Epistemic injustice

Epistemic injustice is unfairness related to knowledge.[1] The first systematic theory of epistemic injustice was introduced in 2007 by British philosopher Miranda Fricker, who coined the term.[2] According to Fricker, there are two kinds of epistemic injustice: testimonial injustice and hermeneutical injustice.[3]

Testimonial injusticeEdit

Testimonial injustice is unfairness related to trusting someone's word. An injustice of this kind occurs when someone is ignored or not believed because of their gender, their race or broadly, because of their identity.[3] Fricker gives the example of Londoner Duwayne Brooks, who witnessed the murder of his friend Stephen Lawrence.[4] The police officers who arrived at the scene regarded Brooks with suspicion, a response that was widely criticized. According to an official inquiry, "the officers failed to concentrate upon Mr Brooks and to follow up energetically the information which he gave them. Nobody suggested that he should be used in searches of the area, although he knew where the assailants had last been seen. Nobody appears properly to have tried to calm him, or to accept that what he said was true." That is, the police officers failed to view Brooks as a credible witness, in part due to racial bias. According to Fricker, this was a case of testimonial injustice, which occurs when "prejudice causes a hearer to give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker’s word." Testimonial injustice is often accompanied by hermeneutical injustice.

Hermeneutical injusticeEdit

Hermeneutical injustice is injustice related to how people interpret their lives. (The word 'hermeneutical', which comes from the Greek word for 'interpreter', means 'pertaining to interpretation'.)

To understand this kind of injustice, it is useful to consider a concrete example. In the 1970s, the label "sexual harassment" was introduced to describe something that many people, especially women, had experienced since time immemorial.[5] Imagine the year is 1960, before the label was introduced. Consider a woman who experiences sexual harassment in this year. She may have difficulty putting her experience into words. The difficulty that she faces is no accident. It is due (in part) to women's exclusion from full participation in the shaping of the English language. Now imagine it is 1980. The woman may now better understand what has happened to her. However, she may struggle to explain this experience to someone else, because the concept of sexual harassment is not yet well known. The difficulty she faces is, again, no accident. It is due (in part) to women's exclusion from equal participation in the institutions and industries devoted to making sense of, describing, and explaining human experiences — such as journalism, publishing, and academia. Miranda Fricker argues that women's unequal participation in the shaping of the categories through which we all understand the world makes some women's lives less intelligible, whether to themselves or to others. What is true of women here is also true of other marginalized groups.

Hermeneutical injustice occurs when someone's experiences are not well understood—by themselves or by others—because these experiences do not fit any concepts known to them (or known to others), due to the historic exclusion of some groups of people from activities, such as scholarship and journalism, that shape which concepts become well known.[3]

Further developmentsEdit

Other scholars have expanded what the term "epistemic injustice" includes. These contributions have included naming kinds of epistemic injustice such as epistemic oppression,[6] epistemic exploitation,[7] silencing as testimonial quieting and as testimonial smothering,[8] contributory injustice,[9] distributive epistemic injustice[10] , and epistemic trust injustice.[11] José Medina has advocated for an account of epistemic injustice that incorporates more voices and pays attention to context and the relationships at play.[12] Elizabeth S. Anderson has argued that attention should be given to the structural causes and structural remedies of epistemic injustice.[13] A closely related literature on epistemologies of ignorance has also been developing, which has included the identification of overlapping concepts such as white ignorance[14][15] and willful hermeneutical ignorance.[16]

Kristie Dotson has warned that some definitions that could leave out important contributions to the ongoing discussion around epistemic injustice.[9] Gaile Pohlhaus Jr. has replied that the concept should therefore be considered an open one, and many different approaches to the concept should be considered.[2]


The term "epistemic injustice" was not coined until 2007, but Vivian May has argued Sojourner Truth in the 1860s and Anna Julia Cooper in the 1890s anticipated the concept in claiming that Black women are denied full and equal recognition as knowers.[17] Pohlhaus Jr. points to Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak's 1988 essay Can the Subaltern Speak? as another anticipation. In that essay, Spivak describes what she calls epistemic violence occurring when subaltern persons are prevented from speaking for themselves about their own interests because of others claiming to know what those interests are.[18]

In 2017, the Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice was published, compiling chapters addressing both the theoretical work on the concept and efforts to apply that theory to practical case studies.[19]

The Indian political theorist Rajeev Bhargava uses the term "epistemic injustice" to describe how colonized groups were wronged when colonizing powers replaced, or negatively impacted, the concepts and categories that colonized groups used to understand themselves and the world.[20]

Selected philosophersEdit


  1. ^ Kidd, Ian James; Medina, José; Pohlhaus Jr., Gaile (2017). "Introduction to The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice". In Kidd, Ian James; Medina, José; Pohlhaus Jr., Gaile (eds.). Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice. Routledge. p. 1. doi:10.4324/9781315212043. ISBN 9781138828254. Epistemic injustice refers to those forms of unfair treatment that relate to issues of knowledge, understanding, and participation in communicative practices.
  2. ^ a b Pohlhaus Jr., Gaile (2017). "Varieties of Epistemic Injustice". In Kidd, Ian James; Medina, José; Pohlhaus Jr., Gaile (eds.). Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice. Routledge. pp. 13–26. doi:10.4324/9781315212043. ISBN 9781138828254.
  3. ^ a b c Fricker, Miranda (2007). Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780198237907. OCLC 729949179.
  4. ^ Fricker, Miranda (2014). "Epistemic Equality?". University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.
  5. ^ Blakemore, Erin (January 8, 2018). "Until 1975, 'Sexual Harassment' Was the Menace With No Name". history.com. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  6. ^ Dotson, Kristie (2014). "Conceptualizing Epistemic Oppression". Social Epistemology. 28 (2): 115–138. doi:10.1080/02691728.2013.782585. S2CID 144330822.
  7. ^ Berenstain, Nora (2016). "Epistemic Exploitation". Ergo, an Open Access Journal of Philosophy. 3 (20200916). doi:10.3998/ergo.12405314.0003.022.
  8. ^ Dotson, Kristie (2011). "Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silencing" (PDF). Hypatia. 26 (2): 236–257. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2011.01177.x.
  9. ^ a b Dotson, Kristie (2012). "A Cautionary Tale: On Limiting Epistemic Oppression". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 33: 24. doi:10.5250/fronjwomestud.33.1.0024. S2CID 142869935.
  10. ^ Coady, David (2010). "Two Concepts of Epistemic Injustice". Episteme. 7 (2): 101–113. doi:10.3366/E1742360010000845. S2CID 145332158.
  11. ^ Grasswick, Heidi (2017). "Epistemic Injustice in Science". In Kidd, Ian James; Medina, José; Pohlhaus Jr., Gaile (eds.). Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315212043. ISBN 9781138828254.
  12. ^ Medina, José (2012). "Hermeneutical Injustice and Polyphonic Contextualism: Social Silences and Shared Hermeneutical Responsibilities". Social Epistemology. 26 (2): 201–220. doi:10.1080/02691728.2011.652214. S2CID 16890075.
  13. ^ Anderson, Elizabeth (2012). "Epistemic Justice as a Virtue of Social Institutions". Social Epistemology. 26 (2): 163–173. doi:10.1080/02691728.2011.652211. S2CID 145350986.
  14. ^ Mills, Charles (2007). "White Ignorance" (PDF). In Sullivan, Shannon; Tuana, Nancy (eds.). Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance. Philosophy and Race Series. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. pp. 13–38. ISBN 9780791471012.
  15. ^ Mills, Charles (2017). "Ideology". In Kidd, Ian James; Medina, José; Pohlhaus Jr., Gaile (eds.). Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315212043. ISBN 9781138828254.
  16. ^ Pohlhaus, Gaile (2012). "Relational Knowing and Epistemic Injustice: Toward a Theory of Willful Hermeneutical Ignorance". Hypatia. 27 (4): 715–735. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2011.01222.x.
  17. ^ May, Vivian M. (2013-10-11). ""Speaking into the Void"? Intersectionality Critiques and Epistemic Backlash". Hypatia. 29 (1): 94–112. doi:10.1111/hypa.12060.
  18. ^ Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1988), "Can the Subaltern Speak?", Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Macmillan Education UK, pp. 271–313, doi:10.1007/978-1-349-19059-1_20, ISBN 9780333462768
  19. ^ Kidd, Ian James; Medina, José; Pohlhaus Jr., Gaile, eds. (2017). Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315212043. ISBN 9781138828254.
  20. ^ Bhargava, Rajeev (2013). "Overcoming the Epistemic Injustice of Colonialism". Global Policy. 4 (4): 413–417. doi:10.1111/1758-5899.12093.



  • Fricker, Miranda (2007). Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198237907.
  • Kidd, Ian James, José Medina, and Gaile Pohlhaus Jr. (2017). The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice. Routledge. ISBN 9781138828254.
  • Medina, José (2013). The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant imaginations. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199929023.

Journal articlesEdit