Epistemological Dominance and Social Inequality: Experiences of Native American Science, Engineering, and Health Students

Science, Technology, and Human Values 42 (5):743-774 (2017)
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Abstract

Can epistemologies anchor processes of social inequality? In this paper, we consider how epistemological dominance in science, engineering, and health fields perpetuates disadvantages for students who enter higher education with alternative epistemologies. Drawing on in-depth interviews with Native American students enrolled at two US research universities who adhere to or revere indigenous epistemologies, we find that epistemological dominance in SE&H degree programs disadvantages students through three processes. First, it delegitimizes Native epistemologies and marginalizes and silences students who value them. Second, in the process of imparting these dominant scientific epistemologies, SE&H courses sometimes require students to participate in pedagogical practices that challenge indigenous ways of knowing. Third, students encounter epistemological imperialism: most students in the sample are working to earn SE&H degrees in order to return to tribal communities to “give back,” yet, because the US laws regulating the practice of SE&H extend onto tribal lands, students must earn credentials in epistemologies that devalue, delegitimate, and threaten indigenous knowledge ways to practice on tribal lands. We examine how students navigate these experiences, discuss the implications of these findings for SE&H education, and describe how epistemological dominance may serve as a mechanism of inequality reproduction more broadly.

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References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Ian Hacking.
Knowledge and social imagery.David Bloor - 1976 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Epistemic cultures: how the sciences make knowledge.Karin Knorr-Cetina - 1999 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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