Excerpts – 8: Notions of Objectivity, Repurposed and Clarified

Haraway argues that through articulating subject positions, there is an enriching in the particular, in the situational, and in the specific – in knowing always and only partially, but in a manner that respects the multiple, and often incoherent and intersection subject-positions of a person. Similar to Rosaldo’s notion of culture as multiple points of intersection, Haraway sees truth-claims as intersectional. She argues that the only way to be ‘truly objective’ – that is, to lay valid claim to a particular truth – one must specify a subject position. It is impossible to be objective from any vantage point – and any observer must have a vantage point. When the vantage point is left undescribed and unexplicated, the perspective of the person doing the seeing is erased, resulting in the God trick: a social world that is seen to exist on its own, rather than constructed through the writing and authorship of the observer who also is defined, circumscribed in some particular context.

Haraway is clear here: objectivity as implied by the natural sciences often engage in the God trick – and it is this God trick that is flawed; no one person can claim to speak coherently and simultaneously from multiple subject positions. The only way to be objective is to be partially so; each person occupied multiple subject-positions which provide different perspectives and angles of truth. Rosaldo adds that writing is never a neutral process; in other words: how we cut the onion matters to the truth we produce – mincing, dicing, producing rings or shells or layers, finely chopping – all are truths produced from cutting an onion. But how we cut matters to the truth produces – and how we construct others matters. The knife we use matters – and our methods and methodologies matter. Our epistemological and ontological positions matter to the truths we produce about Others. Our perspective matters to how we write about Others.

Infinite perspective is therefore the God trick, and an illusion that should be scrutinized in academic writing. It is the illusion of infinite illusion that natural sciences so often promote, so much so that the myth of the “god trick of seeing everything from nowhere” is put “into ordinary practice.” Perspective is therefore dysregulated, and collectively, the visual range of this “technological feast” can be considered Zoe Sofoulis’ “cannibaleye”. I see this “eye” as akin to a masculinist eye as described by Zoe Sofoulis, but also to a Euro-American, imperialistic “I”, as Geertz might argue. It is a cannibaleye that simultaneously “fucks the world”, producing unregulated, “new” perspectives without clearly defined vantage points. It is this cannibaleye of technology that consumes Others, and s(p/h)its out constructions of these Others, through what Haraway calls “excremental second-birthing”. This image of technological gluttony is powerful in conveying the natural sciences’ preoccupation with developing and using “direct, devouring, generative, and unrestricted vision.” Of course, all vision is restricted – and what is often shown as scientific fact or as “indubitable recordings of what is simply there and as heroic feats of technoscientific production” are in fact, also situated and not innocent or neutral in their vantage point.

The physiological function of vision is also not neutral; it is the combination of multiple processes of filtering that result in some image of reality. The realities we produce through physiological sight are no more objectively real than those produced through technologies of vision in qualitative research. Thus, Haraway repurposes notions of objectivity from the cold mechanical world of natural and physical sciences to reflect the aims of the social sciences.

Objectivity, vision, the power to see, and the power to write about and into: these are not innocent processes of knowledge production. They come with projects and agendas that are sometimes never explicated. Research in ethnography seems less about “discovering Others”, and seems instead to be a space of contested truths, contests ways of knowing – it is a space of intricate relationships between hierarchy, validity, and power, and disturbances in these relationships. Research seems to be more about learning from the flux of relationships, borders, and boundaries. Epistemological critiques take place in these disturbances; what counts as truth or valid ways to know shifts with these critiques.

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