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Durham University

Knowledge for Use (K4U)

First in the North East

Ruth First Project: First in the Northeast

How do we balance objectivity with more politically participatory methods?

For a long time, the orthodox position insisted that science is meant to be value-free. Without that it can’t be objective. More recent thinking that K4U has been involved in argues that at a very great many points, the sciences—especially but not exclusively the human sciences—cannot be value-free. There are many decision points where scientific reasoning is insufficient for settling what should be done. This is especially apparent when it comes to modelling, measurement and determining what can and cannot count as evidence. Still no-one believes that anything goes, so newer research aims to develop notions of objectivity appropriate to value-engaged science. Especially relevant here are researchers who themselves are engaged in political activism, simultaneously deploying their research knowledge and adding to it.

There are many ways of approaching this. We do so via a study of the remarkable feminist and anti-apartheit martyr Ruth First. First taught at Durham from 1973 to 1978 and was still on leave from Durham when she was assasinated by a letter bomb in Mozambique where she was teaching and advising on development strategies. The First in the North East Project studies how her active political work and values informed her teaching and research, especially at Durham, and how her research affected her political point of view and the political actions she recommended and undertook.

This project aims simultaneously to…

  1. Provide a philosophical analysis of how the empirically-led, action-motivated academic work of this remarkable feminist and anti-apartheid martyr affected and was affected by her ideas and recommendations for political action.
  2. To draw broader conclusions about what constitutes objectivity across the research/practice interface when the two interact.

Meet the team....

Professor Nancy Cartwright - K4U PI

Dr Katherine Furman - Lead Researcher

Dr Andrew Fletcher - Research Associate

Mr Likhwa Ncube - Research Assistant

Mr Adrian Harris - Research Assistant