Objectivity

The interpretation of objectivity as neutral does not allow for participation or stances. This uninvolved, uninvested approach implies “a conquering gaze from nowhere” (Haraway 1988). In many ways, claims of objectivity allow one to “represent while escaping representation” (Haraway 1988) and mimics the construction of Whiteness2 in the racialization of marginalized peoples (Battey and Leyva 2016Guess 2006). Indeed, there is extensive evidence suggesting that STEM cultural norms are traditionally White, masculine, heteronormative and able-bodied (Atchison and Libarkin 2016Chambers 2017Eisenhart and Finkel 1998Johnson 2001Nespor 1994Seymour and Hewitt 1997Traweek 1988). Thus, while purporting to be a neutral application of a generic protocol, science-and STEM more broadly-has a distinct set of cultures that governs legitimate membership and acceptable behaviors. The concept of a meritocracy is often used to justify who succeeds in STEM cultures. However, far from “leveling the playing field”, meritocracies exist in cultural systems that prioritize people who have, or to a lesser extent closely emulate, these traits. Success in science, then, tends to privilege cultural traits associated with the above identities and often marginalizes scientists who can not or will not perform these identities. This introduces structural inequities in the pursuit of science that align with social manifestations of racism, colonialism, sexism, homophobia and ableism (Cech and Pham 2017Wilder 2014).

Defining the Flow—Using an Intersectional Scientific Methodology to Construct a VanguardSTEM Hyperspace

We love that paragraph on objectivity and meritocracy. It resonates with our experiences of meritocracy myth objectivity in STEM, big tech, Silicon Valley, open source, and rationalist communities. We bought a copy of Donna Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” to get “a conquering gaze from nowhere” and “represent while escaping representation” in context.

I would insist on the embodied nature of all vision and so reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere. This is the gaze that mythically inscribes all the marked bodies, that makes the un-marked category claim the power to see and not be seen, to represent while escaping representation.

Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective on JSTOR

That requires some unpacking, but really gets to the heart of it. The “power to see and not be seen” comes up in journalism regarding any reporter reporting on their own community. It comes up in autism research regarding autistic autism researchers and in conversations between autistic parents and parents of autistics.

The poster detailed my MSc paper which found that a large proportion of the variance of poor mental health and well-being could be explained by exposure to minority stress, and parts of my first study of my Ph.D.—a qualitative investigation into autistic community connectedness. A conference delegate asked, “why did you do this research?.” I disclosed being autistic, and pointed to the clear need for the research and the delegate’s response was “oh… are your supervisors? I just worry that you might be biased in, like… you know… this research?.” In that moment I recalled reading all the accounts that I detailed above—all these “objective” accounts of my sub-humanness. I asked the delegate what they meant, and they explained further that they are not necessarily sure that an autistic person would be best placed to talk about autism, but that it should be fine as long as I have non-autistic research supervisors checking over my work, to make sure that I am being “fair,” and “equal” in my representation of autistic people. I was discounted again.

Frontiers | Academic, Activist, or Advocate? Angry, Entangled, and Emerging: A Critical Reflection on Autism Knowledge Production

Haraway’s “marked bodies” reminds us of “spoiled identities” and the masking required to fit into “cultural systems that prioritize people who have, or to a lesser extent closely emulate, these traits.”

With a pathologized status comes the experience of stigma, dehumanization, and marginalization. Stigma refers to the possession of an attribute that marks persons as disgraced or ‘‘discreditable,’’ marking their identity as ‘‘spoiled.’’ Stigmatized persons may attempt to conceal these spoiled aspects of their identity from others, attempting to ‘‘pass’’ as normal. Investigation of ‘‘passing’’ and ‘‘concealment’’ has been explored in depth in other stigmatized populations; however, the application of stigma in autism research is a relatively new endeavor. Stigma impacts both on how an individual is viewed and treated by others and how that treatment is internalized and interacts with one’s identity.

A Conceptual Analysis of Autistic Masking: Understanding the Narrative of Stigma and the Illusion of Choice

Those “who can not or will not perform these identities” are marginalized, and those who can are exhausted. Those who attempt to advocate for themselves are discredited by the conquering gaze.

Meritocracy is a myth.

Masking for a false meritocracy is exhausting.

The “objectivity as neutral” conceit of the “conquering gaze from nowhere” leads to discrediting marginalized people and, in turn, to some “bloody regressive politics”, as we saw with New Atheism.

From my perspective, though, the deepest of the rifts was the emerging anti-feminist wing and the active neglect of social justice issues.

I realized it’s destination was where it is now: a shambles of alt-right memes and dishonest hucksters mangling science to promote racism, sexism, and bloody regressive politics.

The train wreck that was the New Atheism

Science’s eye for detail, buttressed by philosophy’s broad view, makes for a kind of alembic, an antidote to both. This intellectual electrum cuts the cloying taste of idealist and propositional philosophy with the sharp nectar of fact yet softens the edges of a technoscience that has arguably lost both its moral and its epistemological compass, the result in part of its being funded by governments and corporations whose relationship to the search for truth and its open dissemination can be considered problematic at best.

…the passive voice, “objective” stance, anonymity, and depersonalization of the scientist and journalist betray the fundamental phenomenological reality that each of us has a specific perspective. All observations are made from distinct places and times, and in science no less than art or philosophy by particular individuals.

Cosmic Apprentice: Dispatches from the Edges of Science

When you measure include the measurer.

It’s not Science vs Philosophy … It’s Science + Philosophy. When you measure include the measurer.

MC Hammer

I would insist on the embodied nature of all vision and so reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere. This is the gaze that mythically inscribes all the marked bodies, that makes the un-marked category claim the power to see and not be seen, to represent while escaping representation.

Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective

Get a Dose of Social Science

The failures of autism science are not random: they reflect systematic power imbalances.

Autism and Scientism
Disrupting Dis/abilization: A Critical Exploration of Research Methods to Combat White Supremacy and Ableism in Education

In my title, I ask “academic, activist, or advocate?”—and my answer is that I am all three. You cannot belong to a community that suffers from violence, marginalization, and suicide and not be. In my introduction I tell readers all the different types of autistic people I have been in the eyes of the clinicians and professionals who deemed my future limited or limitless because whenever an autistic person tells you anything about what it means to be autistic that is not just a list of impairments or limitations, we are told that we must have the “easy” autism. I laid this out so transparently to challenge the idea that just because we (autistic people) have fought to be included in autism research does not mean that you can picture where we have been (including how we experienced our own autism growing up). To conclude: I will not leave my values at the door of the academy—I refuse. I refuse to abandon my community and to engage in the complicit silence. Instead, I offer up transparency, openness, a constantly reflection, and learning. Instead, I make space for growth, action, and strive toward a social change for autistic people. It seems there is nothing more radical than that.

Frontiers | Academic, Activist, or Advocate? Angry, Entangled, and Emerging: A Critical Reflection on Autism Knowledge Production | Psychology
Soft domination, hold me
Rule me captive, drain me empty
And I need you to know me
So no one else owns me

Tell me you'll lift me up
Tell me you'll take me out of this place
Tell me you'll lift me up
Tell me you'll take me out of this place

--Soft Domination by Screaming Females

Ideally, in the search for truth, science and philosophy, the impersonal and autobiographical, can “keep each other honest,” in a kind of open circuit.

Cosmic Apprentice: Dispatches from the Edges of Science

Further reading,

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Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic parent and retired tech worker. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they

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