Epistemic Communities and Institutions

Authored by: Nancy Arden McHugh

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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In the late twentieth-century the question ‘Who is an epistemic agent?’ began to challenge mainstream epistemology, whose ‘neutral’ epistemic agent mirrored those dominating the halls of the academy – white, middle to upper class, western, heterosexual males. Sandra Harding in The Science Question in Feminism (1986); Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ (1988); Helen Longino in Science as Social Knowledge (1990); Patricia Hill Collins in Black Feminist Thought (1991); Lorraine Code in What Can She Know? (1991), and Susantha Goonatilake in ‘Modern Science in the Periphery’ (1993) critique this homogenous and privileged view of epistemic agency. Harding, Longino, and Code critiqued the male-centered nature of the epistemic agent. Collins’ analysis furthered this discussion by also questioning the dominant view that privileges white bodies as the assumed generic epistemic agents. Spivak’s and Goonatilake’s work significantly repositioned the epistemic agent through critical questions about dominant knowledge centered on western colonial productions of ideas and practices, and how these silence, objectify, and ignore colonized epistemic agents. These arguments presented a critical lens for generating questions regarding epistemic justice and injustice. For example, Spivak’s argument in ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ is a question of epistemic justice: can colonized subjects have the autonomy to speak and be heard in situations of epistemic violence, when one’s knowledge and voice are utterly denied by another culture?

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