Conquering Gaze from Nowhere: Meritocracy Myths, Marked Bodies, and Spoiled Identities

The interpretation of objectivity as neutral does not allow for participation or stances. This uninvolved, uninvested approach implies “a conquering gaze from nowhere” (Haraway 1988). In many ways, claims of objectivity allow one to “represent while escaping representation” (Haraway 1988) and mimics the construction of Whiteness2 in the racialization of marginalized peoples (Battey and Leyva 2016; Guess 2006). Indeed, there is extensive evidence suggesting that STEM cultural norms are traditionally White, masculine, heteronormative and able-bodied (Atchison and Libarkin 2016; Chambers 2017; Eisenhart and Finkel 1998; Johnson 2001; Nespor 1994; Seymour and Hewitt 1997; Traweek 1988). Thus, while purporting to be a neutral application of a generic protocol, science-and STEM more broadly-has a distinct set of cultures that governs legitimate membership and acceptable behaviors. The concept of a meritocracy is often used to justify who succeeds in STEM cultures. However, far from “leveling the playing field”, meritocracies exist in cultural systems that prioritize people who have, or to a lesser extent closely emulate, these traits. Success in science, then, tends to privilege cultural traits associated with the above identities and often marginalizes scientists who can not or will not perform these identities. This introduces structural inequities in the pursuit of science that align with social manifestations of racism, colonialism, sexism, homophobia and ableism (Cech and Pham 2017; Wilder 2014).

Source: Genealogy | Free Full-Text | Defining the Flow—Using an Intersectional Scientific Methodology to Construct a VanguardSTEM Hyperspace | HTML

I love that paragraph on objectivity and meritocracy. It resonates with my experiences of meritocracy myth objectivity in STEM, big tech, Silicon Valley, open source, and rationalist communities. I bought a copy of Donna Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” to get “a conquering gaze from nowhere” and “represent while escaping representation” in context.

I would insist on the embodied nature of all vision and so reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere. This is the gaze that mythically inscribes all the marked bodies, that makes the un-marked category claim the power to see and not be seen, to represent while escaping representation.

Source: Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective on JSTOR

That requires some unpacking, but really gets to the heart of it. The “power to see and not be seen” comes up in journalism regarding any reporter reporting on their own community. It comes up in autism research regarding autistic autism researchers and in conversations between autistic parents and parents of autistics.

Haraway’s “marked bodies” reminds me of “spoiled identities” and the masking required to fit into “cultural systems that prioritize people who have, or to a lesser extent closely emulate, these traits.”

With a pathologized status comes the experience of stigma, dehumanization, and marginalization. Stigma refers to the possession of an attribute that marks persons as disgraced or ‘‘discreditable,’’ marking their identity as ‘‘spoiled.’’ Stigmatized persons may attempt to conceal these spoiled aspects of their identity from others, attempting to ‘‘pass’’ as normal. Investigation of ‘‘passing’’ and ‘‘concealment’’ has been explored in depth in other stigmatized populations; however, the application of stigma in autism research is a relatively new endeavor. Stigma impacts both on how an individual is viewed and treated by others and how that treatment is internalized and interacts with one’s identity.

Source: A Conceptual Analysis of Autistic Masking: Understanding the Narrative of Stigma and the Illusion of Choice

Those “who can not or will not perform these identities” are marginalized, and those who can are exhausted. Those who attempt to advocate for themselves are discredited by the conquering gaze.

Meritocracy is a myth.

Masking for a false meritocracy is exhausting.

The “objectivity as neutral” conceit of the “conquering gaze from nowhere” leads to discrediting marginalized people and, in turn, to some “bloody regressive politics”, as we saw with New Atheism.

From my perspective, though, the deepest of the rifts was the emerging anti-feminist wing and the active neglect of social justice issues.

I realized it’s destination was where it is now: a shambles of alt-right memes and dishonest hucksters mangling science to promote racism, sexism, and bloody regressive politics.

Source: The train wreck that was the New Atheism