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What mother knows


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Nettlefold, Gwen,d._2001 2002 , 'What mother knows', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This thesis examines the experience of maternity as a lens through which to
refract questions concerning women's knowledge and the relationship between
embodied experience and knowledge. Much work in recent and contemporary
feminist epistemology is devoted to showing that there is something special
about women's knowledge, either because of a unique female social standpoint
or because of the nature of women's bodies and the kinds of experiences they
engender. Much of this work, I argue, essentialises women, fails to recognise
the generality of women's epistemic powers, and involves a commitment to
the view that mere sensory experience constitutes knowledge. This latter view,
I argue, is the core error in this body of work: In the guise of allowing women a
special kind of knowledge, it reinforces the idea that what is distinctive about
women's knowledge is its primitive, sensory character. This in turn lends
comfort to the disenfranchismement of women in pregnancy and childbirth
and the assumption of an expert position by the medical profession. I argue that
there is no unique feature of maternity that could issue in any epistemically
distinctive feature of women. While this means that simply experiencing
pregnancy and maternity does not give women any special privilege in these
domains, it is liberative in that it restores the epistemic equity between the
I investigate accounts of maternal experience which promise to establish
the special epistemic authority of mothers. I show that the Hegelian vision of
experience as knowledge seeps into many contemporary feminist texts, through
the work of theorists like Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jacques Lacan. In
particular, I show in chapter two that Iris Young's account of 'pregnant
embodiment' inherits a private knowledge claim from Hegel through Merleau-Ponty.
In chapters three and four I show how Lacan's work carries private
knowledge claims into our understanding of maternal experience. In chapter
three I show how this occurs in Kristeva and, in chapter four, in Hartsock's
'feminist standpoint epistemology'. In chapter five I draw on Bataille's
revision of Hegel to put right a feminist generalisation about masculine
knowledge based in sexual perversity. Finally, in chapter six I show that when
we dismantle the Hegelian 'myth of the given' through a Sellarsian analysis of
the relation between experience and knowledge, we regain a coherent vision of
the nature of our epistemic authority about experience, one that explains why
pregnant women are in an especially good position to know about pregnancy,
but also why they are in just as good a position to know about a lot of other
things besides.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Nettlefold, Gwen,d._2001
Keywords: Motherhood, Feminist theory
Copyright Holders: The Author
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Copyright 2002 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 2002. Includes bibliographical references

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