The U.S. National Women's Studies Association held its 2007 annual conference at the Pheasant Run Resort in St.Charles, Illinois, just outside Chicago. While attending, a number of scholars who've been involved with FEMMSS (Association for Feminist Epistemologies, Methodologies, Metaphysics and Science Studies) began a series of discussions we hope to continue in 2008 at the NWSA in Cinncinati, Ohio.
Philosopher Nancy McHugh organized an informal breakfast meeting to discuss some FEMMSS planning, given that it is a virtual organization at the moment. I think we might be encouraged that the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation, a similarly interdisciplinary international group originating in philosophy has existed for over ten years without any structure but with a series of very successful biennial conferences drawing a wide range of international scholars. However, it was clear at the 2007 FEMMSS conference hosted by Arizona State University (Tempe) that future biennial conferences are just the beginning of what our group wants. We want outreach to public policy, publications, workshops, and more.
Unfortunately, our breakfast meeting was cut short, but fortunately the reason was that our timing conflicted with a scheduled meeting of the NWSA Taskforce on Science and Technology. We adjourned our meeting to join theirs, and it turned out we increased their numbers from about four to about ten. Their group has a narrower academic domain (excluding larger epistemological and metaphysical issues) and a more U.S. membership than FEMMSS. However, by coordinating our efforts we can all benefit by complementing each other's work, rather than competing for people's energy.
NWSA also can run bulletin boards and discussion groups for Science and Technology Studies! And this is a great opportunity for FEMMSS to connect with STS since we have not been strong in history or sociology of science.
Those of us who attended the Taskforce business meeting will receive messages, and we hope to organize some sessions for NWSA in June 2008. They already plan an informal, off-the-program session for us to share research and explore possibilities for collaboration during the "pre-conference" official sessions.
Nancy, Marianne Janack and I were on a panel entitled "Do We Know Better?: Discussing the State of Feminist Epistemology" which did generate some fascinating discussion, just as Evelyn predicted. In particular, I came to realize that my own view runs somewhat contrary to Nancy's. Nancy spoke about the increasing situatedness of feminist epistemology -- it's nice to know we practice what we preach! However, I raised concerns about the loss of the original rhetorical concerns of the feminist critiques of epistemology and of the history of science. Marianne argued Richard Rorty's epistemological cynicism about feminism is unwarranted (to be part of her upcoming edited Rereading the Canon volume on feminist engagements with Rorty). Despite unfortunate timing on the morning of the last day, and relocating ourselves from an absolutely frigid room, there was a good turnout, and I think we could have continued the discussion much longer. Fortunately, we will! See you in Cinncinati in 2008!