Epistemic Oppression, Resistance, and Resurgence

Contemporary Political Theory 21 (2):283-314 (2022)
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Epistemologies have power. They have the power not only to transform worlds, but to create them. And the worlds that they create can be better or worse. For many people, the worlds they create are predictably and reliably deadly. Epistemologies can turn sacred land into ‘resources’ to be bought, sold, exploited, and exhausted. They can turn people into ‘labor’ in much the same way. They can not only disappear acts of violence but render them unnamable and unrecognizable within their conceptual architectures. Settler systems of epistemic and conceptual resources and the relations among them are constructed to preclude certain forms of knowledge. This is not an accident; it is a central goal of colonial violence. Colonization and land dispossession would not be possible without the violent disruption of Indigenous knowledge systems and ongoing organized attempts to disrupt their survival. Violently disrupting the relationships of people to land is as much an epistemic project as it is a material one, and these two projects are inherently linked. The task of theorizing epistemic oppression is not only about epistemic oppression. Epistemic oppression is a story that gives language to a phenomenon in order to get past it, to carry on with the maintaining and reviving the forms of Indigenous and diasporic knowledge that colonialism has worked tirelessly to corrupt and silence.

Author Profiles

Nora Berenstain
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Kristie Dotson
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Elena Ruíz
Michigan State University


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