Epistemic marginalisation and the seductive power of art

Contemporary Political Theory 17 (4):395-416 (2018)
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Abstract

Many voices and stories have been systematically silenced in interpersonal conversations, political deliberations and historical narratives. Recalcitrant and interrelated patterns of epistemic, political, cultural and economic marginalisation exclude individuals as knowers, citizens, agents. Two questions lie at the centre of this article, which focuses on the epistemically – but also politically, culturally and economically – dominant: How can we sabotage the dominant’s investment in their own ignorance of unjust silencing? How can they be seduced to become acute perceivers of others’ experiences of oppression and reckon with their own participation in it? Situated at the intersection between political theory, aesthetics and epistemology, this article contributes a so-far-unexplored suggestion: that certain literary works create epistemic friction between shared, entrenched prejudices on the one hand, and representations of epistemic exclusion or authority, on the other. Their power to illuminate ideational, moral and experiential limitations makes them valuable tools in problematising, rendering visible and dislocating epistemic injustice, as well as other marginalisations it intersects with. To advance this argument, the article relies on insights from aesthetics, unpacking fiction’s multidimensional epistemic potential. Audre Lorde exemplifies literary works’ ability to seductively sabotage bias and provide audiences with prosthetic visions of unfamiliar experiences of marginalisation.

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