Social Justice Usage
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 187.
Positivism: A perspective or philosophy of the scientific method as objective, neutral, and the ideal approach to understanding the world.
New Discourses Commentary
Positivism, or sometimes logical positivism, is a philosophical view that, in brief, contends that every proposition that qualifies as being knowledge (in the objective sense) is the result of epistemologies that depend upon evidence and reason. It is, in this sense, the rationalist and empiricist position of the Enlightenment, particularly the phase during the 18th century in Europe and its colonies. Positivism would assert that for a proposition to constitute knowledge, it would have to be able to be empirically or scientifically verified or logically proved. Generally, positivist attitudes would therefore say that there is something called objective truth, objective knowledge, or objectivity, and that it is best characterized by the elimination or absence of bias, particularly cultural values. Positivism therefore sees claims of objective truth to be (approximately) value-free and universal in the sense of not being contingent upon the culture asserting or accepting them. In this sense, positivism is viewed as a kind of ideology (see also, hegemony) by the Theory of Critical Social Justice.
Positivism is, in some sense, the arch-enemy of both postmodern Theory and, as a consequence, the Theory of Critical Social Justice. Theory (or, these Theories, if preferred) vigorously reject the idea that objectivity is desirable or possible and that truth has any necessary correspondence with reality. Under Theory, all statements, thus all claims upon knowledge or truth, are socially constructed and thus contingent upon the culture that produces and legitimates them (see also, social constructivism, episteme, power-knowledge, and Foucauldian, and also cultural relativism and racial knowledge). This (quasi)-anti-realist perspective in Theory therefore insists that all claims about truth and knowledge are both reflections of and assertions of the values of those with power in society, which is members of dominant (identity) groups, according to the Theory of Critical Social Justice. Dominant groups are Theorized not to be aware of their own biases (see also, internalized dominance), and critical theories are posited as a tool for exposing this alleged problematic.
Positivism is used roughly synonymously with “scientism” within Theory, and far more commonly. Scientism can be understood roughly as a kind of religion, faith, or ideology that asserts that everything (or very nearly everything) that can be known is scientifically knowable. Postmodern philosophy in general is not merely generally anti-realist (seeing no reliable connection between statements about reality and reality itself) but is radically anti-positivist. In this sense, we can make sense of the postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard’s misidentification of science as a metanarrative (a grand, sweeping explanation or mythology that explains how we should approach the world and knowledge) because that accusation would make far more sense when applied to scientism or positivism. (NB: We are not arguing that Lyotard meant “scientism” and “positivism” when he said “science” is a metanarrative; we’re contending that he didn’t understand what he was criticizing as such instead.)
In the Theory of Critical Social Justice more specifically, the relevant issue is that positivism is believed to unjustly exclude and marginalize “other ways of knowing” that fall outside the scientific and Western philosophical (rational, reasonable) traditions (see also, master’s tools, epistemic injustice, epistemic oppression, epistemic violence, Eurocentrism, and white ignorance). This is because the Theory of Critical Social Justice is centered upon identity politics, which it has infused with critical theory and postmodernism. In answer to positivism, then, Critical Social Justice builds a quasi-anti-realist position that largely denies any necessary connection between truth and reality while making an exception for the lived experience of oppression under systemic power (see also, realities). Thus, in the Theory of Critical Social Justice, knowledges are always plural and contingent, and anti-positivist approaches to knowledges are available through intersectional standpoint epistemologies and analysis of positionality (one’s relationship to systemic power as a member of various “intersecting” social groups).
Indeed, positionality is the epistemological pillar of the Theory of Critical Social Justice, and it is considered anti-positivist by definition. This is because positivism would assert that there is some universally applicable set of truths about reality, i.e., that they are true for everybody, while positionality (thus the Theory of Critical Social Justice) insists that truths are matters of group narratives, values, and traditions, and realities are ultimately conditioned by the relationship those identity groups have to systems of power in society. Under this view, multiple ways of knowing, thus multiple knowledges, exist, depending on one’s groups’ relationships to systemic power. These knowledges are considered to be “truths” within different possibly incommensurate (experiential) “realities,” and this view undermines any possible claim to universality or objectivity of any one particular way of knowing (e.g., science).
Bias; Critical; Critical theory; Cultural relativism; Domination; Episteme; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic oppression; Epistemic violence; Eurocentrism; Exclusion; Foucauldian; Hegemony; Identity; Identity politics; Ideology; Injustice; Internalized dominance; Intersectionality; Knowledge(s); Legitimate; Lived experience; Marginalization; Master’s tools; Metanarrative; Narrative; Objectivity; Oppression; Other; Positionality; Postmodern; Power-knowledge; Problematic; Racial knowledge; Radical; Realities; Reality; Science; Social construction; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Standpoint epistemology; System, the; Systemic power; Theory; Truth; Universalism; Value-free; Ways of knowing; Western; White ignorance
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 4[S]cientific method [sic] (sometimes referred to as “positivism”) was the dominant contribution of the 18th century Enlightenment period in Europe. Positivism rested on the importance of reason, principles of rational thought, the infallibility of close observation, and the discovery of natural laws and principles governing life and society. Critical Theory developed in part as a response to this presumed superiority and infallibility of the scientific method, and raised questions about whose rationality and whose presumed objectivity underlies the scientific method.
Source: Thompson, Sherwood (ed.). Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, p. 192.
Recognition of the merits of cultural pluralism also stemmed from the intellectual, artistic, and cultural developments that, together, are referred to as postmodernity. Postmodern thinkers rejected the confidence and hubris of the Enlightenment and Positivism, both of which presumed that truth could be known and discovered and that truth was universal and constant. Postmodernists are much more skeptical about truth. For them, no direct, necessary correspondence exists between reality and ideas about it—because there is no unitary, unified reality. A center does not exist, ontologically, epistemologically, or culturally. As a result, postmodern thinkers reject the idea of a dominant voice or metanarrative with claims to authority. This rejection of a dominant voice legitimized different voices rather than strengthened the dominant culture. An outgrowth of this intellectual turn is that cultural minorities or enclaves began to be and are valued as different voices, each voice with its own claim to partial, provisional truth.
Source: Thompson, Sherwood (ed.). Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, p. 568.
Positionality is a critical understanding of the role a scholar’s background and current (socially constructed and perceived) position in the world plays in the production of academic knowledge, particularly in qualitative research in the social sciences. Multiple epistemologies—ways of knowing or understanding the world—exist as researchers come from varied vantage points. Undermining positivist constructions of knowledge, the theoretical construct of positionality refutes dominant notions of objectivity in the academy.
Revision date: 5/18/20