What is Dorothy Smith's standpoint theory?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Smith's own words, the Standpoint theory (sometimes known as the Feminist Standpoint theory) is founded upon the premise that

what one knows is affected by where one stands in society.

By saying "where one stands", Smith is referring to our socioeconomic position in society: gender, social ranking (leverage), financial status, ethnicity, religion, and overall social standing.

Smith also offers three basic assumptions:

  • knowledge is not objective (it is subjective to that said standpoint)
  • points of view are not shared by any two individuals in an identical manner
  • what we consider our personal views should be always revisited; do not take them for granted- as we change throughout life, we take different standpoints which grant for a different viewpoint.

An example of how the Standpoint theory is applied can be illustrated with the current view of the US economy. Someone who is dependent on government funding might have a completely different view of the current situation of the economy from someone who is middle class and feels crushed by it. Similarly, women might feel differently than males when it comes to woman rights regarding their own bodies.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dorothy Smith and other theorists argued that what one knows, and the way one understands the world, is specific to one's social situation. So, women and other oppressed or marginalized people can ask questions about power structures (a major focus of late twentieth century social sciences) that other groups (white men, in particular) cannot. They are situated in ways that enable them to uncover truths about these power relations that men would have no interest in uncovering, and could not uncover even if they wished.

In trying to understand power relations, in short, Smith argued that a "woman's place," meaning her socioeconomic situation as well as her gender, should be the starting point. The irony is that groups such as women that have been socially marginalized, and largely shut out of academic disciplines, can, through this theory, actually enjoy a privilege when it came to producing new perspectives in scholarly work. But first, women and other groups have to recognize the unique subjective perspectives they have by virtue of their "place." 

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dorothy Smith’s standpoint theory states that a person sees the world from a particular point of view based on that person’s place in society. Therefore, a white, middle-class male will see the world differently than a female, Native American living below the poverty line. For example, some people who tend to do well economically often frown upon having to pay for programs, through their taxes, to help those who are less fortunate. A person’s gender, race, and socioeconomic status are factors that impact a person’s perspective of events in the world.

Dorothy Smith focused on the marginalization of women in society. Through marginalization, women are put in a position to challenge existing beliefs better than a man could or would want to do. She believed that knowledge in society generally comes from the viewpoint of a male, and therefore, contains the bias of a male.