Feminism and Science: Mechanism Without Reductionism

Carla Fehr
University of Waterloo
During the scientific revolution reductionism and mechanism were introduced together. These concepts remained intertwined through much of the ensuing history of philosophy and science, resulting in the privileging of approaches to research that focus on the smallest bits of nature. This combination of concepts has been the object of intense feminist criticism, as it encourages biological determinism, narrows researchers’ choices of problems and methods, and allows researchers to ignore the contextual features of the phenomena they investigate. I argue that the historical link between mechanism and reductionism is not a necessary one, that this link should be severed, and in many cases has already been severed. Teasing reductionism away from mechanism allows us to hold onto the mechanistic view that science should explain how things work, without mandating methods and approaches that reduce the objects of scientific investigation to their smallest parts. Mechanism without reductionism decenters reductive methods, and so creates intellectual space for a plurality of methods that may engage the world at a variety of levels of organization. This ensuing pluralism opens the door for a wide variety of approaches to research, including feminist and gender-sensitive science
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