Social Justice Usage
Source: Dotson, Kristie, 2014, “Conceptualizing Epistemic Oppression.” Social Epistemology, 28(2), 2014: 115–138, p. 116.
Epistemic oppression refers to a persistent and unwarranted infringement on the ability to utilize persuasively shared epistemic resources that hinder one’s contributions to knowledge production.
New Discourses Commentary
“Epistemic oppression” is a key concept in the Theory of Critical Social Justice that originates with black feminist and philosopher Kristie Dotson in 2014. It summarizes, amends, and expands—within the narrower confines of Critical Social Justice epistemology—the earlier notion of epistemic injustice that was forwarded by Miranda Fricker in 2007. Dotson does this by rooting the idea more firmly in views of systemic power and its function in determining what is legitimate knowledge, leading to it being perpetuated unconsciously on all levels of society through dominant discourses. This is deemed to be unfixable short of a revolution in our approaches to knowledge and the production of knowledge (see also, critical pedagogy).
The Theory of Critical Social Justice is particularly and especially concerned with epistemology—the theory of knowledge. This is, of course, a general and important philosophical pursuit, and it can also be a particular and special interest in various theoretical approaches that wish to justify their theoretical claims as though they are knowledge when, in fact, they probably are not. Critical Social Justice is particularly interested in this topic for two reasons: first, in order to try to establish when the lived experience and critical consciousness of marginalized, oppressed, or “other” groups constitutes a form of knowledge and qualifies them as a “knower” (see also, ways of knowing, episteme, racial knowledge, positionality, and standpoint epistemology), and second, in order to try to establish when the knowledge it claims is produced by dominant groups is merely one form of knowledge among many, and, in fact, a particularly weak form because of its inbuilt biases and lack of ability to correct for those biases (see also, internalized dominance, active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, willful ignorance, and white ignorance, and also, truth, science, positivism, meritocracy, and liberalism).
As noted, epistemic oppression fits within this branch of Critical Social Justice Theory as an expansion and adaptation of the earlier concept of epistemic injustice (see, epistemic injustice). Epistemic injustice describes two ways in which a member of a marginalized, minoritized, or oppressed group might be devalued in their status as a potential knower: testimonial injustice and hermeneutic injustice. The first of these occurs when a speaker from any such group is not taken sufficiently seriously as an authority, and the second occurs when a member of any such group lacks the necessary resources to be able to describe, articulate, and communicate important features of their lived experience. For example, testimonial injustice could occur when someone’s claims about their experience of racism are just a matter of their perspective, thus aren’t taken as de facto true statements about the situation, and hermeneutic injustice occurs when terms aren’t available to describe the (usually oppressive) experience at hand, for instance imagine trying to describe a society that condones rape without the term “rape culture.”
Dotson’s concept of epistemic oppression categorizes testimonial injustice as “first-order” epistemic oppression and hermeneutic injustice as “second-order” epistemic oppression, out of a total of three orders of this problematic. Thus, she summarizes Fricker’s concept of epistemic injustice as a part of a greater whole with regard to how potential knowers are devalued, allegedly as a result of their identities and the epistemic resources that are and are not shared across the different cultures that arise from these differences in identity (see also, cultural sensitivity, culturally responsive, cultural humility, and racial humility). Dotson also corrects Fricker’s conception—from the perspective of Critical Social Justice—to make it more group-based, intersectional, and dependent upon systemic power dynamics. Fricker’s ideas have been criticized by Critical Social Justice scholars for being too individualistic in orientation and overestimating people’s ability to see outside dominant discourses.
Dotson also introduced a “third order” of epistemic oppression to round out Fricker’s earlier work: “irreducible epistemic oppression.” This form of epistemic oppression is a sort of devaluing of people’s potential status as knowers that is baked into the system itself, thus cannot be dismantled from within the system (see also, master’s tools and revolution). In third-order epistemic oppression, the knowledge system itself is posited to intrinsically value certain kinds of knowledge and knowledge production (e.g., science—see also, positivism) over other ways of knowing, which automatically and perniciously puts members of marginalized groups at an intractable disadvantage. In essence, this would mean that members of marginalized communities are fundamentally denied the tools to communicate their problems because dominant groups in society only accept the forms of knowledge and communication that they, themselves, recognize as valid (see also, standpoint epistemology, episteme, truth, and subaltern).
This would occur, for example, when a member of a minoritized racial group is required to explain their lived experience of oppression in “white” terms and using “white” discourses, say by appealing to evidence, relying upon reason over emotion, utilizing science, maintaining civility and rules of order/engagement, using standard (rather than slang) English (see also, linguistic justice), and so on. That is, this dimension of epistemic oppression posits that the entire system of knowing, knowledge, and communicating is skewed in ways that value certain kinds of knowledge and communicating (“white,” “male,” “Eurocentric,” and so on) over others, which it excludes (see also, inclusion and decolonization).
This state of affairs is said not only to directly oppress already-oppressed groups but also to indirectly oppress them by preventing their ability to speak authentically (see also, voice and voice of color) about, thus achieve progress against, their oppression (see also, disrupt and dismantle). Dotson explicitly explains that third-order epistemic oppression cannot be seen from within the epistemic system (see also, master’s tools), but prompts for inquiry come from outside the system thus requiring a fundamental change in the “third-order organizational schemata” within the knowing system. This can be almost impossible, Dotson believes. On a societal scale, it would require a social revolution that remakes what we consider valid knowledge and what doesn’t. Specifically, this would forward “other ways of knowing,” including cultural beliefs, traditions, superstitions, and so on, subjective experience, and also the critical consciousness to interpret that subjective experience, which is utterly core to the entire Critical Social Justice project.
Active ignorance; Authentic; Bias; Black feminism; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical pedagogy; Cultural humility; Cultural responsiveness; Cultural sensitivity; Decolonization; Discourse; Dismantle; Disrupt; Dominance; Episteme; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic violence; Eurocentric; Exclusion; Hermeneutical injustice; Inclusion; Individualism; Injustice; Internalized dominance; Intersectionality; Justice; Knower; Knowledge(s); Liberalism; Linguistic justice; Lived experience; Marginalization; Master’s tools; Meritocracy; Minoritize; Oppression; Pernicious ignorance; Positionality; Positivism; Power (systemic); Problematic; Progress; Racial humility; Racial knowledge; Rape; Rape culture; Revolution; Science; Social Justice; Standpoint epistemology; Subaltern; System, the; Testimonial injustice; Theory; Truth; Voice; Voice of color; Ways of knowing; White; White ignorance; Willful ignorance
Source: Dotson, Kristie, 2014, “Conceptualizing Epistemic Oppression.” Social Epistemology, 28(2), 2014: 115–138, p. 115.
Epistemic oppression refers to persistent epistemic exclusion that hinders one’s contribution to knowledge production. The tendency to shy away from using the term “epistemic oppression” may follow from an assumption that epistemic forms of oppression are generally reducible to social and political forms of oppression. While I agree that many exclusions that compromise one’s ability to contribute to the production of knowledge can be reducible to social and political forms of oppression, there still exists distinctly irreducible forms of epistemic oppression. In this paper, I claim that a major point of distinction between reducible and irreducible epistemic oppression is the major source of difficulty one faces in addressing each kind of oppression, i.e. epistemic power or features of epistemological systems. Distinguishing between reducible and irreducible forms of epistemic oppression can offer a better understanding of what is at stake in deploying the term and when such deployment is apt.
Source: Dotson, Kristie, 2014, “Conceptualizing Epistemic Oppression.” Social Epistemology, 28(2), 2014: 115–138, p. 115.
Epistemic oppression refers to persistent epistemic exclusion that hinders one’s contribution to knowledge production. Epistemic exclusion, here, will be understood as an unwarranted infringement on the epistemic agency of knowers.1 Epistemic agency, in this analysis, refers to the ability to utilize persuasively shared epistemic resources within a given community of knowers in order to participate in knowledge production and, if required, the revision of those same resources.
( This definition of epistemic exclusion relies heavily on Irene Omolola’s use of the term (see Adadevoh 2011).)
Source: Dotson, Kristie, 2014, “Conceptualizing Epistemic Oppression.” Social Epistemology, 28(2), 2014: 115–138, pp. 116–117.
In this paper, I gesture to a form of epistemic oppression that is not solely reducible to social and political factors but rather follows from a feature of epistemological systems themselves, that is epistemological resilience. I do this to show not only the value of the term “epistemic oppression,” but to also pull apart epistemic oppression that generally follows from social and political oppression and epistemic oppression that is more closely tied to features of epistemological systems. Ultimately, a major difference between reducible and irreducible epistemic oppression concerns a main source of resistance one can expect to encounter when attempting to address a given epistemic oppression. Reducible epistemic oppression, for example, can most often be addressed utilizing epistemic resources within that same epistemological system. Irreducible epistemic oppression, by contrast, which follows from features of epistemological systems, can only begin to be addressed through recognition of the limits of one’s overall epistemological frameworks. This generally means that one’s epistemic resources and the epistemological system within which those resources prevail may be wholly inadequate to the task of addressing the persisting epistemic exclusions that are causing epistemic oppression. Though addressing both forms of epistemic oppression is difficult, I will show that irreducible epistemic oppression is difficult due to features of epistemological systems, where as reducible epistemic oppression is difficult due to socially and historically contingent power relations. I claim that a difference between reducible and irreducible epistemic oppression concerns the character of the resistance to change or, in other words, differing causes of inertia. In reducible epistemic oppression, inertia is primarily caused by social and historically contingent factors, whereas in irreducible epistemic oppression those factors are just the tip of the iceberg.
Source: Dotson, Kristie, 2014, “Conceptualizing Epistemic Oppression.” Social Epistemology, 28(2), 2014: 115–138, p. 134.
I have tried to show the importance of a concept like epistemic oppression by conceptualizing three forms of it. First-order epistemic oppression results from inefficient shared epistemic resources, like organizational schemata or instituted social imaginaries, which foster epistemic exclusions. Second-order epistemic oppression results from insufficient shared epistemic resources that produce salient epistemic exclusions. And third-order epistemic oppression follows from inadequate shared epistemic resources that foster epistemic exclusions. I have tried to show that first- and second-order epistemic oppression are reducible to historical formations, insofar as a major source of inertia in addressing them will be social, political, and historical landscapes of epistemic power. For third-order epistemic oppression, however, a major resistance to change will be features of epistemological systems themselves. What the distinction between reducible and irreducible oppression offers is a heuristic for understanding a range of different kinds of problems in knowledge production.
Revision date: 7/13/20