WSU offering class on ‘social construction’ of Western Science

Washington State University is currently offering a class on how Western science is impacted by “socially constructed” categories such as gender, sexuality, and nationality. 

Women’s Studies 220: Gender, Culture, and Science,” is a sophomore-level class taught this semester by Jenifer Barclay, an assistant professor in the school’s Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies. 

In a copy of the syllabus obtained by Campus Reform, Barclay frames Western science as “socially constructed,” asking “How objective is objectivity? Who determines ‘the facts’ and what social, cultural, economic, and political forces influence those who do?” 

[RELATED: Profs claim scientific objectivity reinforces ‘whiteness’]

The syllabus then goes on to inquire, “Are fields like science, technology, engineering and medicine always completely objective and free of any kind of bias?” 

To answer that question, Barclay pledges to map the “rise of Western science and the ways that ideas about gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and nationality shape(d) the production of knowledge…and many other seemingly ‘objective’ topics.” 

Though the class has three seemingly separate learning objectives, all three of the goals ultimately circle back to how scientific knowledge is “constructed” or “produced.”

For example, one learning goal explains that by learning about the “construction of scientific knowledge, [this class] encourages students to think critically about the importance of contextualization and the meaning of ‘objectivity.’” 

Students will also learn “how gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality [have] influenced the production of scientific knowledge in different historical eras and what the concrete consequences of this trajectory are,” the syllabus adds. 

[RELATED: Profs: Valuing ‘emotion as knowledge’ counters ‘white identity’]

Though the class frames itself as a science class, none of the assigned readings relate to hard science. Instead, one assigned reading is the 1993 essay “How Many Sexes?” by Anne-Fausto Sterling, who argues that there are “at least five sexes, perhaps even more.” 

Students will also watch clips from “The Contractual Obligation Implementation” episode of The Big Bang Theory. As Campus Reform reported last week, that episode was criticized in a new book by feminist scholars for perpetuating “toxic geek masculinity.” 

Quoting feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir, Barclay also suggests that knowledge is a patriarchal venture, writing that “representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the truth.” 

Campus Reform reached out to Barclay for comment, but did not receive a response. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen