Re-disciplining the politic of inequality: ‘powerful knowledge’ meets new feminist materialist onto-epistemologies half way

Year: 2016

Author: Ivinson, Gabrielle, Renold, Emma

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This provocation will focus on knowledge and inequality by dialoguing between recent sociological arguments for ‘powerful knowledge’ (Young and Lambert, 2014) and feminist critiques of scientific knowledge (Haraway, 1988; Barad, 2007). This debate can be characterised as an oscillation between a politics of knowledge and identity. The need to re-discipline the politics of inequality comes about because schooling has largely failed to shift the poverty-achievement gap. This requires moving beyond binaries to understand the acts and process that enable young people living in poverty to become more-than ‘underachieving’ with ways of knowing, being and belonging that are full of potential. Feminist philosophy and sociology have long histories of critiquing scientific knowledge as masculine ways of knowing that privilege objectivity and abstraction. Feminist post-structuralists, standpoint theorists were accused of relativism; identity politics and peddling ‘situated’ knowledge. Recently, some sociologists argue those living in poverty, should be given access to ‘powerful knowledge’ as the means to access public domains, jobs and debates. Accordingly, situated or local knowledge is presented as inferior. Hughes and Lury (2013) argue that the new feminist materialist onto-epistemologies are indeed a return to ‘situatedness’. Yet, recognising that knowledge is always and only ever partial does not need to be the end game. Instead, the positioning of the poor and other subjugated groups can be viewed not as fixed identities but as ‘mobile positionings’ that are neither careless nor antirealist (Code 2006) so much as a negotiated empiricism. This negotiation recognises that values are integral to science and requires an ethics of mattering (Barad, 2007). Relations are viewed as generative; boundaries are drawn between e.g. human and non-human and between those in poverty and those not in poverty. Accordingly ‘the poor’ are continuously created through Capitalism. This requires a greater understanding of how the poor are created through mundane, everyday practices of schooling and beyond. We draw on longitudinal research in ex-mining valleys of south Wales where we have been working with marginalised young people since 2009 to provide a diffractive account of how young people are marginalised in ways that territorialise bodies and desires. We argue that it is no longer acceptable to posit teaching ‘powerful knowledge’ as the way forward, and instead a radical political position is required that pays attention to the ways of being and worlding that young people in ex-mining communities undertake in struggles to become and belong.