Epistemic exploitation in education

Educational Philosophy and Theory 2:1-18 (2022)
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‘Epistemic exploitation occurs when privileged persons compel margin- alised knowers to educate them [and others] about the nature of their oppression’ (Berenstain, 2016, p. 569). This paper scrutinizes some of the purported wrongs underpinning this practice, so that educators might be better equipped to understand and avoid or mitigate harms which may result from such interventions. First, building on the work of Berenstain and Davis (2016), we argue that when privileged persons (in this context, educators) repeatedly compel marginalised or oppressed knowers, to not only to educate them, but indeed others, about the nature of their oppression, they risk subjecting them to further epistemic-moral harms. This is due to the likelihood that at least some of their audience will assign them less/more credibility than they deserve based on pre-existing identity-based prejudices. Second, though some of these requests to ‘educate’ or ‘learn more’ masquerade as seemingly virtuous or innocuous epistemic inquiries, privileged persons underesti- mate or remain ignorant of secondary harms which stem from internalized epistemic obligations, oppressive double-binds (Hirji, 2021), and attendant emotional burdens oppressed knowers carry in relation to the ever-present possibility of ameliorating oppressor mindsets. After surveying each context-specific harm briefly, we then turn to an applied reading of how these exploitative practices sometimes culminate in something we refer to as ‘ontic burnout’, a form of interminable explanatory fatigue brought on by repeated requests to educate the privileged about what it means to be oppressed.

Author's Profile

Gerry Dunne
Trinity College, Dublin (PhD)


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