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(Solved) Shifting the Paradigm Excluded Voices, Alternative Knowledges Introductory Essay: Webs of Knowledge in the Digital Divide The commercially available...

  • Explain why it is important to include unique perspectives such as race and gender in general theoretical works as presented in the introductory essay.
  • As presented in the introductory essay, explain the concept of discursive domination.
  • What does Collins mean when she describes Black feminist thought as “subjugated knowledge”?
  • Collins argues that particular criteria of positivism—an epistemological approach that upholds the scientific method—are especially problematic for black feminist thought. Identify these criteria and describe in your own words how it leads to the oppression of alternative knowledge.
  • Collins is perhaps best known for her concept of “intersectionality” in which multiple systems of oppression, or what Collins calls the matrix of domination, overlap to create systematic inequality that each of us faces in our own unique way. Draw upon your own lived experience to describe a concrete situation in which you found yourself at the center of a matrix of domination, either as a victim or as an oppressor.

Shifting the Paradigm Excluded Voices, Alternative Knowledges Introductory Essay: Webs of Knowledge in the Digital Divide The commercially available Internet of the early 1990s carried with it a promise that technological
barriers would no longer impede the flow of information. Citizens could get the information they needed
to make effective democratic choices, get better jobs, and improve their overall well-being. This is to say,
the Internet shifted the paradigm for how we think about media, technology, and knowledge itself,
offering instantaneous access to real-time events from almost every perspective imaginable. Indeed, it
didn’t merely open new doors to information—it tore the old ones from their hinges, set them ablaze,
and scattered the ashes into the great expanse of the worldwide web. Or so we thought. Not long after the Internet was introduced, scholars and policymakers grew concerned about the truth
of its great egalitarian promise. Early evidence of a so-called “digital divide” meant that although the
Internet offered a faster, flashier vehicle of communication, not everyone would be able to take the ride. According to research conducted in the later 1990s by the National Telecommunications and Information
Administration, early Internet users in the United States tended to be younger, more educated, and
wealthier than non-users. Internet use also varied a lot by race, with Asian Americans and non-Hispanic
whites going online more often than other groups. Many of these gaps remain today, even as
connectivity continues to spread. A 2009 report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life
Project, for instance, found that 65 percent of white Americans had broadband access at home in 2009,
compared to only 46 percent of African Americans. And, like the Internet itself, the digital divide has
gone global—the International Telecommunications Union and the United Nations report there were
more than 8 times as many Internet users in the United States as on the entire continent of Africa in
2004. But the digital divide is more than just a gap in access to knowledge found on the Internet—maybe even
more importantly, the divide affects how that knowledge gets produced in the first place. Sociologists
Eszter Hargittai and Gina Walejko have found that a “participation gap” lurks within the cracks and
crevices of the digital divide. They argue that the creative content produced and uploaded to the
Internet by young people is determined more by their socioeconomic status than the new opportunities
that the Internet provides. Rather than leveling the playing field, the Internet might simply reproduce it. Findings like this have interesting, and troublesome, implications for the flow of information online. The
Internet provides access to seemingly endless amounts of knowledge, but what would that knowledge
look like if everyone had a hand in its creation? Think back for a moment to Durkheim’s definition of a social fact. Social facts are social constructions
that confront us as if they are an external reality separate from any sort of origin. What we know about
that external reality is what we might call an ontological understanding—knowledge of what is in the
social world. But, if we delve into how that understanding of “what is” is constructed, or, more simply,
how we know what we know about social reality, then we are looking at knowledge from the standpoint
of epistemology. When we look at a social fact from an epistemological perspective, then our ontology—
the “what is”—of what we know gets challenged. A bit disarmingly, by examining how we know what we
know, we can begin to question everything we knew in the first place. The theorists in this section grapple with this issue from perspectives that were excluded when the
canon of social theory was being constructed. Incorporating race and gender into social theory is more
than simply getting a perspective on society that is attuned to difference. Rather, it is about questioning
whether a theory of society is legitimate at all if the categories used to construct it exclude particular
times, places, and standpoints. Like the Internet, social theory is a vast intellectual landscape in which conventional wisdom often gets
spun like a top. Yet, also like the Internet, it has historically been an uneven landscape—the top gets
spun in some directions but not others. If the map of social theory is incomplete because some voices
were excluded when it was drafted, then perhaps it’s time to draft a new one. Classical Connections: W.E.B. Du Bois and Simone de Beauvoir The term “paradigm shift” was coined by Thomas Kuhn to capture the moment when mysteries that
cannot be explained by one scientific worldview lead to the revolutionary creation of a new one. It is a
bit misleading to say that the theorists in this section shifted the paradigm of social theory, though,
because each of them questioned whether a paradigm should exist in the first place. In fact, each of
these theorists found themselves stuck between a paradigm consisting of concepts, theories, and takenfor-granted abstractions, and a lived experience that did not fit within that paradigm, a lived experience
shaped by oppression, subjugation, and exclusion. This feeling of being stuck in the middle is vividly expressed in the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, a profound
social theorist and public intellectual who has only recently received recognition on the level of the other
classical theorists in this volume. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois draws from history, sociology,
literature, and black spirituals to capture what it was like to live as a black person in early twentieth- century America. Perhaps what is most striking in his writing is how he brings himself front and center,
turning his own experience into a microcosm of a bigger social process. In this way, Du Bois artfully
conveys how the social structures of racism interact with its intersubjective and psychological
dimensions. Like Weber, Du Bois was struck by the paradoxical conundrums of modernity, particularly the persistence
of segregation in American society despite the freeing of slaves decades earlier. According to Du Bois,
segregation persisted into the twentieth century not just through institutions like housing, education, or
labor, but also through cultural legacy—that is, the stereotypes and assumptions about skin color that
seeped deep into the public imagination and shaped the everyday lives of people of color. Put simply,
segregation was an objective, structural condition of American society as well as an experiential,
subjective one. Du Bois makes this connection between larger social forces and individual lived experiences through his
metaphor of the veil. In his book The New Politics of Race, Howard Winant describes how this metaphor
is meant to capture both the conflict of racism at the societal level (i.e. the color line) and knowledge of
“the other” held at the interpersonal level. Through the veil, what Du Bois called “doubleconsciousness,” emerges the psychological and social experience of seeing the world through the lens of
both a black person and an American—two disconnected lenses that hinder a more unified sense of self. Du Bois’ concept of double-consciousness is similar to Simmel’s concept of “the stranger,” which is
discussed in the next section of this book. You can learn more about both theorists and their ideas on
each of their Profile Pages. Although we present the first two chapters from The Souls of Black Folk in chronological order, each was
written as a stand-alone essay, so you may find it useful to read them in reverse order. In “Of the Dawn
of Freedom,” Du Bois traces the history of the Freedmen’s Bureau, an organization charged with assisting
former slaves in acquiring education and fair employment. He shows how social institutions, such as civil
courts in the South, prevented the Bureau from achieving many of its goals, thus leading to the
persistence of segregation. In “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” Du Bois uses his quintessential precision and
eloquence to introduce us to his concepts of the veil and double-consciousness. When read together (in
whatever order you choose), these selections capture how race operates as both a social construct and a
lived experience. If Du Bois laid the foundation for how to think about the color line, then French philosopher Simone de
Beauvoir set the standard for thinking about the boundaries of gender. Beauvoir is a more philosophical
writer than many of the theorists in this volume, but recent re-readings of The Second Sex by feminist
scholars have highlighted its more phenomenological tones. You might recall from Berger and
Luckmann’s Social Construction of Reality reading that phenomenology is the study of lived experience and meaning; Beauvoir is interested in how meaning gets attributed to gender and how such meaning
leads to the oppression of women. Let’s step back for a moment to think about something a bit less philosophical and maybe sort of
childish: the playground teeter-totter. As two kids on a seesaw shift their weight and kick their legs, the
teeter-totter tips and, well, teeters. The seesaw’s inherent relational properties allow it to do this—for
one end to go up, the other end must go down. A teeter-totter, then, is sort of like a dialectical relationship of opposing forces, which Beauvoir uses to
illustrate the relationship between men and women as social constructs. According to Beauvoir, the
meaning of “woman,” which she describes as the inferior and inessential Other, has historically only
been defined through its relationship to “man,” the superior and essential Subject. And, since how we
attribute meaning to a category like gender shapes how we then act out or embody it, Beauvoir, in the
introduction to The Second Sex included here, is able to logically examine why women identify
themselves by gender in ways that men do not. Beauvoir draws upon Hegel’s master/slave dialectic here. To read more about Hegel’s dialectic, log on to
Marx’s Profile Page. Beauvoir’s argument that the meaning attached to women is defined by their relationship to men is
similar to Du Bois’ thoughts on race. For both theorists, marginalized populations identify themselves
through the eyes of a more powerful group (a metaphor that we will see again in the next set of
readings). Each thinker was expressing concern over the paradoxical and constraining nature of binary
categories—which hold tremendous significance for the people who occupy them—in a multifaceted
and complex society. The Second Sex remains a pivotal text of the feminist movement and for feminist theory today. We have
included the introduction to the book here because it serves as a useful starting point for Beauvoir’s take
on gender as a social construction and lived reality, but we suggest interested readers pick up the whole
book. Most notably, Beauvoir’s assertion that one is not born, but becomes, a woman inspired much of
contemporary theorist Judith Butler’s work, which we will discuss in our last section. Contemporary Extensions: Paradigm Shift Re-Wired In Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois recounts a childhood story about a young girl who refused a card he had
offered her. It was because of his race. Stories like this help show the complex and often overlooked ways
in which race operates in our social and political lives. Similarly, in Racial Formation in the United States, Michael Omi and Howard Winant tell the story of Susie Phipps, the descendent of a white plantation
owner and a black slave in the seventeenth century who tried to change her racial classification from
black to white in the 1980s. That Phipps’ racial classification could not be changed illustrates how largescale social and political institutions, such as the media, education system, and public policy, determine
the meaning of racial categories. And, it is through those same institutions that meanings are contested,
negotiated, and transformed. In the excerpt included here, Omi and Winant offer their definition of race
as a fluid social construct, and their theory of racial formation at the individual and collective levels.
Much like Du Bois, Omi and Winant make the case that race is central to the American social and political
experience. The PBS series, Race: The Power of an Illusion, and its companion website provide a boatload of useful
information on race as a social, political, and economic construct. Go to the Supplementary Sources for
more information. The next set of theorists look at race and ethnicity from a different vantage point. Postcolonial theory
emerged after the African and Caribbean independence movements of the 1960s and 1970s, as scholars
and activists came to grips with the long-lasting cultural and psychological effects of colonial rule. Some
of the most vivid accounts of colonial domination are felt in the work of Frantz Fanon, a French-trained
psychiatrist from Martinique who is best known for his role as an anti-colonial revolutionary and author.
In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon grapples with the role language plays in what we know about
ourselves. Under colonial rule, subjects are expected to adopt the colonizer’s language, whether it is
Belgian, French, or English. The most sinister part of this so-called “white mask,” according to Fanon, is
that the colonized person is unable to recognize herself as fully human, because the very language she
speaks is the language of those who subjugate her. Still, to resist the language of the colonizer means
risking the loss of the only language she has ever known—that is, losing her voice. A vivid example of how the “white mask” operates can be found in Gillo Pontecorvo’s powerful film,
Battle of Algiers, summarized in the Supplementary Sources. Fanon is one of the most fervent postcolonial theorists, but Edward W. Said is perhaps the best known.
Though his research interests and sociological contributions were broad, we focus here on a selection
from Orientalism. In it, Said argues that Europe and, later, the United States were able to define
themselves culturally and socially through “imaginative geography,” or the social construction of other
regions as less advanced than or more inferior to the regions doing the imagining. Said is particularly
concerned with how Asian and Arab countries—known then as “the Orient” in Europe in the United
States —were understood in this way. Go to the Supplementary Sources for books and films that explore colonialism and its social and
psychological consequences. According to Said, the re-imagining of the Orient that made it seem more distant and more inferior
typically occurred through the use of images and texts. As colonial officers returned from abroad,
universities in England and the United States began establishing Oriental studies programs. These
academic programs turned the Orient into a peculiar puzzle that needed to be picked apart and solved.
Similarly, images of Arabs and Muslims in early twentieth-century novels and films depicted them as
docile, exotic, and backwards. This is a process of discursive domination, much like the type Fanon and
Beauvoir described, which depends on subjugation through stereotypes and language. It is a process
that continues today as stereotypical images from the Middle East and central Asia continue to make the
front pages of newspapers and websites. We began this section with the importance of lived experiences in shaping social theory and will end on
a similar note. The importance of lived experiences in producing knowledge is at the core of standpoint
theory, a method associated with feminist scholar Dorothy Smith, which suggests our knowledge about
the social world depends on our particular locations within it. In The Conceptual Practices of Power,
Smith shows how sociology has long been based on the experiences of men, and so, social theory has
largely focused on male-dominated spheres, like politics, law, and the economy. Smith calls for social
theory to redirect itself to the lived experiences of women and the oppression they have experienced.
Like Du Bois, Smith argues that women have historically experienced the social world through two lenses
—one provided through social science that tells women the way the world supposedly works, and
another, subjective one based on lived experience of oppression that does not jibe with social scientific
“facts.” And this is the heart of standpoint theory—there is no such thing as a purely objective
standpoint. No view is not located—somehow unaffected or “unbiased” by social location. For Smith,
and the “standpoint theorists” she inspired, the most accurate knowledge of the social world necessarily
stems from the lived experience of those who are located in it. If you want to theorize about the social
reality of women, according to Smith, you’d better begin with women’s experiences and knowledge. For more from Dorothy Smith, take a look at her essay, “K is Mentally III,” available in full to instructors in
the “Additional Readings” section of the Social Theory Re-Wired website. Patricia Hill Collins extends—as well as complicates—Smith’s observations by suggesting that gender is
only one category that shapes lived experiences and structures social inequality. Collins adds that race
interacts with gender to produce unique epistemologies, or ways of knowing. She adds that
epistemologies are always political, meaning they can serve as sites of resistance against systems of
oppression and inequality. So, Black feminist epistemology is Collins’s theoretical approach, but it is also
a call to action for Black women intellectuals, and the broader social science community to deconstruct
the dominant assumptions that knowledge can be purely objective and universal. In Black feminist
epistemologies and others, knowledge is based on lived experiences of oppression and shared through
narratives about the lived experiences of others. Collins is perhaps best known for her idea of intersectionality. For more on intersectionality, visit the
Feminist Theory Profile Page on the Social Theory Re-Wired website. Collins’s work challenges us to rethink objectivity—the idea that all things can be known through one,
dominant way of knowing. Alternative epistemologies, in addition to being a standpoint from which to
interpret and make sense of oppression, are also sites for resisting oppression. First, though, those
alternative epistemologies must be known; we must recognize that all standpoints can contain valuable
sources of knowledge. This doesn’t mean the same thing, however, as saying that all standpoints are
equally true or valid. Rather, it means that what people know about the world is always illumined and
distorted by their positions within it. For Collins, as well as many other critical race and feminist scholars,
social theory has been distorted because it has largely refused to take into account the particular insights
that women of color have to offer. Such insights challenge the white, male-centered categories
historically used to construct social theory. Despite the many insights such theories offer, too often these
binaries—whether West versus non-West, male versus female, objective versus subjective—constrain us
from generating new, more accurate, inventive, and ethically sound social theory. The theorists in this
section demonstrate that the way forward may require a new set of categories—and a new set of voices
—altogether. References
Longhofer, W., & Winchester, D. (2016). Social theory re-wired: New connections to classical and
contemporary perspectives 2nd Ed. [Electronic version]. Routledge: New York.


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