Foucault and epistemic injustice

Authored by: Amy Allen

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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Michel Foucault could well be considered a theorist of epistemic injustice avant la lettre. As Miranda Fricker makes clear in the introduction to her Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing, the very notion of epistemic injustice turns on theorizing “reason’s entanglements with social power” (2007: 3). But this is precisely the central task of Foucault’s work, as he himself indicates in a 1982 interview, where he suggests that

the central issue of philosophy and critical thought since the eighteenth century has always been, still is, and will, I hope, remain the question: What is this Reason that we use? What are its historical effects? What are its limits, and what are its dangers? How can we exist as rational beings, fortunately committed to practicing a rationality that is unfortunately crisscrossed by intrinsic dangers?

(2000a: 358) For Foucault, the dangers and historical effects of forms of rationality consist primarily in their entanglements with relations of social power, relations that subject individuals in both senses of the term: constitute them as subjects in and through their subjection to prevailing regimes of ‘power/knowledge’. Moreover, Foucault interrogates the entanglements of reason with social power while avoiding the kind of reductionism of reason to power that Fricker associates with postmodernism (2007: 2–4). As Foucault emphasizes, his aim is to offer a “rational critique of rationality” (1998: 441); such a project, far from equating rationality or knowledge with power, attempts to study their relation (1998: 455).

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