Sandra Harding

Born: March 29, 1935 | San Francisco, CA, US
Portrait of Sandra Harding

Photo courtesy of Sandra Harding

Sandra Harding was born in San Francisco, California, during the Great Depression. After high school, she studied literature at Douglass College, then moved to New York City where she worked at ABC and held soirees with her friends at her Greenwich Village apartment. Harding married, moved to Albany, and welcomed two daughters, then decided to pursue a graduate degree in philosophy from New York University, writing her dissertation on the epistemology of Willard Van Orman Quine. Harding's first faculty appointment was at SUNY-Albany's Allen Center, where she began work on feminist standpoint theory. Following an amicable divorce, she accepted a position at the University of Delaware. She recalls some strife within the department, especially in the form of vituperative anti-feminist critique of her work. While at Delaware, Harding began expanding feminist standpoint theory to incorporate perspectives from the feminisms of Women of Color feminism. She then accepted a full-time appointment at UCLA's Graduate School of Education, where she continued her active engagement in professional societies including the American Philosophical Association, the Society for Women in Philosophy and the Society for Social Studies of Science. She served as editor of Signs and worked with colleagues in Latin America to create the journal Tapuya.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 1101
No. of pages: 211
Minutes: 517

Interview Sessions

Joseph Klett and Jody A. Roberts
28 August 2018 and 23-25 April 2019
100 Harris Street, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and Harding's home in Playa Vista, California

Abstract of Interview

Sandra Harding was born in San Francisco, California, the first of five children born to Lloyd and Constance Harding. Her father's struggle to find work during the Great Depression led the family to Los Angeles, where they operated a roadside diner until the outbreak of World War II. At that point, her father got a position in the civil service and the family moved once again, this time to the East Coast. Harding recounts experiencing sexism in her elementary and secondary schooling in New Jersey, but recalls a warmly loving family environment which included encouragement for the children—both daughters and son—to pursue their educational aspirations. Earning tuition through summer jobs as a waitress and at the telephone company, Harding attended Douglass College and studied literature.

After graduation, Harding moved to New York City where she worked at ABC and held soirees with her friends at her Greenwich Village apartment. She met and married Harold Morick, at that time a graduate student in philosophy at Columbia University. Morick was writing his dissertation on Wittgenstein, and Harding contributed her efforts as typist. After he completed his PhD, they settled in Albany, where Morick got a position in the philosophy department at the State University of New York. There, they welcomed two daughters, a year apart. With the women's movement gaining momentum, Harding found herself dissatisfied with the role of faculty wife and decided to join the ranks of wives and mothers returning to school for graduate degrees. She began coursework in sociology at SUNY-Albany. When she decided to switch to philosophy, she transferred to New York University, partly in an effort to keep some separation between her budding career and Morick's. She elected to focus her dissertation on the epistemology of Willard Van Orman Quine.

Harding's first faculty appointment was at SUNY-Albany's Allen Center. There she began work on feminist standpoint theory. Following an amicable divorce from Morick, Harding accepted a position at the University of Delaware. She was drawn to the University of Delaware because of its active philosophy department, which included a master's program and a focus area on the philosophy of science. She also appreciated Wilmington's proximity to Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore and Washington, DC, which presented her with many opportunities for networking and for involvement in research and writing work for programs run by the United Nations. Harding recalls some strife within the department, especially in the form of vituperative anti-feminist critique of her work, and recalls that the critical tone of her tenure letter belied the 100 percent vote in favor of tenure for her. While at the University of Delaware, Harding began expanding feminist standpoint theory to incorporate perspectives from the feminisms of Women of Color feminism, and she relished her contact with the Black intellectual community in the Northeast.

After a period of splitting her time between the University of Delaware and the University of California, Los Angeles, she accepted a full-time appointment at UCLA's Graduate School of Education. There she continued her active engagement in professional societies including the American Philosophical Association, the Society for Women in Philosophy and the Society for Social Studies of Science. She served as editor of Signs and worked with colleagues in Latin America to create the journal Tapuya.

Throughout this multi-session interview, Harding often reflects on the influence of social justice movements—the women's movement, the civil rights movement, and the independence and post-colonial movements in nations around the world—on her work, and her steadfast commitment to producing work that furthers those movements. She emphasizes the practical and managerial approach she has taken towards her writing, teaching and mentorship of students. She describes herself as a "rogue philosopher," and delights in Sharon Traweek's characterization of her as someone who "plants herself on the borders of institutions and refuses to go away."

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1956 Douglass College BA English
1973 New York University PhD Philosophy

Professional Experience

State University of New York, Albany

1973 to 1976
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, The Allen Center

University of Delaware

1976 to 1979
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
1976 to 1989
Associate Professor of Philosophy
1981 to 1996
Joint Appointment to Sociology
1985 to 1991
Director of Women's Studies
1986 to 1996
Professor of Philosophy
1992 to 1993
Director of Women's Studies

University of Amsterdam

1987
Visiting Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies

University of Costa Rica

1990
Visiting Professor of Philosophy

University of California, Los Angeles

1992
Visiting Professor of Women's Studies and Philosophy
1994 to 1996
Adjunct Professor of Women's Studies and Philosophy
1995 to 2000
Director of the Center for the Study of Women
1995 to 2012
Professor of Education and Women's Studies
2012 to 2014
Distinguished Research Professor of Education and Women's Studies
2014 to Present
Distinguished Research Professor of Education and Women's Studies Emerita

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule)

1993
Visiting Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society

2000 to 2005
Co-editor

Michigan State University

2010 to 2014
Distinguished Part-time Visiting Professor of Education and Women's Studies

University of Cambridge

2017
Diane Middlebrook and Carl Djerassi Distinguished Visiting Professor of Gender Studies

Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology and Society

2017
Member, founding editorial team, and International Advisory Board

Honors

Year(s) Award
1986

The Science Question in Feminism nominated one of five best science books of 1986, Los Angeles Times

1986

The Science Question in Feminism named one of the five best books of 1986, The Socialist Review

1987

Jessie Bernard Award, American Sociological Association

1988

Feminism and Methodology, Susan Koppelman Award of the American and Popular Culture Association

1990

Woman Philosopher of the Year, Eastern Society for Women in Philosophy

1994

The ‘Racial’ Economy of Science, Outstanding Book Award of Choice

1995

The ‘Racial’ Economy of Science, Critics’ Choice Award from American Educational Studies Association

2007 to 2008

Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar

2009

American Education Research Association (AERA) Award for Distinguished Contributions to Gender Equity in Education Research

2013

John Desmond Bernal Prize for Lifetime Achievements, Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S)

Table of Contents

Chronology
i
Abstract
iii
Interviewer Bios
iv
About this Transcript
iv
An Introduction to Sandra Harding: Rogue Philosopher
1

Graduate training in philosophy and epistemology. Teaching and holding appointments in social science departments. Feminist standpoint theory. Influence of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Dissertation on Willard Van Orman Quine. Philosophy meetings in the sixties. Public policy; UN Conference on Women; UNESCO work; Londa Schiebinger. Value of interdisciplinarity. Growth of Society for Social Studies of Science. Practical applications of science and technology studies: public education and journals. Undergraduate programs in STS; Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology, and Society. A more global, less Western-centric approach to STS. STS jokes. Standing on the borders of institutions.

Family Background and Childhood
21

Born in San Francisco; father’s struggle to find work during the Great Depression. Move to Los Angeles. Running a café on a trucking route into LA. Parents’ backgrounds from broken families; mother’s childhood in an orphanage. Move to the East Coast. Father’s war work and politics. Siblings. Elementary school years in California and New Jersey. Early impressions of science. Discrimination against girls in the classroom.

Post-secondary Education
32

Feminism’s impact on philosophy; graduate school, choosing sociology; switching to philosophy. Interest in social theory sparked by civil rights and women’s movements. Her career linked to social justice movements. Mentors. Comparative literature as an undergraduate; childhood love of reading. Working after graduation; travels; marriage and children. Decision to go to graduate school; challenges of returning to school in her early thirties. Undergraduate years at Douglass College. Attending college in the 1950s, before the women’s movement. Family political discussions. Summer jobs. Father’s background.

Life After College
48

Move to New York City. Meeting her husband. Her parents’ history with Riverside Church. Marriage; daughters. Return to graduate school. Switching from sociology to philosophy. STS and pushback from scientists. Feminist epistemology. Beginnings of the ‘science wars.'

Early Social Studies of Science
70

Switch from sociology to epistemology. Reading Quine’s Word and Object. Feminism and Women of Color feminism. Patricia Hill Collins. Husband’s work in philosophy. Returning to graduate school; SUNY-Albany and NYU. First dissertation proposal topic; switch to Quine. Difficulty finding a dissertation advisor. Dissertation writing in Edmonton, Alberta.

Mentorship, Teaching and Writing
83

Importance of mentorship and feedback. Teaching practices informed by social justice movements. Practical approach to writing. Sound bites; ‘strong objectivity.’ Quine as dissertation topic; arguing for understanding his work as epistemology. Role of Richard Martin. Strategic preparation for comprehensive exams. Getting from Quine to STS. Definitions of science to include technology and indigenous and local knowledge; reliable knowledge

University of Delaware
95

Transition to the University of Delaware. Attractions of the philosophy Department. Philosophy of chemistry. Openness to interdisciplinarity. Frank Dilley. Tenure vote. Anti-feminist critiques. Ian Hacking. Society for Women in Philosophy. APA’s Committee on the Status of Women. First job at the Allen Center at SUNY-Albany. Christine Pierce. Inventing feminist philosophy. Akasha Gloria Hull. Maggie Andersen. Race issues at Albany vs. Delaware. Women’s studies, African-American studies; Women of Color feminism. Feminist theorists and STS. Kuhn. Dorothy Smith. Jerome Ravetz.

The Science Wars
105

Society for Social Studies of Science (4S); Wenda Bauchspies. Origins of the science wars in 1983. NSF grant funding denied. Les Levidow; Robert Young. Nalini Visvanathan. Travels in South Africa; United Nations work. World Science Report Chapter on ‘The Gender Dimension of Science and Technology.’ Feminist reading groups. Philosophy of Science Association. Being on the edge of an institution. Effects of the Cold War on American philosophy. Strategic, managerial approach to her work.

UCLA
122

Differences among university departments. Choosing to locate herself within sociology; within a graduate school of education. UCLA. Moving from University of Delaware to UCLA. Women’s studies. Commuting between Delaware and UCLA.; comparisons of the two; missing the East Coast Black intellectual community. Administration vs. teaching. Editing Signs.

Evolutions in Harding’s Philosophy
130

Intellectual history of strong objectivity. Dorothy Smith; Patricia Hill Collins; Hilary Rose. Evolution of standpoint theory; plurality of true stories about the world. Falling out with the Philosophy of Science Association. Margaret Jacob. Wittgenstein. Philosophy of sciences vs. 4S. Bernal Prize. Feyeraband. Latin American studies. Post-colonialism.

Professional Societies
147

Society for Women in Philosophy. APA Committee on the Status of Women. Impacts on APA policies. International meetings of 4S. Tapuya. Bernal Prize. National Womens Studies Association. Society for Values in Higher Education. Danforth Fellowship.

Role Models
159

Meeting Philippa Foot while at the University of Alberta. Philippa Foot at UCLA. Modeling herself on male colleagues; limitations. Women’s academic dress code. Alison Jaggar. Perceived threats from male undergraduates. Philosophy, sociology and other disciplines; differences in decorum. Mentoring. Serving as a dissertation advisor. Policing the boundaries of standpoint theory. Dorothy Smith. Angela Davis and the perspectives of Women of Color.

International Philosophy
176

Colonialism. Post-structuralism; affinity with feminist standpoint theory. Marxism in European vs. American intellectual tradition. Latin American Catholicism. Catholic strand in European philosophy. Latin American positivism. Colonialism, independence and post-colonialism. Ronald Reagan and the culture wars. Post-World War II immigration of the Vienna Circle to the US. The four positivisms. Trying to attain post-positivism.  Protestantism. Donna Haraway. Binaries as ways to organize the world.

End of the Science Wars
193

Why they ended as they did. Royalties from her writings. Ziauddin Sardar. Culture wars. Harding’s brother and his activism. Ethical STEM. EASTS. Tapuya.

Publication List
210

About the Interviewer

Jody A. Roberts

Jody A. Roberts is the Director of the Institute for Research at the Science History Institute. He received his PhD and MS in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and holds a BS in chemistry from Saint Vincent College. His research focuses on the intersections of regulation, innovation, environmental issues, and emerging technologies within the chemical sciences.

Joseph Klett

Joseph Klett is a sociologist of culture and technology. His research focuses on sonic interactions between people, places, and things in social organizations. He is currently principal investigator for the Community History Platform, a digital resource for connecting scientific communities to researchers and archives. Before joining the Science History Institute, Joseph was a visiting assistant professor in the department of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.