Dorothy Smith: A Sociology for Women

Dorothy Smith helped to revolutionise sociological methods: “A sociology for women would offer a knowledge of the social organisation and determinations of the properties and events of our directly experienced world.”

Smith helped pioneer feminist standpoint theory. She was writing at a time when sociology was dominated by positivist methods. Positivism describes the belief that sociology should mimick the scientific practices of the natural sciences. Central to this was the idea of objectivity as defined by detachment from the groups we studied.

Counter to this perspective Smith argues that sociologists needed to acknowledge that we bring our lifetime of social experiences into the field. She notes that our participants react to us in the same way: as gendered beings. While gender inequality is now central to our discipline this was not the case in the late-1980s when Smith was writing.

Smith argued that sociology marginalised women’s knowledge. She advocated for qualitative research methods including interviews and ethnography that recognise and draw on women’s socialisation and their everyday experiences of domination.

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