Where, when and how does interdisciplinarity matter? The example of Gender and Science
Where, when and how does interdisciplinarity matter?
The example of Gender and Science
The First First Friday in the
Bryn Mawr College
Faculty Club Lunch Series
September 7, 2007
Anne Dalke and Liz McCormack
Trying something different/working in another mode than the presentational:
"four slides" and a conversation...
I. Motivation and Background
When I started running F&Gs over a decade ago, it bothered me:
no science faculty involved in the program.
Would be bi-directionally useful:
more science in gender studies, and
more awareness of complexities of gender
in science depts. @ this woman's college.
After a tri-co Mellon grant, guest lecturers,
faculty reading group, multiple adjuncts, one post-doc...
eventual outgrowth of that concern:
course on G&S Liz and I taught here last spring.
for all of us talking together about two things:
1) a theory of how new knowledge gets generated
in an interdisciplinary context (forthcoming in Journal Research Practice)
2) potential concrete LOCAL applications of this theory:
invite you to think with us about designing
a senior experience--a post-disciplinary "senior CSem"--
that would enable this sort of knowledge production;
we want to offer our course again next year/
eventually institutionalize it (or course/s like it);
& want your help in thinking about how to do that.
To start: what we already did.
General Studies 224--Gender and Science:
Re-envisioning & Revising the Relation
(extensively archived on web @
3 parts/sets of questions: about
-- the role of women in the scientific enterprise
(means of access and practices of women in science;
& what particular role a women's college has to offer here)
-- the contemporary feminist critique of scientific practice
(can there be scientific knowledge independent of us?
how is it constructed? encultured? biased?) and
-- what our answers to both sets of questions suggest
about the science education of everyone.
"Philosophy of Science meets Gender Studies"
Physics, as the exemplar/icon of science-practice,
engaging with exciting feminist scholarship about how science is done.
--(Liz is a physicist)
--(physics has particularly poor representation of women)
**correspondence between feminist standpoint epistemology
and modern physics, i.e.:
both look @ ways in which our measurements of probabilistic,
non-deterministic phenomena are influenced by our observations;
how our role as observers makes us part of the experiment/measurement,
not just perturbation but determinant in outcomes.
Course also demonstrated how generative transdisciplinary work can be
precisely because it is not overly determined:
it unsettles assumptions about what counts,
about what should be foregrounded, what needs to be attended to--
it maximizes serendipity.
III. Highlights of what happened
1. shattered dicotomies on which philosophical discourse is based
students more interested in a web of interests than chosing between oppositions;
ex: broke down paired options of "women" and/or "scientist"
2. dramatized social dimensions of science:
problematic role of social goals/social values in doing science
3. revealed underdetermined relationship between parts and wholes,
between details we attend to and generalizations we make from them.
(example: writing a haiku in "Apple Blossom Journey: A Path to Feminizing Physics")
IV. Observations--striking student responses to invitation to contextualize, synthesize and
put into perspective their disciplines (anthro, bio, gender studies, physics, psychology)
--performative assessments to end, including "lunch conversations" after class
V. Questions--could you see recommending such a course to your majors?
--should this be a type of experience that all students have access to?
--would it make sense to institutionalize, on the senior level,
courses that highlight this sort of work?
--what might such courses look like?