User:Jaj03fsu/Bifurcated consciousness

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Bifurcated consciousness is a concept rooted in feminist sociological theory that refers to how some women are able to experience the social world as if they were men

Origin of concept[edit]

Bifurcated consciousness is articulated by Canadian sociologist Dorothy E. Smith, who has had much influence on the development of the feminist standpoint theory. This concept is the major aspect of her theoretical approach. Smith endeavors to make sociology “from the standpoint of women.” Her women’s standpoint theory is constructed through examination and analysis of the point of view, situation, and experiences of women. Subjectivity occupies a special place in feminist sociological theory as it seeks to understand how women are socialized to see themselves through the eyes of men. When women learn to internalize the generalized other, or the perspective of society, it is a male-centered other that they must relate to. In other words, women develop a bifurcated consciousness where they live with both the reality of actual experience and the reality of social typifications (Ritzer and Goodman, 2004, Ch.13).

Bifurcated consciousness in Smith’s social theory[edit]

One of Smith’s main concerns is to critique mainstream sociology that she views as implicitly or explicitly adopting a male-centered approach that supports the governing conceptual mode (Smith, 1990, p. 374). For Smith there is “a conceptual distinction between the world as we experience it and the world as we come to know it through the conceptual frameworks that science invents.” Women face a contradiction between their actual lived experience and hegemonic discourse/culture. Women learn the dominant culture but they also develop a consciousness that problematizes the established culture because their experiences are inconsistent. Smith's articulation of bifurcated consciousness results as women attempt to negotiate these two mismatched worlds (dominant knowledge concepts verses lived experience). (Farganis, p. 371. ). She argues that there are two ways on knowing – one wherein the knower is placed within the world and through her bodily location in the material world comes to understand it in particular ways, the other wherein the knower abstracts herself from the world and constructs knowledge as something external and conceptual (rather than bodily and material). This abstracted knower is the masculine mode of doing sociology (tied up with a scientific approach that extols objectivity) where the knower and the known are separated and the experiences and interests of the researcher are ignored. This unique standpoint, or perspective, holds the potential for viewing a more inclusive, or complete, picture of what is going on from the position below, awareness of both worlds, not limited to one. Smith says we need to ground understanding in women’s experience. We need to hear women’s voices, specifically, women’s voices speaking from the center of social life rather than from an (typically male) "objective" viewpoint outside of social life/lived experience.

Definitions of Bifurcated consciousness[edit]

Bifurcation of consciousness – “two modes of knowing and experiencing, and doing, one located in body and in the space it occupies and moves in, the other passing beyond it.” (Farganis, 374 –)

“contrast between rational, conceptual, theoretical world and the world of experiences of ordinary subjects – part critique of social theory, part critique of male-dominated and organized structures”( Adams and Sydie, p. 214)

“Suppression of the local and particular as a site of knowledge has been and remains gender organized.” Men act as subjects of mode of governing – women have been anchored in the local and particular phase of the bifurcated world.

Further Reading[edit]

•Brooks, Abagail. 2005. Dorothy E. Smith: Voice, Standpoint and Power. The Trustees of Boston College.

•Farganis, James. 2000. Readings in Social Theory: the Classic Tradition to Post-Modernism, third edition, McGraw-Hill, Boston.

•Wallace, Ruth A. and Alison Wolf. 1995. Contemporary Sociological Theory: Continuing the Classical Tradition, fourth edition, Prentice- Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

•Mann, Susan & Kelly, Lori. 1997. Standing at the Crossroads of Modernist Thought; Collins, Smith and the New Feminist Epistemologies. Gender and Societies, Vol 11 (No.4,pg391-408). [1]


Farganis, James. 2000.Readings in Social Theory: the Classic Tradition to Post Modernism, third edition, McGraw-Hill, Boston.

[[2]]Ritzer, George & Goodman, Douglas. 2004. Sociological Theory, sixth edition, McGraw Hill, Boston.

[3]Smith, Dorothy. 1990. “Women’s Experience as a Radical Critique of Sociology,” reprinted in Farganis, 2000, pp. 372-380

Ritzer, Geogre. 2007. Contemporary Sociological Theory and its Classical Roots; The Basics, second edition, McGraw-Hill, Boston.

Lorber, Judith. 2006. Shifting Paradigms and Challenging Categories. Social Problems, Vol.3,Issue 6,pp.448-453