Standpoint Theory and self-awareness
What is standpoint theory?
Origins of standpoint theory – Feminist standpoint
Indigenous standpoint • The Cultural interface
Why is it important?
• Differing perspective based on our view of the world
Theory of standpoint or standpoint theory
‘The theory of standpoint helps us to acknowledge the world around us, our social
positioning in it, how this positioning relates to others and society’
(Prehn, Krakouer & Fernando, 2021, p 3).
Key concepts underpinning standpoint theory
Critique of universal knowledge systems
‘Situated knowledge’ (Donna Haraway, Dorothy
Smith) or ‘subjugated knowledge’ (Michel Foucault)
Influences how people construct or understand the world
All standpoints are partial and co-exist with other standpoints
Feminist Standpoint theory
Knowledge production is neither value-free or neutral
Challenged patriarchal knowledge systems – where what counted as ‘true’ originated from male experience or ‘men as knowing subjects’
Women’s knowledge and experience was invisible
Argued that women’s knowledges are shared, situated, relational, multiple, contextual and complex
Developed a feminist epistemology
‘Feminist standpoint theory advises a social scientist to couple the process of generating evidence with a process of empowerment.’ (Rolin, 2009)
‘Feminism as a mode of analysis leads to respect experience and differences, to respect people enough to believe that they are in the best possible position to make their own revolution.’ Harstock, 1980
Critiques of Standpoint theory
Critiques of black women that their experience/standpoint was not the same as white women
Intersecting oppressions marked by race, class, colonisation, culture, abledness and sexuality shape the production of knowledge and ways in which we are known and come to know and experience the world.
(Moreton-Robinson, 2013 p.339)
Multiple oppressions or intersectionality
Development of Indigenous Standpoint
British colonisation resulted in elimination and extermination of Indigenous social systems, knowledge, traditions and cultural sciences (Rigney, 2000).
Scientific inquiry into Indigenous peoples has been deficit-based, racist, unethical – resulting in creation of knowledge that is racially biased and ‘selffulfilling prophecy’ (Bin-Sallick, 1990; Diamon, 1999). Martin Nakata
Standpoint theory ‘is a method of enquiry, … not to produce the “truth” of the Indigenous position, or the awful “truth” of the “dominant” colonial groups, but to better reveal the workings of knowledge and how understanding of Indigenous people is caught up and is implicated in its work’ (Nakata, 2007, p 350).
Indigenous standpoint has to be produced; it is not any sort of hidden wisdom that Indigenous people possess.
It is not an Indigenous way of doing knowledge
Three principles to facilitate Indigenous standpoint theory by Nakata
“It would, therefore, begin from the premise that my social position is discursively constituted within and constitutive of complex set of social relations as expressed through social organisation of my every day” p. 350.
This acknowledges the complexity in which a person lives, acknowledging factors such as social, political, economic and cultural, impacts and influence who you are and structure your everyday life.
“This experience as a push-pull between Indigenous and non-Indigenous positions; that is, the familiar confusion with constantly being asked at any one moment to both agree and disagree with any proposition on the basis of a constrained choice between a whitefella or blackfella perspective”. P 351
Affords agency to people. Nakata explains ‘This provides a means to see my position in a particular relation to others, to maintain myself with knowledge of how I am positioned, and to defend a position if I have to’ Simplistically, it is questioning why should Indigenous people have to choose positions instead of share what they know from both at the cultural interface, constituting Indigenous agency.
“the push-pull between Indigenous and not Indigenous positions… the idea that the constant ‘tensions’ that this tug-of-war creates are physically experienced, and both inform as well as limit what can be said and what is to be left unsaid in every day” p 351
Acknowledges the everyday tensions, complexities and ambiguities
Enables Indigenous academics to use these principles to ‘unravel and untangle’ themselves from the conditions and representations that define, limit and demarcate who, what or how Indigenous academics see themselves from the colonial world or within the context of this study, the whitestream within academia (Nakata, 2007b, p. 217).
Nakata’s (2007a, 2007b) use of standpoint theory allows for multiple Indigenous standpoints rather than just one homogenisation of Indigenous voices.
An aspect of decolonising social work is for Indigenous academics to challenge the conditions and representations that have been ascribed and predetermined in the whitestream, this then enables Indigenous social and cultural realities, worldviews, and experiences to be defined and represented from an Indigenous standpoint.
‘Australian Indigenous research paradigms are Indigenous founded on a construction of humanness that is predicated on the body’s connectedness to our Women’s respective countries, human ancestors, creative beings and all living things. I use the term country Standpoint we are inextricably tied but it is also the term here to mean not only the tracks of land to which
used to denote Indigenous people who have
bloodline to that country through creator and ancestral birth. This interconnectedness is the basis of Indigenous sovereignty, which informs our standpoint as embodied socio-cultural and historically situated subjects of knowledge.’
(Moreton Robinson, 2013; p335)
‘[I]n order to understand our own position better, and to ultimately act to improve it, we must first immerse ourselves in and understand the very systems of thought, ideas and knowledges that have been instrumental in producing our position’ (Nakata, 1998, p. 1).
‘Understanding that all things are connected in the world is the basis for observing, engaging, being and doing in the world’ (Moreton-Robinson, 2013, p. 342),
Indigenous as coloniser
• ‘Migrancy and dispossession indelibly mark configurations of belonging, home and place in the postcolonising nation-state…. enjoyed
by the non-Indigenous subject— coloniser/migrant-… based on the dispossession of the original owners of the land… It is a sense of belonging derived from ownership as understood within the logic of capital.’ (Moreton-Robinson 2003)
Why is standpoint theory important?
Disrupts the privileging of western ways of knowing
Recognises and establishes Indigenous ways of knowing and being
(knowledge) within the academy
Critical for you to recognise how you are situated, its impact on your worldview and knowledges
Contributes to your cultural responsiveness by turning the gaze on yourself
Note: we need to be careful that in our reflexivity and looking at ourselves, we don’t erase social, historical and contextual
complexities and reproduce self-inoculations of either guilt or
innocence. Consider what are you denying, silencing or making
invisible to remain innocent? (Badwall, 2016)
Theorised by Martin Nakata
“what is needed is consideration of a different conceptualisation of the crosscultural space, not as a clash of opposites and differences but as a layered and very complex entanglement of concepts, theories and sets of meanings of a knowledge system” (Nakata, 2006, p. 272).
Nakata’s (2007, p215-216) Three Principles of knowledge production (fundamental to his concept of Indigenous Standpoint theory)
The cultural interface as a contested/convergent knowledge space
A place of agency
Acknowledges the everyday tensions, complexities and ambiguities
Badwall, H. (2016) Critical Reflexivity and Moral Regulation, Journal of Progressive Human Services, 27:1, 1-20, DOI:
Hammond, L. (2021). A trans-Tasman relational model for academics integrating Indigenous knowledges and perspectives into whitestream social work education Doctor of Philosophy, Thesis (Doctorate)].
Kleineberg, M. (2013). The blind men and the elephant: towards an organization of epistemic contexts. Knowledge Organization, 40(5), 340-364. DOI:10.5771/0943-7444-2013-5-340
McGloin, C. (2009). Considering the work of Martin Nakata’s “cultural interface”: A reflection on theory and practice by a non-Indigenous academic. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 38(1), 36-41.
Moreton-Robinson, A. (2000). Talkin’up to the white woman: Aboriginal women and feminism. University of Queensland Press.
Moreton-Robinson. (2013). Towards an Australian Indigenous Women’s Standpoint Theory: A Methodological Tool. Australian Feminist Studies, 28(78), 331–347. https://doi.org/10.1080/08164649.2013.876664
Nakata, M. (2007). The cultural interface. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 36(S1), 7-14.
Nakata, M. (2007). Disciplining the savages, savaging the disciplines (1st ed., pp. 317–345). Aboriginal Studies Press.