What Renders a Witness Trustworthy? Ethical and Curricular Notes on a Mode of Educational Inquiry

Studies in Philosophy and Education 41 (2):151-172 (2021)
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Abstract

Bearing witness is a familiar if diversely employed concept. On the one hand, it concerns the accuracy and validity of practical affairs, for example in a court of law, at a wedding, or in a law office. On the other hand, the term can embody powerful religious, social, and/ or moral meaning, whether in bearing witness to historical trauma and human suffering, or in paying heed to everyday, seemingly ordinary aspects of nature and of human life. In this article, we address the question of what renders a witness trustworthy. We characterize ethical and epistemic constituents of witnessing. We examine the work of several exemplary witnesses: W. G. Sebald, Saidiya Hartman, Jonathan Lear, Etty Hillesum, and John Berger alongside Jean Mohr. These sources help us think about the education of a person who aspires to bear witness, whether it be to traumatic events or to quotidian life in educational or other settings. We present criteria of trustworthiness that can support reflection on what we take to be the important place of bearing witness in educational inquiry and practice.

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Rebecca Kathryn Sullivan
Cardiff University

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