The only (XX+) in the lab: CONVERSATIONS with black women working in science

โ€œChallenging power structures from the inside, working the cracks within the system, however, requires learning to speak multiple languages of power convincingly.โ€ โ€“ Patricia Hill Collins (2013: 28)

My work is embedded in intersectional feminism and critical philosophy of race -- as a result it is a form of intellectual activism. Intersectionality is the analytic approach of understanding the multiple identities individuals inhabit within social groups. It provides a space to examine the particular types of stigmatisation and oppression faced by people who are disadvantaged as a result of a profusion of injustices. Intersectionality thwarts any tendency to view a category in essentialist terms. It actively seeks to break down the problem of only recognising the most privileged of a persecuted group. It is distinctly different from white feminism, in that it rejects the notion that gender oppression is a stand alone category. The term intersectionality was coined by Black legal scholar Kimberlรฉ Crenshaw. The concept has been used by Black women since the time of slavery as a means to describe simultaneous oppression -- the triad of race, class and gender. It is a tool that has, and continues to be, used by Black feminists and activists to confront the fact that the analysis of gender oppression has primarily focused on white women, and the analysis of racism has primarily focused on Black men. 

My doctoral research will be lead wholly by the life stories of Black women from Africana and Caribbean decent working in STEM, as told to me by them.

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The aim of my project is threefold: 1) To investigate the epistemic routes Black women take to violate the hegemony of scientific knowledge and exercise their epistemic privilege as knowers. 2) Through the use of ethnographic conversations, collect life stories from a sample of Black women from African and Caribbean decent working in STEM. Unlike traditional social moral epistemology, this will take my theory out of the 'abstract' and into the reality of the social field. In this arena it can be tried and tested, so as to practically aid the wider conversation surrounding social injustice and ethical malpractice. 3) To construct a framework that is accessible both inside and outside of the academy, so as to highlight how epistemic injustices affect the production of scientific knowledge (and institutional knowledge more generally). My project is one of solidarity and resolution. Its purpose is to underline the tenacity of those that fight against epistemic injustice, and provide a space where epistemic resources can be produced, revised and shared so as to collectively build strategies for survival, resistance and transformation within the epistemic community. To achieve this I will utilise Sara Ahmed's analysis of the 'wilful subject', Patricia Hill Collinโ€™s account of โ€˜outside within', Miranda Frickerโ€™s exploration of โ€˜testimonial injusticeโ€™, Maria Lugones' 'playful โ€œworldโ€-traveling' and Dorothy Holland's 'figured worlds', to push the thesis that epistemic artfulness and non-compliance are tools against epistemic oppression.  

I will implement the ethics of care and accountability when developing my methodological framework. This is crucial to my research, as the topic is motivated by a necessity to confront epistemic and social injustice. My goal in listening to the experiences of the women/knowers participating in the project, is to provide a faithful representation of their life stories. I am not striving for an objective account, rather an account that they recognize as true. Furthermore as a responsible researcher exploring the stories of these women/knowers I must address my own personal accountability and how that plays a role in my research. It is imperative that I not only meet the standards of vigilant qualitative research, but also my own personal standards โ€“ it must be both a truthful account of the experiences of the participants, and a useful tool in the fight for epistemic and social justice.

For more information on the research methodology click here. 

For frequently asked questions click here.

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In the spirit of STS and its interdisciplinarity, I am being co-supervised by sociologist and theorist of social justice and science education Dr Emily Dawson (emily.dawson@ucl.ac.uk) and philosopher of science Dr Chiara Ambrosio (c.ambrosio@ucl.ac.uk)

If you would like to take part in the project or have any questions and/or suggestions regarding my research, please donโ€™t hesitate to contact me on: katherine.cecil.15@ucl.ac.uk, or drop me a message below. 

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