Thursday, March 20, 2014

Doing Feminist Science/Feminists Doing Science: An interview with Dr. Sari van Anders, Founder of Gap Junction Science Part II

Continued from Part I. In Part II, Dr. van Anders discusses her website, www.gapjunctionscience.org.

How did Gap Junction Science come about? Prior to Gap Junction, how did you find and network with feminist scientists?

I became really interested in the doing of feminist science – it felt very hard for me to figure things out, and there wasn’t that much community of actual feminist scientists. I wanted to develop a place where feminist science could be discussed – both practice and theory. I sometimes hear people talk about the theory as if it is practice. Of course it’s relevant, but you know what they say about theory and practice: in theory, they’re the same, in practice, they’re not. I was lucky that while I was thinking about these things, there was a call for grants at UM from our ADVANCE program for online networks in science that promote diversity. Feminism isn’t necessarily diverse, but the feminist science I envision at its heart attends to diversity. So, I wanted a space where scientists didn’t have to defend their very identity, and where feminist beliefs were a starting point, not a debate. I hoped that Gap Junction Science could be a space where feminist scientists could challenge ourselves, learn more, develop methods, and engage in a shared project. Prior to Gap Junction Science, and still, I do a lot of grassroots networking – emailing, meeting, etc. I like that ‘bottom-up’ approach and I like that now I also have a ‘top-down’ source too.

Via OffWorld Designs


How do you see visitors to the site using Gap Junction?

At first, I thought of it more as a social networking site, and this was influenced by colleagues who led other sites where the social networking features were predominant. But, visitors to Gap Junction Science seem to be doing a lot more reading than engaging, from our statistics. I think people are using it to learn more about feminism and how feminism and science could come together. After all, almost all scientific training explicitly or implicitly teaches that the two cannot come together, so I think it has more of an educational component than I first anticipated. People are reading it to try to flesh out their own understanding of feminist science and how to talk about it, explain and ‘defend’ their own passions to others, and incorporate new ways of seeing and doing into their own science.

Do you think it’s important to have female mentors? Do you see Gap Junction fostering mentorship?

I usually say that what matters is having feminist mentors. I find the point in Donna Haraway’s Cyborg manifesto as really useful here: she calls for alliances based on affinities rather than identities. So, choosing a mentor based on gender is choosing based on identity, but what does that identity represent? I don’t think all women are one unified essential group. Neither are feminists! But at least with feminism you have an inkling of the politics and sympathies and beliefs. That said, sometimes you really need identity-specific advice, and that can be hard to get from someone who doesn’t share your social location. But a good feminist mentor should be able to guide you to someone who can give you what they can’t. I will also say that I have repeatedly seen a very special bitterness reserved for mentors who share a social location but not an affinity; there’s an expectation that the mentor will ‘get’ the mentee and, when they don’t, it feels like way more of a violation. There’s nothing worse than not finding a home where you thought one would be. So, I recommend a feminist mentor and, for identity-related issues, going to someone with ‘epistemic privilege.’ That is someone who has critically engaged with their social location and positionality. In other words, find someone who has insights about the lived experiences you share, not just someone who shares the social location itself. So find someone who understands the issues you’re facing, when you can. That person is going be able to help you navigate difference in some remarkable ways. I think that Gap Junction Science kind of acts as impersonal indirect mentorship, especially about topics where local knowledge and expertise might be missing. For example, I’ve had a few colleagues now tell me that they’ve frantically read the site before teaching or giving a talk on issues around gender, sex, feminism, and science. That did my heart good! Knowing that it could be useful in that way makes me realize how much more useful I could make it to that end.

Courtesy of Indiana University

What is your vision for the future of Gap Junction Science?

Well, definitely world domination, first. After that, milkshake machines for everyone! Then, who knows?! Just kidding (never about milkshakes). We’re in the process of thinking more about this, now that we see how the site is being used in the world. We’d like to make it much more of a resource, now that I know that it’s being used that way. I’d like to see more involvement of trainees – grad students especially. I’d love to have more people involved in posting, and invested in the site. Finally, I think a major goal is to be a ‘third space’ for exploring and how-to’s of creating feminist science knowledge. My vision for Gap Junction Science is to be a place where scientists can ‘catch up’ on feminist science and where feminist scholars can engage with the day-to-day issues of feminist science as well.



Want to cite this post?

Bowers, M. (2014). Doing Feminist Science/Feminists Doing Science: An interview with Dr. Sari van Anders, Founder of Gap Junction Science Part II. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2014/03/doing-feminist-sciencefeminists-doing_4175.html

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