What Standpoint Theory/Epistemology Is and Is Not
Contrary to much current demagoguery, Standpoint Theory (or, similar, “Standpoint Epistemology”) is in fact rooted in empiricist, evidentialist, epistemology. The epistemic relevance of Standpoint Theory has to do with evidence and justification, not the nature of truth, its objective character, nor its public accessibility. Rather,
The claim is that members of marginalized groups are more likely to have had experiences that are particularly epistemically salient for identifying and evaluating assumptions that have been systematically obscured or made less visible as the result of power dynamics. (Kristen Intemann, p. 791)
Or, in Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo’s words,
Minoritized groups often have the widest view of society, in that they must understand both their own and the dominant group’s perspective—develop a double-consciousness—to succeed.” (Is Everyone Really Equal?, p. 70)
Since I was implicated in Dr. Levinson and Dr. Shenvi’s recent exchange published on the Aquila Report, I thought I might offer some final thoughts in response. If you have not read either of the pieces, it might be helpful to start there. (“Does Critical Theory Matter for the Evangelical Church to Act for Social Justice?: A Response to Neil Shenvi” and “A Response to Dr. Levinson On Critical Theory“)
When Dr. Neil Shenvi originally published his review of Dr. Bradley Levinson’s text, Beyond Critique, he wrote the following:
Hands-down, this book is the best source I’ve found for those interested in a systematic explanation of critical theory from the pen of critical theorists themselves. (“A Short Review of Levinson’s Beyond Critique” [emphasis original])
One would think, then, that Dr. Levinson’s critique of Dr. Shenvi’s own characterization of “critical theory” would be received with all due weight; but instead, Dr. Shenvi has chosen to rely on his own perceived expertise in the field to sidestep Dr. Levinson’s correctives. I wonder if Dr. Shenvi believes his review of “dozens of books” and collection of “thousands of words of quotations from primary sources” is an advantage over Dr. Levinson’s twenty five page CV, including several books, dozens of peer reviewed articles, and thirty years of teaching in the field?
Nearly one week ago, the pastoral staff of First Baptist Church Naples released a statement announcing that pastor Marcus Hayes had failed to reach the threshold of 85% in the congregation’s vote for senior pastor, retaining only 81% of the total vote. On its own, this is not entirely remarkable as many churches have an even higher vote threshold required for installation. But what set the internet ablaze was the staff’s statement that, “through social media, texting, phone calls, and emails, racial prejudice was introduced into our voting process.” The usual suspects aligned on each side of the ensuing debate, some seeking immediate disciplinary action, some seeking more information, and others assuming it was a lie, given that over 360 members—those who voted “no” and/or actively campaigned against him—would have to have been white supremacists; a near impossibility, in their minds, in modern America.
Within a couple days, emails began to be released which, to many, painted a very different picture. None of the emails produced mentioned anything about Hayes’ race nor included any specific racialized language. Reformation Charlotte, the blog which has been publishing the emails, summarized the nature of the “group of concerned FBCN members’” critical campaign against Hayes:
Allow us to take stock. The original topic proposed by Dr. Shenvi was, “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism?” Shenvi attempted to present the “yes” position by offering the “core tenets of contemporary critical theory” (“fourfold construction”), arguing that these are contradicted by Scripture (“threat” in principle) and are held by some evangelicals (“threat” as “currently negatively impacting”), offering four quotes to demonstrate the latter.
I responded by noting that,
If one is going to attribute CT to an evangelical’s beliefs in order to claim dangerous influence, one is required to attribute that which is distinctive to the tradition, not simply that which is included, though common to other and much earlier traditions….
The following is in response to “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 7.” Thank you again, brother!
Since the topic is now Shenvi’s fourfold construction, clarification is first in order:
T1: I don’t think anyone’s position is that, a priori, societies are divided into oppressor/oppressed, or that, a priori, “white” or “male” are dominant classes. The argument is that given a society structured to distribute advantages/disadvantages according to socially constructed group membership, dominant groups are in a structurally oppressive relation to subordinate groups, by virtue of said distribution. No one can doubt this was true of “white” and “male” throughout American history; and all should recognize that this is not true of societies structured along different lines. Whether one lives in such a society is an empirical, a posteriori, question, not a subject of armchair theorizing nor biblical exegesis.
First, Dr. Shenvi asks how I’ve been mischaracterized. I count three in his latest post:
I’ll state for the third time that there are many critical theories which have developed since the origin of Critical Theory in the Frankfurt School, which is what Brad’s sources are characterizing.
Again, this is false. From my very first post, I pointed to Sensoy/DiAngelo and Delgado/Stefancic to define Shenvi’s own suggested titles for his fourfold construction, and added Levinson and multiple other sources in my last post. Must we do this again? I’m willing.
The following is in response to Dr. Neil Shenvi’s second post, “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 3.” Thank you again, brother.
I’m honestly disappointed to be mischaracterized so soon into this discussion. I simply did not criticize Dr. Shenvi’s supposed “core tenets” of CT by means of Horkheimer’s 80 y/o definition. I cited Sensoy and DiAngelo’s 2017 “Brief Overview of Critical Theory,” which contains no mention of Shenvi’s fourfold construction, but rather focuses on the socialization of knowledge, social constructivism, and social critique motivated by “the ideals of equality” (pp. 25-27). I cited Delgado and Stefancic’s 2017 answer to, “What is Critical Race Theory?,” noting again no mention of the fourfold construction, but instead the ordinariness of racialization, interest convergence, the social construction of race, differential racialization, intersection of identities and anti-essentialism, and the “unique voice of color.” And since Shenvi also suggested “Critical Social Justice” as a name which might represent his own construction, I cited Sensoy/DiAngelo’s 2017 definition, which, again, does not mention his fourfold construction.