Epistemic Agency Under Oppression

Philosophical Papers 49 (2):233-251 (2020)
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The literature on epistemic injustice has been helpful for highlighting some of the epistemic harms that have long troubled those working in area studies that concern oppressed populations. Nonetheless, a good deal of this literature is oriented toward those in a position to perpetrate injustices, rather than those who historically have been harmed by them. This orientation, I argue, is ill-suited to the work of epistemic decolonization. In this essay, I call and hold attention to the epistemic interests of those who are epistemically marginalized on account of relations of dominance and oppression. To do so, I draw on Kristie Dotson’s work, which uses a systems approach focused on epistemic agency. I develop Dotson’s insights further to argue that epistemic inclusions may be just as pernicious as epistemic exclusions Specifically, I highlight some of the ways in which epistemic agents can be included in epistemic systems in a manner that is epistemically exploitative—extracting epistemic labor coercively or in ways that are distinctly non-reciprocal. I then turn to María Lugones’ distinction between horizontal and vertical practices to discuss avenues of resisting both exclusions and inclusions that thwart the epistemic agency of marginalized knowers.



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Gaile Pohlhaus
Miami University, Ohio