Varieties of Epistemic Injustice

Authored by: Gaile Pohlhaus

The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138828254
eBook ISBN: 9781315212043
Adobe ISBN: 9781351814508


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The idea of “epistemic injustice” draws together three branches of philosophy – political philosophy, ethics, and epistemology – to consider how epistemic practices and institutions may be deployed and structured in ways that are simultaneously infelicitous toward certain epistemic values (such as truth, aptness, and understanding) and unjust with regard to particular knowers. 2 Examining the ethics and politics of knowledge practices is, of course, not new; for example, feminist, critical race, and decolonial philosophers have done so for quite some time (Anderson 2017; Babbitt 2017; Collins 2017; Pitts 2017; Tuana 2017). As Patricia Hill Collins notes, where there is oppression, there is also resistance to oppression (1991: 12–13, 2000: 22). Likewise, where there has been epistemic injustice there has also been resistance to epistemic injustice. One form of this resistance has been the explicit identification and analysis of epistemic injustices offered by those experiencing them. For example, as Vivian May notes, Anna Julia Cooper, writing in 1892, highlighted the suppression of Black women’s ideas through epistemic violence and interpretive silencing (May 2014: 97). Sojourner Truth, speaking in 1867, highlighted the denial of Black women as knowers via asymmetries in cognitive authority and via men’s habitually constrained imaginations (May 2014: 98). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, writing within a (post-)colonial context, identifies what she calls ‘epistemic violence’ in claims to know the interests of subaltern persons that preclude the subaltern from formulating knowledge claims concerning their interests and speaking for themselves (Spivak 1988). These examples are part of a broader history of epistemic resistance through identifying and calling attention to ways in which knowers have been wronged in their capacities as knowers.

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