Sunday, October 10, 2010

Women's Ways of Knowing - Synopsis by E. Kalstad

Overview of Theory

Women’s Ways of Knowing is a theory by Belenky,  Clinchy, Goldberger, Tarule (1986) that reflects on the work of Gilligan and Perry  and emerged through research that encompassed a very broad demographic of women.  This theory is based on in-depth interviews with 135 women about their self image, moral dilemmas, relationships of importance, education and learning, visions for the future, and perceived catalysts for change (Belenky et al., 1986). Based on the interviews, some common themes among the women emerged and became the five epistemologies of Women’s Ways of Knowing.

The theory consists of five groups, advancing from the most basic form of thought and intellect to the most complex. The first epistemology is “women of silence.”  These women lack a voice of their own, conduct very little or no internal dialogue, and typically grew up disconnected from the community. The next epistemology is “women of received knowledge.”  These women are completely dependent on others for knowledge (Belenky et al., 1986).  The third group, “subjective knowers,” believes truth is in personal experience (Evans, 2010).  Many of these women have experienced sexual abuse (Belenky et al., 1986). “Procedural knowers” are at the next level of knowing and these women believe each of us looks at the world through a different lens. They rely on a combination of intuition and external authorities for answers.  The last of the epistemologies, “constructed knowledge,” integrates intuitive knowledge with learned knowledge from others. These women have developed a personal narrative, do not loose voice while listening to others, and use themselves to rise to new ways of thinking (Belenky et al., 1986).

Example of How it’s Been Used in Higher Ed.The Women’s Ways of Knowing theory has been used as a means to improve curriculum design, instruction, and techniques in educating women at the college level. Women need colleges that will set them free to find their own voice.  In this move toward freedom, women need a great amount of support, but they often are too nurtured in higher-education and may actually benefit from a more impersonal approach (Belenky et al., 1986).  This would challenge women to be more responsible, independent and active in their learning process.  Women students need opportunities to see professors (male and female) fail in their abilities to solve problems. Women need to see models of thinking as human, imperfect and achievable.

Annotated Bibliography
Nah, Y. (2003). Contextual influences on women’s identities and leadership styles. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, 9(4), 69. Retrieved from the ProQuest database.

Nay conducted research on five Korean women leaders in male-dominated professions. The research applied Belenky et al.’s theory of Women’s Way of Knowing by conducting a series of three interviews about their backgrounds, career profiles and experience overcoming gender-based discrimination. The study had two main goals 1) to challenge the belief that women’s identities and leadership styles are primarily relation-conscious based, and 2) to challenge the role of gender as the primarily determinant (over age, ethnicity, socioeconomic level, educational experiences and power) of a woman’s thought and behavior. The study found that you cannot generalize women. The context in which the women lived had a much greater correlation of their leadership styles, thoughts and behaviors than their gender.  I found this article helpful in targeting a very specific population, but it was limited by a lack of randomness. Participants volunteered themselves after being informed of the goals of the study.
References

Belenky, M.F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N.R., Tarule, J.M. (1986). Women’s ways of knowing: The development of self voice and mind. New York: Basic Books Inc.

Evans, N.J., Forney, D.S., Guido, F., Patton, L.D., & Renn, K.A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nah, Y. (2003). Contextual influences on women’s identities and leadership styles. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, 9(4), 69. Retrieved from the ProQuest database.

8 comments:

  1. I love this theory because I feel that I have identified with each stage before. I wonder how Belenky et al. would implement it in higher education, though. Would there be differences in entire course materials that would facilitate knowledge development?

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  2. It's was great to see examples of women who fit in each epistemology. The different answers women gave for each of the 5 groups made understanding the level simple and easy to apply to real life. I agree with Margaret, though. I would be interested to see how the authors would relate their research directly to students in higher education.

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  3. This was one of my favorite theories so far. I agree that it is very applicable. The stages are on a continuum. It's good to know that women can progress from one stage to the next with proper experiences, support, and maybe professional intervention. I've been thinking about whether I personally know women of silence, which is pretty extreme for modern day society and amongst the people I generally interact with.

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  4. This theory hits home for me so well. I grew up on the Navajo Reservation and could never figure out why the women acted the way they did. Some of them would say something and then they would take it back like it was nothing. I also would like to see how this theory is used in higher education too.

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  5. I agree with earlier posts about women in the silence perspective. It must be difficult for them to express basic needs and wants if they are so obedient and silent. I wonder if women revert back to this stage depending on relationships too, and how we as professionals can assist them out of this phase, and help them start thinking on a different level.

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  6. This was a great reading and I like this theory. I was not surprise to learn that the first epistemology is "women of silence" where the inner voice is not being heard. I wonder if their is a chance that those who are silent are also in a state of ingorance and/or lack of knowledge. When these women finally received or learned something, they are not ignorant anymore but cognitively developed and received knowledge. Thus, they choose to speak up and make meaning of the new knowledge.

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  7. I really enjoyed learning about this theory as my MRP (major research paper) emphasis for my MPA program focuses on Utah women's access to higher education. The connections between the dynamic of women and higher ed access in Utah is unique and this theory allowed me to reflect on some of the research I've conducted as well as on a personal level try to categorize women I know into various epistimological categories as outlined by Gilligan. This theory also indicates to me that not only do women have different ways of knowing, that they have different ways of connecting to the outer world,but different ways of learning as well. Thus, departments of non-traditional majors for women (i.e. science and engineering) should consider their teaching methods as perhaps the biggest contributor to the "gender gap" in these majors versus assuming women in general "don't excel at "x" subject" simply because their women.

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  8. Did she compare this with men's ways of knowing to show the differences?

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