Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Social Position or Standpoint

In sociological analyses specifically concerned with subjects, often social position or standpoint is used to understand the subject's social location and subsequently meaning for her/him. Julia Adams and Tasleem Padamsee use social position to understand this in their 2001 article in Social Politics. R.W. Connell uses standpoint in his 1990 article Theory and Society but for institutions rather than individuals. Standpoint is a common concept used in Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins (2000), to designate an epistemological approach (a way of knowing) materially rooted in experience.

There needs to be a clear distinction between a subject or institution's social position and standpoint. Social position is passive and descriptive. It requires nothing other than being. However, standpoint requires a social position to take an active way of knowing consciously rooted in the social position, so maybe it is a self-identified understanding of one's social position within the larger societal structure. In this way, it can also be explanatory. This is the way I understand it and is most often used in work in some way identified as Black Feminist Thought.

This would clear up the fuzziness in Adams and Padamsee's usage I think. However, then there is Connell, whose subjects are institutions, not the people who make up the institutions. So can an institution have a standpoint that presupposes consciousness* of the social position? For example, the U.S. military as an institution has a social position in relation to U.S. society, and transnational imperialism. But can it have a standpoint? Wouldn't this require some coherence within the military as institution itself, not just the hegemonic line of violent masculinity? This seems like a slippery slope. Is there a better way to communicate what Connell is trying to convey, which is more than social position but I'm not convinced can actually achieve a unified, but maybe at best hegemonic, standpoint for institutions?

*by conscious I only mean self-knowing

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