Social Justice Usage
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 7.
One of the key contributions of critical theorists concerns the production of knowledge. Given that the transmission of knowledge is an integral activity in schools, critical scholars in the field of education have been especially concerned with how knowledge is produced. These scholars argue that a key element of social injustice involves the claim that particular knowledge is objective and universal. An approach based on critical theory calls into question the idea that “objectivity” is desirable, or even possible. The term used to describe this way of thinking about knowledge is that knowledge is socially constructed. When we refer to knowledge as socially constructed, we mean that knowledge is reflective of the values and interests of those who produce it. This term captures the understanding that all content and all means of knowing are connected to a social context.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 8.
For this reason, the concept of positionality has become a key tool in analyzing knowledge construction. Positionality asserts that knowledge is dependent upon a complex web of cultural values, beliefs, experiences, and social positions. The ability to situate oneself as “knower” in relationship to that which is known is widely acknowledged as fundamental to understanding the political, social, and historical dimensions of knowledge. We need to examine our “commonsense” knowledge in order to identify the social context in which it was created and whose interests it serves. Positionality is a foundation of this examination.
Source: Andrews, Kehinde, in Chantiluke et al, Rhodes Must Fall: The Struggle to Decolonise the Racist Heart of Empire. Zed Books. Kindle Edition.
The neglect of Black knowledge by society is no accident but a direct result of racism. Black Studies redresses this marginalisation by focusing on those knowledges produced at the margins and aims to create knowledge that can have a liberatory impact. As Malcolm X argued, “truth is on the side of the oppressed,” and the standpoint of Blackness provides a unique understanding of society. Black Studies is part of the wider movement to decolonise knowledge and to debunk the racist assumptions of the taken-for-granted Eurocentric truth regimes. This has never been a battle that was just academic – knowledge shapes the world. Eurocentric knowledge created the racist social order we experience.
New Discourses Commentary
Knowing something is widely understood as being aware of something that is true. If something is known rather than believed, imagined, hoped for, or suspected, it is understood that sufficient evidence exists to be confident that it is a reality. Consequently “knowledge” is a strong term that exists in the realms of truth and facts and separate from faith, emotion, perception, experience, and myths, even though these may all be meaningful and important to people and may shape how they live their lives. This concept of knowledge, which seems so self-evident, is, in fact, a modernist one. It stems from Enlightenment philosophy and the scientific revolution and has always faced resistance from counter-Enlightenment forces that, to speak generally of them, seek to broaden knowledge to include things which are not known but rather believed or felt, most commonly religious faith. Nevertheless, the understanding that something is known when there is sufficient evidence to think it is a reality has been resilient, largely because it is so useful and has enabled the rapid development of science to produce valuable advances like technology and medicine.
The pluralized understanding of “knowledges” (see also, “ways of knowing”) in the Social Justice conceptualization is another counter-Enlightenment attempt to widen the understanding of what constitutes knowledge. In this case, it is rooted in the postmodern ideas of social constructivism, discourses, and power.
Knowledge, in the postmodern sense, is understood as a product of legitimized ways of talking about things (discourses) and is believed to be a product of the powerful and to operate in the service of their power. That is, the postmodern conception of knowledge is that power people and groups have the capacity to decide what is and is not true (see also, episteme), and the beliefs that accord with their decisions are considered to be knowledge. This is often (but not always) deemed to be self-interested, say by excluding those ideas that might challenge the powerful’s right to power. As can be seen in the examples above, Social Justice Theory holds that knowledge is socially constructed within a particular culture (thus local both historically and geographically) and cannot be value-free because it encodes the cultural values of the powerful people who give it legitimacy, thus power. Thus, knowledge in Social Justice Theory is coded with the cultural values—including the prevailing cultural power hierarchy (see also, hegemony)—of the dominant culture that produces it (see also, bias, power-knowledge, internalized dominance, and Foucauldian).
Of note, the postmodernists are so named because they had become radically skeptical of modernist ideas, including the foundations of science, evidence, and reason as the best ways to obtain knowledge. The postmodernists argued that these were all intrinsically tied up in power structures and that science had legitimated itself unjustly through an exercise of power that let it to come to dominate all other ways of knowing. They therefore argued for the need to revive other ways of knowing and give them equal status, especially the subjective “knowledge” contained in directly lived experience (particularly, the experience of living in one’s particular relationship to systemic power in society – see also, positionality). These ideas have been upheld within the various social theories that draw on postmodernism, such as postcolonial Theory, queer Theory, critical race Theory, critical race and feminist epistemologies, various other critical methodologies and studies, disability studies, and fat studies. These all claim that other ways of knowing have been unfairly subordinated (especially by science) and argue for including them within scholarly knowledge production. This program is often known as “research justice.”
“Other ways of knowing” and other “knowledges” are rooted largely in emotion, spiritual and cultural beliefs, traditions, and experiences. This leads many Christians to tend to correctly identify Social Justice as a kind of gnostic cult. Because knowledge is believed to be tied to a person’s cultural identity and their position in relation to power, scientific knowledge is often claimed to be a white, Western, male, and wealthy way of knowing that is rooted in the experiences of white, Western men (see also, Eurocentrism and positivism). The spiritual and cultural beliefs and lived experiences of marginalized and minoritized groups, as well as the experiences of women and sexual minorities and as disabled and fat people, are believed to have been devalued unfairly. Research justice therefore can be achieved by the intentional inclusion of these varied “ways of knowing.”
Including other knowledges and ways of knowing can look like valuing the religious origin myths of indigenous people as much as the scientific evidence of their arrival in their part of the world and their genetic ancestry. It can include regarding traditional medicine as equally valuable as medicine that has been proved to work. Research justice might involve regarding poetry, painting, or interpretive dance portraying a woman’s experiences of sexism or a racial minority’s experiences of racism as equally valid research as quantitative studies into gender or racial imbalances in employment or the criminal system. It can involve prioritizing a morbidly obese person’s experience of being fat as more authoritative than medical evidence of her obesity-related health problems. It has included calls in South Africa to place black magic on par with science. In short, the drive for the inclusion of multiple knowledges and ways of knowing is the drive to include things that are not research within the category of research.
As illustrated in the first example from the Social Justice literature (both above and below), under the assumption that knowledge encodes the values and beliefs of those who produce it, those values and beliefs become the arbiters of the worth of the knowledge claim at hand. Using an intersectional approach, this would involve weighting knowledge that comes from Theoretically marginalized or oppressed ways of knowing more highly than from Theoretically dominant ones (like science, reason, and so on – see also, epistemic oppression, epistemic violence, and epistemic injustice).
This is because the underlying assumption is that every claim to knowledge is a representative artifact of cultural traditions that cannot be directly compared (see also, cultural relativism), and those representing dominant origins (according to Theory) have been unjustly forwarded and taken seriously while those with marginalized origins deserve a fuller and “fairer” hearing than they have received. Applying a critical lens reveals also that any knowledge produced outside of a critical theory context would fail to reflect the values and interests of the critical context, which is deemed to be inherently emancipatory and good. Thus, non-critical knowledge claims (i.e., “traditional theory,” which seeks to understand phenomena) are inherently problematic and can be dismissed as such from any critical framework.
Backing up these claims further, as can be read in the second example from the Social Justice literature above, in the critical Social Justice view, politics and social position are relevant measures of the worth of knowledge: “knowledge is dependent upon a complex web of cultural values, beliefs, experiences, and social positions.” One might note that facts and rigorous methodology are not listed here. This is because, as the paragraph points out as it continues, the critical assumption is that knowledge always serves (political) interests. Thus, the critical approach is not interested in asking whether or not a statement is true (rigorous epistemology) or even it’s valuable (pragmatism); it is only interested in asking what its political valence and utility can be construed to be (see also, subvert, dismantle, and disrupt).
Because knowledge is believed to be a product of cultures and their specific relationships to power (see also, cultural relativism and standpoint epistemology), and because it is believed that dominant groups intentionally and inadvertently exclude the knowledges of other groups (see also, epistemic oppression), the expectation upon dominant groups under Social Justice is necessarily to “shut up and listen” when a person from a minoritized group is speaking (especially about the experience of oppression).
Bias; Code; Critical; Critical race Theory; Critical theory; Cultural relativism; Disability studies; Discourse; Dismantle; Disrupt; Dominance; Emancipation; Enlightenment; Episteme; Epistemic oppression; Eurocentrism; Fat studies; Feminism; Foucauldian; Gender; Hegemony; Identity; Inclusion; Indigeneity; Injustice; Intersectionality; Legitimate; Lived experience; Marginalization; Minoritize; Modernism; Oppression; Power-knowledge; Position; Positivism; Postcolonial Theory; Postmodern; Problematic; Queer Theory; Racism (systemic); Research justice; Science; Sexism (systemic); Shut up and listen; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Standpoint epistemology; Subordination; Subversion; Systemic power; Theory; Truth; Value-free; Ways of knowing; West, the; White
Source: The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice, Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition, pp. 192–193.
In the opening lecture of his “Society Must be Defended” course at the Collège de France, Foucault begins by characterizing his critiques of the prison, the asylum, and the clinic as forms of local critique that are made possible by the “insurrection of subjugated knowledges” (2003: 7). By subjugated knowledges, Foucault means two things: first, the “blocks of historical knowledges that were present in the functional and systematic ensembles, but which were masked”, and, second, knowledges “that have been disqualified as nonconceptual knowledges, as insufficiently elaborated knowledges: naïve…, hierarchically inferior knowledges… that are below the required level of erudition or scientificity” (2003: 7). The former understanding of subjugated knowledges refers to those forms of scholarly knowledge that have been marginalized or rendered inferior by the knowledge hierarchy imposed by disciplines; the latter meaning refers to those forms of knowledge that were disqualified as knowledge by the process of disciplinarization that I described in the previous section. As examples of the latter, Foucault offers the knowledge of the nurse, of the psychiatric patient, or of the delinquent. Genealogical analysis, as a kind of local critique, is made possible and given “its essential strength” by the “coupling together of the buried scholarly knowledge and knowledges that were disqualified by the hierarchy of erudition and sciences” (Foucault 2003: 8).
Source: Research Justice: Methodologies for Social Change. Policy Press. Kindle Edition, pp. 123–124.
What constitutes legitimate knowledge? Who gets to provide authoritative knowledge, and whose perspective is discounted as anecdote or opinion? In a post-industrial age, knowledge industries, including research and development, design and innovation, digital media and communications, and higher education, have replaced manufacturing as the new sources of wealth and power. As a commodity, knowledge is fiercely protected by knowledge elites—institutions and individuals that produce and market information technologies. One way that knowledge elites preserve their market share is to mystify knowledge production processes, so that only select educated experts may claim the right to produce, own, and exchange knowledge. Another way of protecting elite knowledge control is by validating certain types of knowledge—specifically, knowledge generated from quantitative data, written in scholarly language, dissociated from emotions and bodies, and associated with academic institutions. In this process, other ways of knowing become delegitimized and made invisible. Marginalized communities own enormous resources of knowledge, including sacred knowledge—the deep knowing that comes from an encounter with the spiritual realm; embodied knowledge—the insights and perceptions that come from living in a body and experiencing bodily functions like pregnancy, as well as violence against or pain in the body; experiential knowledge—the wisdom that comes from having lived through something; intergenerational knowledge—the collective memory and re-narration that lives in community oral histories; and spatial knowledge—the savvy that comes from inhabiting a neighborhood, community, or ecosystem. We are often discouraged from seeing what we know as valid, legitimate, or important. Yet, it is precisely this layered, deeply humanized knowledge that has the capacity to challenge and move us.
Source: Research Justice: Methodologies for Social Change. Policy Press. Kindle Edition, pp. 188–189.
Research, in its traditional form, is the very process through which domination and violence are justified and carried out via producing knowledges that legitimize the accumulation of power through investigation. Increasingly, neoliberalism has influenced this process toward an ever-growing socialization that knowledge should be individualized and privatized, fashioned into a commodity that one can own and lay personal claim to. This has shifted relationships to knowledge away from diverse forms of collectivity, memory, feeling, experience, sense, intuition and reciprocity, thus alienating the producers and carriers of knowledges away from their own stories in a quest to map and patent secrets, tools, traditions, relationships, histories, and even ways of knowing and relating to the world. In this process stories become objects and evidence to be archived and vetted for accuracy of facts, losing their collective, ceremonial, and piegogial meaning, along with any sense of poetry and interconnectedness we might feel between ourselves and the story or storyteller/storyholder. Additionally, colonial research as it adheres to Western universalism and white supremacist thought does violence to expansive and non-linear notions of and relationships to time, space, and the cosmos, severing the living from the past while advancing scientific disciplinary epistemologies that sever spiritual, erotic, bodily, and emotional ways of knowing away from the very definition of what constitutes legitimate knowledge (Lorde, 1984; Wilson, 2008).
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 10.
Transformative academic knowledge refers to the concepts and explanations that challenge mainstream academic knowledge and that expand the canon. Transformative academic knowledge questions the idea that knowledge can ever be outside of human interests, perspectives, and values. Proponents of transformative academic knowledge assume that knowledge is not neutral and that it reflects the social hierarchies of a given society. They believe that a key purpose of conceptualizing knowledge in this way is to make society more just. Transformative academic knowledge is knowledge that challenges the traditional canon. This form of knowledge recognizes that social groups we belong to (such as race, class, and gender) necessarily shape our frame of reference and give us a particular—not universal—perspective. Therefore, each of us has some insight into some dimensions of social life but has limited understanding in others.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 4.
From a critical social justice framework, informed knowledge does not refer exclusively to academic scholarship, but also includes the lived experiences and perspectives that marginalized groups bring to bear on an issue. However, scholarship can provide useful language with which marginalized groups can frame their experiences within the broader society.
Revision date: 2/5/20