What form must a theory of epistemic injustice take in order to successfully illuminate the epistemic dimensions of struggles that are primarily political? How can such struggles be understood as involving collective struggles for epistemic recognition and self-determination that seek to improve practices of knowledge production and make lives more liveable? In this paper, I argue that currently dominant, Fricker-inspired approaches to theorizing epistemic wrongs and remedies make it difficult, if not impossible, to understand the epistemic dimensions of historic and ongoing political struggles. Recent work in the theory of recognition—particularly the work of critical, feminist, and decolonial theorists—can help to identify and correct the shortcomings of these approaches. I offer a critical appraisal of recent conversation concerning epistemic injustice, focusing on three characteristics of Frickerian frameworks that obscure the epistemic dimensions of political struggles. I propose that a theory of epistemic injustice can better illuminate the epistemic dimensions of such struggles by acknowledging and centering the agency of victims in abusive epistemic relations, by conceptualizing the harms and wrongs of epistemic injustice relationally, and by explaining epistemic injustice as rooted in the oppressive and dysfunctional epistemic norms undergirding actual communities and institutions.

From here: https://ojs.lib.uwo.ca/index.php/fpq/article/view/6230

Can someone explain the bold? I don't know what ”epistemic dimensions” mean. Does it mean to look at political struggles and finding and highlighting the parts of them that are epistemic? Like ‘We need a feminist theory that will illuminate the feminist dimensions of political arguments’ = we want a theory that makes the feminist issues in politics clear and obvious?

This is, I think, quite dense and technical social philosophical theory that requires a certain amount of education and experience to be familiar with (terms like "epistemic injustice" and "knowledge production"), I found the paper interesting but would like to be familiar with some basic stuff first.

  • Dimensions as in perspectives. How different people acquire knowledge. Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 10:00
  • @bodhihammer ”the epistemic dimensions of struggles that are primarily political” means the epistemic perspectives of struggles with its basis in politics? How do you explain this? Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 11:10
  • I believe it's about justice in spreading knowledge, i.e. we know that politicians can manufacture consent and use manipulation in what and how knowledge is spread, they can withdraw or feed some information for the public for political gain. It looks like an analysis of how people's knowledge is "constructed", as such, where "Frickerian framework" is used as an example that obscures the issue. Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 12:08
  • This is about how knowledge and "factual reality" are formed, ie in Saudi-Arabia by predominantly male perspectives or in China by censorship and propaganda. These are "abusive epistemic relations" that are "undergirding actual communities and institutions". Maybe more time for a proper answer later.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 15:22
  • 1
    Added critical theory tag.
    – J D
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 16:10

2 Answers 2


Like almost any branch of philosophy, postcolonial studies has developed it's own terms, and there are key texts in the emergence and development of the field.

Spivak's essay 'Can the subaltern speak?' is a founding work of postcolonial theory, & considered a precursor work on epistemic-justice before Frikker coined the term. It is in the mode of deconstruction (Spivak made a celebrated early translation of Derrida's text introducing this idea): analysing texts for their motives, and expanding perspectives on their role in social dynamics (text in absolutely the most general sense). The key part of the essay's critique is to consider how postcolonial academic study can be implicitly reinforcing the same structures that built colonialism. In particular, the claim to be interpreting culture from a 'universalising' objective perspective is bound up with a power-claim, which is a thread that runs all through postmodern thought, & is very clear in Foucault. Spivak uses the example of 'sati' in India, widow-burning, which was viewed with such horror by the English powers in India that it was felt to substantially help justify their taking administrative control; but under that, the practice actually increased linked to making it a point of rebellion against their power. The subjectivity of poor Indian women involved not only could not then be understood, but even in modern times was being silenced, ignored, and excluded, with an interpretive framework being imposed from outside.

Frikker coined epistemic injustice to capture this kind of dynamic, & described it as coming in two varieties: ignoring or diminishing people describing their experiences and world-view, and failing to make space in cultural discourse for excluded or marginalised groups to explore reflect on and define ways to refer to their own experiences (testimonial & hermenutic epistemic injustice).

Epistemic injustice, and in this case dimensions, are especially about people not having the words or conceptual tools to describe what they are going through, because of lack of access and involvement in cultural discourse.

A basic example is sexual-harrasment not being coined until the 1970s, and not entering widespread use until the 1980s. This kind of cultural change involved can be hard to see and capture, it requires studying things like adverts, and gathering testimonies which accidentally capture the experiences that were largely ignored at the time. That marital rape was only made a crime in the UK in 1991, & only nationwide in the USA in 1993, is indicative of the cultural journey, reflecting a cultural perspective on the nature of marriage that I hope you will agree is almost unimaginable now.

This essay you draw attention to seems to want to play Fricker at her own game, saying her framework ignores or minimises the epistemic agency of marginalised groups.

For Spivak & Fricker the subject no longer has sovereignty over the construction of the self, because the power dynamics of social discourse shape inclinations and beliefs about how to develop epistemic justice. That perspective suits theorists, who want to use their tools to reveal the hidden impositions of culture on marginalised groups. But, treats them as passive, as subjects rather than relationally.

You might say the essay is saying, the subaltern can speak, even if the deck is stacked against them. And looking at how by using the theory of recognition and the sociological tools associated with recognition, in particular by developing the term epistemic-redlining, the denial of credibility to places and groups, and shifting the focus from for example the court system's duty to listen to different groups fairly, to an active discourse by marginalised groups to demand fairness.

It neatly continues the process of Spivak's critique of The Intellectuals and Power: A Discussion Between Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault in Can The Subaltern Speak?, again turning the emerging toolbox of postmodern analysis on to it's own shortcomings

(you might like this answer on the common misapprehensions about postmodernism by Anglophone thinkers Does postmodernism in art criticism collapse into relativism? What's its merit?).

  • Wow, this is highly informed. Outstanding. Is this your philosophical interest?
    – J D
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 19:20
  • @JD: No - honestly it's just rainy so I thought I'd read up :D I liked the linked essay, & I've always had a lot more time for postmodernist social analysis than for first order logic. Thankyou though!
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 22:26

Short Answer

the epistemic dimensions of struggles that are primarily political? How can such struggles be understood as involving collective struggles for epistemic recognition and self-determination that seek to improve practices of knowledge production and make lives more liveable?

conceptualizing the harms and wrongs of epistemic injustice relationally, and by explaining epistemic injustice as rooted in the oppressive and dysfunctional epistemic norms undergirding actual communities and institutions

Epistemology pertains to the theory of knowledge. An "abusive epistemic relation" or dimensions thereof would describe efforts to manipulate knowledge to take advantage of someone else. Both of these passages talk about justice, politics, and epistemology, which is an intersection of primary concern in philosophies of critical theory.

Both quotations speak to the fact that one group of people can manipulate another group of people politically, with disenfranchisement for example by crafting knowledge, perhaps through propaganda, to get one group of people to willingly or grudgingly accept the subjugation of another.

Long Answer

Dominance hierarchies are the norm among animals, and human beings are no exception. History is one long reading of how one group of people take advantage, generally of labor or taking resources, of another. This is much easier if the dominant group crafts the thinking of the dominated. Domination can occur in extremes like genocide, slavery, and rape, but it can be much more subtle, like bias in zoning laws, unfair forms of taxation, and bias in history and education. The reality about the imbalance of power structures is that they are often maintained by manipulating peoples' knowledge and theory of knowledge. In Marxism, the term false consciousness is often used to describe a collective view of the world wherein the disadvantaged often believe and support the very system that takes advantage of them. Some serfs willingly supported their lords, some workers accept indecent working conditions, and some slaves support the institution, not because they don't have the means of confronting the power imbalance, but because they believed or believe in some sort of natural order. The Great Chain of Being had political overtones, for instance.

US history is one of a progression of increasing liberalization. The 17th century here in the modern US started off with a lot indentured servitude and slavery. These systems worked because people broadly accepted the "knowledge" of inferiority and superiority of races. The Holocaust was built on the premise that one race was threatened by another race which would have been an acceptable premise during the 1939 Nazi rally in New York City! Here in Chicago, the US labor movement helped to better the working conditions by advocating for collective bargaining spurred on by exploitative labor practices, like those documented in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Today, slavery, child labor, and abusing workers are rejected in all fifty states legally, and sufferage is near-universal, though restriction on voting rights is on the rise.

Slavery and child labor are obvious examples. Sometimes imbalances in power structures are subtle and need to be called out. As part of Marshall McLuhan's quotation "The medium is the message," consider how technologies of communication can be used to manipulate people's knowledge of the world:

In Understanding Media, McLuhan describes the "content" of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.12 This means that people tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time.13 As society's values, norms, and ways of doing things change because of the technology, it is then we realize the social implications of the medium. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions that we are not aware of.13

This is also a major theme of Noam Chomsky and his partner Herman in Manufacturing Consent:

It argues that the mass communication media of the U.S. "are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion", by means of the propaganda model of communication.1 The title refers to consent of the governed, and derives from the phrase "the manufacture of consent" used by Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion (1922).2 The book was honored with the Orwell Award.

In summation, your worldview is to a large extent what your theory of knowledge, your epistemic practices create. All of us are born without critical thinking skills, are defenseless against religious indoctrination, and are subject to the will of our societies from the moment we are born. Berger and Luckmann in the 1960s put forth a book The Social Construction of Reality that attempts to create an epistemic theory to catalog those mechanisms in society that guide the manufacture of knowledge and roles and led to the social philosophy of social constructionism. We are inescapably members of our culture, we use its language and have social transactions in its institutions. We are products of collectivized knowledge to the extent we don't try to rewrite our own. An ancient Roman plebian believed he was a plebian. A member of a cult likewise defers to the reality of the cult leader. While these social forces aren't the only forces, they exert a great force on who we are, and whether or not we are taken advantage of. So any producer or product of knowledge, Newspeak for example, has epistemic dimensions.

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