Ep-i-what? Using The Force to Understand Epistemicide

Ep-i-what? Using The Force to Understand Epistemicide

Beth Patin and Melinda Sebastian

In a galaxy very close to here and not too long ago, while evaluating research presentations, a peer critiqued one candidate, “I don’t understand why she talked about herself so much in the beginning. This isn’t a biography; she should have just focused on her research.” I heard growing mumbles of agreement. So, I interjected: “I’m not a critical scholar but I understand critical methodology; that wasn’t a biography, it was her positionality.”

Positionality “describes an individual’s worldview and the position they adopt about a research task and its social and political context” (Holmes, 2020, p. 1) and is a fundamental aspect of Indigenous, feminist, and critical methodologies. I walked out of that meeting and knew there was some type of injustice happening but I just did not know what to name it. Eventually, I found the concept I was looking for: epistemicide (Santos, 2014). Say it with me: ep-i-stem-i-cide. Epistemicide is the killing, silencing, annihilation, or devaluing of a way of knowing (Patin et al., 2020). 

Framing Epistemicide

Interrupting Epistemicide (Patin et al., 2021) is about epistemology; more accurately, it’s about the injustices we experience as we are developing and exercising our epistemologies. Epistemology is the study of “philosophical problems in concepts of knowledge and truth” (Hill Collins, 1990, para 1). In other words, epistemology is concerned with what we know, our ways of knowing, and how we know at all. Epistemic injustices (Fricker, 2008), then, are those transgressions people experience on their path to knowing. If these injustices are not interrupted or corrected, we are at risk of epistemicide: the devaluation or annihilation of particular ways of knowing. Worse still, if these kinds of injustices persist, they radiate out from individuals to the collective and eventually cause harm to generations when particular ways of knowing are forcibly lost or erased this way.

So, why should information professionals care about epistemicide? Well, the nature of our work means that we are gatekeepers of knowledge and information, not just for our field of study but for ALL the fields. This means without a close and critical examination of how our policies and practices harm individuals’, or entire communities’, ways of knowing, we contribute to people experiencing epistemic injustices and thus to epistemicide. Patin et al.’s (2021) contribution to Fricker’s grounding work on the first and second harms is the Third Harm, which outlines the generational impact particular of epistemic injustice.

A new PhD student misses the opportunity to study with a scholar whose work wasn’t given space or acknowledged as part of the accepted and dominant paradigm of knowledge. That process is repeated and compounded for generations, and that knowledge and any potential discoveries are lost along with it. This concept is fundamental to understanding why epistemicide is so important and why it has so much potential to harm our ways of knowing.

Understanding Epistemic Injustices

It’s important that we understand different types of epistemic injustices so that we can identify these transgressions and so that we can interrupt and stop them. Interrupting Epistemicide (Patin et al., 2021) discusses four unique types of epistemic injustices: testimonial, hermeneutical, participatory, and curricular. To better understand the manifestations of each injustice, we will look to Star Wars and contemplate what form injustices can take, who experiences or proliferates harm, and why good intentions do not go far enough as an ethical position for the gatekeepers of knowledge.

Testimonial Injustice

Testimonial injustice happens when we don’t give someone enough credit when they share their experiences or testimony. When we devalue someone’s narrative or actual testimony because of a bias, we may or may not realize that we have done so. In Episode II, Senator Padmé and Gregar’s concerns about an attempt on her life are initially dismissed, to the point that even Gregar questions their validity, stating, “I guess I was wrong. There was no danger at all.” However, the authority of their testimony becomes clear when Senator Padmé’s ship is blown up in front of them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxf7be8QbPM

Hermeneutical Injustice

Hermeneutical injustices happen when we don’t have the language to describe our experiences or when the dominant paradigms are unfamiliar with concepts from marginalized worldviews and are therefore dismissive of these conceptualizations. In Episode IIX, Rey is experiencing visions. She knows instinctively they are important, but because she has no formal Jedi training, she doesn’t have the language to describe her experiences: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuY50ZUjg6w

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Participatory Injustice

Participatory injustice happens when people are not allowed to be engaged in the development of their own epistemologies. The lack of participation can be total exclusion but also includes experiences like isolation and ostracization. In Episode I, Anakin Skywalker is identified as a strong Force-sensitive child, yet given his age, Windu and the other Council members decline to train him, deeming Anakin too old and full of fear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rU_wrhQrDh4

Curricular Injustice

Curricular injustice involves not having the necessary resources to support your epistemological development. In Episode III, Chancellor Palpatine shares with Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis the Wise, and in doing so proclaims “it’s not a story the Jedi would tell you.” This knowledge withheld from the Jedi and, for better or for worse, serves as a catalyst for Anakin’s inevitable turn to the dark side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05dT34hGRdg

Conclusion

Our paper goes into greater detail about each form of injustice, and some suggestions for interruptions. We’ll close with a look at the Skywalkers and the Third Harm. The original trilogy concludes with generational healing for one family (who become something close to gatekeepers of knowledge of the Force) by outlining and naming the harms caused, and highlights just how difficult it is to interrupt that kind of violence. The Star Wars films may be fiction, but the harm depicted amongst families and entire civilizations is real enough. The films demonstrate how colonization and epistemological supremacy can perpetuate the harms of epistemic injustice across galaxies.

References

Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice: power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford University Press.

Hill Collins, P. (1990). Toward an Afrocentric Feminist Epistemology. In Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. https://www.woldww.net/classes/Principles_of_Inquiry/Collins-AfrocFemEpistemology+.htm 

Holmes, Andrew Gary Darwin. “Researcher Positionality—A Consideration of Its Influence and Place in Qualitative Research—A New Researcher Guide.” Shanlax International Journal of Education, vol. 8, no. 4, 2020, pp. 1-10.

MadHatterChris. (2016, April 24). Star Wars VII- |Rey Vision|. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuY50ZUjg6w 

Milner, H. R. (2007). Race, Culture, and Researcher Positionality: Working Through Dangers Seen, Unseen, and Unforeseen. Educational Researcher, 36(7), 388–400. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X07309471 

Patin, B., Sebastian, M., Yeon, J., & Bertolini, D. (2020). Toward epistemic justice: An approach for conceptualizing epistemicide in the information professions. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 57(1), e242. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.242 

Patin, B, Sebastian, M, Yeon, J, Bertolini, D, Grimm, A. Interrupting epistemicide: A practical framework for naming, identifying, and ending epistemic injustice in the information professions. J Assoc Inf Sci Technol. 2021; 72: 1306– 1318. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.24479 

Santos, B. de S. (2014). Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide (1 edition). Routledge.

Star Jedi 951. (2014, August 16). The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis The Wise HD Star Wars Episode III Revenge of The Sith. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05dT34hGRdg 

Star Wars Saga LatinAmerica. (2019, November 5). Star Wars The Phantom Menace (1999) Movie Clip – Anakin’s test (Jedi Council). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rU_wrhQrDh4  Star Wars Saga LatinAmerica. (2020, July 9). Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones – Assassination Attempt on Padme Amidala. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxf7be8QbPM

Cite this article in APA as: Patin, B. (2021, November 9). Ep-i-what? Using The Force to Understand Epistemicide. Information Matters.  Vol.1, Issue 11. https://r7q.22f.myftpupload.com/2021/11/ep-i-what-using-the-force-to-understand-epistemicide/