Creating Interdisciplinary Space in Feminist Science Studies
By Sav Schlauderaff
Currently Science, Technology and Science (STS) & Feminist Science Studies (FSS) focuses are re-gaining popularity within academia--particularly in Feminist/Gender/Women’s Studies programs. As someone whose research falls within these areas of study, I constantly find myself feeling frustrated, unsupported, or unable to fully communicate my work. That all too often at conferences, in class, or in meetings with my professors people retreat to seeing my work as too difficult or outside their ability to comprehend the “science” part. That I constantly am placed on strange ill-fitting panels at conferences, I have never received a question that engages the “science” part of my work, and I constantly feel as though people I am talking to are pushing away my work without asking me to have a conversation with them. That they paint themselves as always already unable to engage OR they try and place my work outside of Feminist Studies altogether.
These miscommunications, in my opinion, are due to the fact that feminist science studies is far too full of people who are critiquing the societal impact of the research and not working with the research themselves. Or more pointedly, how can you fully critique current scientific research if you haven’t stepped foot in a lab? Or if you are not engaging with the primary research? Critiquing the societal impact is easy, and came out of the necessary work done by the founding theorists in feminist science studies, but simply viewing all areas of “science” as inherently masculinist and harmful is short-sighted and re-emphasizes the existing gap in communication between humanities and science. So my question then is, how can Feminist studies claim this interdisciplinary area of study when it has barely left its own discipline in the first place?
My frustration has also increased because of the enhanced focus on genetics/gene editing/epigenetics etc., but when these areas of research are discussed they are simplified to the point of presenting false information about heredity, trauma, and disability. That my stressing the difference between an epigenome and a genome has been brushed off numerous times, without understanding the danger of the misunderstanding.
So what now? What I would love is to see STEM research papers alongside Gloria Anzaldúa, Audre Lorde, Eli Clare, and Jasbir Puar. That I want to see the “interdisciplinary” in that mission statement working beyond intersections of two different disciplines in the humanities. I want to see the methodologies in Feminist studies evolve. I want the trendiness of various science fields within feminist studies to be capitalized on. I want people to at least understand that “science” isn’t a monolith--that yes I may work within genetics but that doesn’t mean I understand inorganic chemistry or mechanical engineering. This quick move towards homogenizing the vastness of STEM is a mistake that not only disregards the work done in these multiple disciplines, but it also makes it easier for those in feminist studies and disciplines in the humanities to distance themselves from it. Just as you would likely be upset if someone lumped feminist studies, english, anthropology, and psychology together as all the same--viewing neurology, biochemistry, ecology, and mathematics as a conglomerate erases the years of studying and applied research that creates these fields as distinct.
Doing work in feminist science studies is necessary, and it is necessary beyond the repeated research of looking at various oppressed groups in STEM fields. This work is necessary precisely because STEM research inherently impacts people, and without the ability to understand the methods or results we cannot properly critique it in a way that will create change. Further, if more people in STEM fields don’t understand this inherent impact of their work, or if they don’t think about who specifically their work will negatively impact (and who it has historically negatively impacted) then we will continue to be stuck in this academic divide.
I chose to pursue degrees on “both sides” because I found the valor in learning about genetics, and organic chemistry, and stem cells, and plant pathology alongside taking courses on the prison industrial complex, critical race studies, disability studies, and transgender studies. Through building this academic “bridge” for myself I was able to make connections in my courses and my own life. It makes school continuously interesting, because it showed my that there is infinitely more to learn, more interdisciplinary connections to make, more perspectives to examine an issue through. And no, it’s not because I’m “really smart,” because I believe anyone can learn how to read a STEM research paper and how to do lab work, just as they can learn to read Foucault and appreciate the powerful impact of spoken word poetry. These are all learned skills. Not innate. Not unattainable.
However, I do understand that the opportunities to get into a research lab are not a given. And I believe that this needs to change too--not just feminist studies syllabi. I think that lab experience is important, because at least for me it showed me how cool and fun science is. It demystified the processes of gene recombination and sequencing, how antibiotics work, beer brewing, and how to make aspirin-- in other words, it gave me a perspective on research that we see talked about in the media. It provided me the opportunity to have an informed opinion and the ability to respect the time, labor, and funding that go into research. STEM research shouldn’t be an elitist mystery that is easily pushed away or demonized. It is necessary, beautiful, laborious, and fun. And more similar to the methodological processes and findings in feminist studies than we think.
Therefore, to all the people who ask, yes my work is inherently feminist.
Because it is concerned with harm done to oppressed groups in society.
Because it centers on the importance of the future.
Because it pushes stagnant boundaries and forces us to think and imagine from new perspectives.
And it is inherently feminist because of (not despite) its interdisciplinary content and methods.
I am ready to reshape and expand our discipline, are you?