vs. social and cultural. From non-Western perspectives, modern Western sciences can seem to favor under-developed epistemologies. Thus starting off from the standpoint of indigenous knowledge systems can reveal otherwise difficult to detect problems with modern Western sciences. Modern Western sciences and their philosophies appear incompletely modernized. (pages 80 - 104)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Sandra Harding
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226241531.003.0005
[disunity of science, globalization, logical empiricism, McCarthyism, philosophy of science, pluralism]
It is not just other societies’ sciences that are culturally embedded; so too are modern Western sciences. Recent histories demonstrate that the value-free commitment of logical empiricist philosophy became so compelling not solely for epistemological reasons, but also because it provided badly needed protection against McCarthyism and Cold War politics for these philosophers and generations of their students. Logical empircism’s still powerful commitment to the value-freedom of scientific research was not itself value-free. Since the Cold War ended in 1989, isn’t it past the time to rethink such philosophic commitments? Recently philosophers of science have begun to explore the benefits of the actual disunity of science, and even the pluralism of scientific ontologies and epistemologies. Yet they tend to shy away from advocating active support of such phenomena. This is unfortunate since from a global perspective one can see that the political, cultural, and social disunity and pluralism that have been so intellectually fruitful and ethically desirable tend to be steadily reduced by ever-expanding globalization. (pages 105 - 126)
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    University Press Scholarship Online

- Sandra Harding
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226241531.003.0006
[Christian, culture, disenchanted nature, gender, religion, sciences, modern, Western, secularisms, spirituality]
Historians of science have again and again reported that Christian values and interests often had powerful positive effects on the advance of modern Western sciences, in spite of the vigorous attempts of these sciences to thoroughly disenchant nature. Yet modern Western scientific secularism turns out to be just one of many existing secularisms, each constituted within, and retaining distinctive features of, the religion with respect to which it is non-observant. After all, each religion marks the path of its own possible secularism(s) when it specifies what counts as being observant. To be a secular Catholic is different from being a secular Protestant, Jew or Muslim. Thus secularisms, too, are culturally specific and often positive forces on the growth of scientific knowledge. Even religious and spiritual experiences, beliefs, and interests need not be regarded as invariably damaging the reliability of the results of scientific research. This issue also has gender effects. What are the implications of such insights for the aspirations of multicultural, democratic societies and the sciences that they co-produce? (pages 127 - 149)
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    University Press Scholarship Online

- Sandra Harding
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226241531.003.0007
[democracy, objectivity, self, collective, conflicted, scientific, subject, subjectivity, view, nowhere]
Objectivity is summoned into existence to negate subjectivity; thus the history of objectivity is always also the history of the self. When criteria for objectivity shift, so too will ideals of the proper scientific self. The conventional proper scientific self has a powerful ethical obligation to strive to see everywhere in the universe from no particular location in that universe: he is to produce the view from nowhere. This agent of progressive knowledge and history is to be a unified, coherent, un-conflicted individual, free of social values and interests, who simply pursues truths (or at least empirical facts). What are the different conceptions of the “scientific self” called forth by the assumptions and practices of standpoint methodology and its strong objectvitity? Three such notions produced in recent social justice work are the multiple and conflicted knowing self, the strategic researcher, and the simultaneously individual and collective knower. These can provide the proper scientific selfs for the realities of pro-democratic knowledge production in today’s world. (pages 150 - 174)
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    University Press Scholarship Online