Epistemic justice relates to the sharing of knowledge or knowing something and is not about abusing this or “epistemic power”. The concept of Epistemic justice is relevant in the field of Naturalising Sense-making because in order to navigate complexity in general, but particularly in a crisis, detecting and monitoring weak signals is essential, in both situational assessment and scenario planning.
Detecting weak signals implies that we consider everyone’s word with equal value. The tool Sensemaker®, which allows to deploy human sensor networks, has been created for this purpose of ensuring epistemic justice. One of its strengths is to collect self-interpreted micro-narratives, that are culturally, experientially, geographically, and ideally temporally diverse, removing thus the re-interpretation of an expert and reducing researcher bias.
Epistemic justice is about treating everyone’s word as bearing the same weight when considering someone is providing knowledge. It is about allowing people their own voice, not just as a passive contributor of stories or anecdotes but as an active agent in their interpretation.
Before talking about epistemic justice, let’s consider first the concept of epistemic injustice, a term coined by the philosopher Miranda Fricker. The author points out the importance to observe and identify first what happens in situations in which epistemic injustice unfolds, before stating how to provide epistemic justice, arguing that injustice is often the norm regarding the production of knowledge.
The author identifies two types of epistemic injustice: testimonial and hermeneutical.
Testimonial injustice occurs when the information provided by a person is not given value by the hearer, because the latter discounts the credibility of the speaker, due to prejudice attached to their social identity.
Hermeneutical injustice happens when a person is already not involved in producing social meanings, because prejudice against their social identity marginalizes them. In turn, when trying to make sense of their experience, they will lack the necessary concepts referring to it, due to the social invisibility of what they are going through. In other situations, even when they are able to make sense of their experience, they might not be given credibility, due to the absence of common recognition of the concepts evoked.
Now, according to Michel Foucault, only those who detain power produce information considered as knowledge, that it is legitimate to transmit and that we can use as a lens to make sense. Its concept “power-knowledge” encompasses the entanglement of those two notions and how they inform each other. As a result, we can see how being given the credibility to produce knowledge also brings power.
A very important distinction relevant here lays between "power over" and "power with". It was coined by Mary Parker Follett, a management consultant, considered a pioneer in organisational theory and organisational behavior. She observed that having power over someone or a group of people implied a coercive attitude and domination. One side needs to know better than the other one. As a result the relationship is going to be polarized and it is leading to epistemic injustice. As a matter of fact, people dislike to be given orders, so exercising "power over" needs constant efforts to establish authority and control over entities. Follett's interest brought her to consider a way in which people or a group of people would collaborate, for the purpose of controlling situations together. This is why she noticed that exercising power with someone was an alternative that offered a more suitable option. It will open possibilities of co-creation and establish relationships where people or groups of people would be considered equally valid producer of knowledge.
Those premises laid out, let’s see how we can get into a direction where there is more epistemic justice. Fricker thinks that epistemic justice can be achieved only if the institutions are virtuous and distill this intent at every single stage of its representation. Drawing on her work the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson argued that, even if individual virtues are important, there are structural causes creating epistemic injustice, this is why she offers to create structural solutions to deal with it. She suggests integrating diverse voices so that we can have an egalitarian decision-making process.
This entails appealing to the wisdom of crowds and considering everyone's experiences and perspectives as equally meaningful.
- Anderson, Elizabeth (2012) "Epistemic Justice as a Virtue of Social Institutions", Social Epistemology, 26:2, 163-173,
- Follett, Mary Parker (1940) "Dynamic Administration: The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett", ed. by E. M. Fox and L. Urwick (London: Pitman Publishing)
- Foucault, Michel (1977) “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” New York: Random House.
- Fricker, Miranda (2007) "Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing" Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Fricker, Miranda (2013) "Epistemic justice as a condition of political freedom?" Synthese, 190(7), 1317-1332.
Podcasts & Presentations
- Dave Snowden, Big, thick and rich (the data) (April 12, 2020)