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Academic knowledge and power and the social sciences

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Christa B.
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  1. Introduction
  2. Political violence in Northern Ireland
  3. British rhetoric
  4. Feminist rhetorics
  5. Anthropological feminism
  6. The role of the ethnographer
  7. Conclusion
  8. References

Social science knowledge informs the way in which people interpret their experiences, and can be empowering, as in the case of political and feminist discourses. However, knowledge, employed as discourse, can also be employed in ways that disempower, and this is the focus of much of Foucault's work. The implication for academic work is that social science knowledge can serve to either empower or disempower its subjects, sometimes both, and in all cases it has influence over its subjects and its audience, by virtue of being itself a discourse, albeit a scientific one.

[...] By examining the production of environmental knowledge and the impact of Chinese government policies on the local peoples, Williams demonstrates how the state rhetorics clash with local rhetorics about the land. As a social scientist, she sees her role as one of translation, moving between the two groups in order to create and sustain a dialogue that will lead to more efficient land-use practices while simultaneously respecting the values of the local culture. Other areas of knowledge, such as feminist and political anthropology, also have a great impact because of their broad applications to many areas of life. [...]


[...] Social scientists have by and large taken male authority for granted; they have also tended to accept a male view that sees the exercise of power by women as manipulative, disruptive, illegitimate, or unimportant." (ibid: 21) By addressing the way in which the literature has served to legitimate male authority, Rosaldo is able to undermine the prevailing discourse. The power of feminist discourse, furthermore, is revealed in its application to the practical domains of society. In her examination of the woman's role in domestic and public life, Rosaldo refers to several arenas to which anthropological feminist theory has been applied: "In what follows, it will be seen that an opposition between 'domestic' and 'public' provides the basis of a structural framework necessary to identify and explore the place of male and female in psychological, cultural, social, and economic aspects of human life." (ibid: 23) And in reference to women's traditional role in the home, she writes: " . [...]

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