Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Yorkshire Standpoint (Other-Race Effect, IV)

Maura told me my recent posts on race and my distress about mixing up the names of my black coworkers [which I have since learned is called "other-race effect"] reminded her of a book, The Everyday World As Problematic, by sociologist Dorothy E. Smith.
"The everyday world is not fully understandable within its own scope. It is organized by social relations not fully apparent in it nor contained in it." (Smith, 1987)
I looked Smith up (Wikipedia), and see she was born in Yorkshire, in 1926 (she's still alive)--I just note that because blogger Cathy is from there!
Small world. 

Smith developed the Standpoint Theory--like a theory of relativity for social sciences, it says "reality" is subjective: 
it depends on the position of the viewer, and we should factor that into our thinking––a point we now take more or less for granted (or maybe not...).

From Wikipedia: Noteworthy Standpoint Theory Example
Smith often uses this particular story as an example of Standpoint Theory:

"One day, while riding in a train in Ontario, Smith observed a family of Indians standing by a river, watching the train pass by. After having made these assumptions, Smith realized that they were just that; they were assumptions, assumptions that she had no way of knowing were true or not. 

"She called them 'Indians,' but she couldn't have known what their origins were. She called them a family, which could very well have been not true. She also thought they were watching the train go by, an assumption that emerged solely based on her position in time and space, her position riding in the train, looking out at the 'family.' [4]

"For Smith, this served as a representation of her own privileged position [as a sociologist], from which she made assumptions and imposed them on the group of 'Indians.'
It helped lead her to the conclusion that experiences differ across space, time, and circumstance, and that it is unfair to create society––and ruling relations––based on only one point of view/being.[5]"
In other words:
"Recognizing that knowledge and understanding are embedded in social structures, standpoint theory begins in a Marxist rejection of liberal claims of “objective” social research, and instead calls on social scientists to begin inquiry in social structures and processes with the standpoint of the marginalized." --(via

Huh. Must go to the library and get this book.


ArtSparker said...

It is pretty wonderful to realize all the possibilities/lack of containment...when it is not overwhelming.

Bink said...

I hadn't heard the term "stand point theory" before, but I love it. So true. I constantly catching myself making assumptive stories about people and yet bristling when people make assumptions about me. I bristle because those assumptions almost always feel wrong, which is why I try to catch myself in my assumptions. Besides, I've had my assumptions proved wrong enough times in my life, that I now know I should take every bit of "intuition" with a grain of salt.

Frex said...

SPARKER: Yes, wonderful + overwhelming!

BINK: I hadn't heard the term either but of course know from experience, like you, how it works.
Maybe those who've been its object are more likely to think, "Duh, of course."