Estranging Cognition : Feminist Science Fiction and the Borders of Reason

University dissertation from Uppsala : Engelska institutionen

Abstract: This study explores the intersections of three different fields: feminism, science fiction, and epistemology. It argues that as a genre, science fiction is dependent on epistemological discourses that have their roots in the stories and self-images of modern science. Furthermore, it is argued, these discourses are gendered and operate to reinforce patriarchal assumptions about gender and knowledge. Drawing on a tradition of feminist epistemology, works by Suzy McKee Charnas, Ursula Le Guin, and Joanna Russ are analyzed as engaging with and challenging these epistemologically loaded and fundamentally gendered discourses in different ways and in varying degrees. The study can be divided into two parts. Chapters one and two examine discourses on science fiction history and identity in the context of the origin stories of science, highlighting the links between reason, progress, authority and gender. They establish the traditional maleness of “reason” and its implications in the idea(l)s of progress, as they appear both in the texts of epistemology and in the texts of science fiction. Texts by Charnas, Le Guin, and Russ are read as challenges to ideologies of reason and progress, and thereby as reinscribing generic conventions as well as displacing traditional epistemological assumptions. Critically interrogating the traditional subject of knowledge, chapters three and four read the fiction of Charnas, Le Guin, and Russ as displacing this subject and exploring alternative understandings. The mainstream/malestream epistemological idea(l) of “a view-from-nowhere” is connected to the science fiction convention of “the-idea-as-hero,” and both are critiqued as significantly gendered concepts that serve to obfuscate the social and political dimensions of the subject of knowledge. Finally, (female) experience, emotions, and the body – three areas commonly designated as beyond the scope of epistemology proper – are explored as epistemic resources rather than liabilities.

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