Cultural Gaslighting

Hypatia 35 (4):687-713 (2020)
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This essay frames systemic patterns of mental abuse against women of color and Indigenous women on Turtle Island (North America) in terms of larger design-of-distribution strategies in settler colonial societies, as these societies use various forms of social power to distribute, reproduce, and automate social inequalities (including public health precarities and mortality disadvantages) that skew socio-economic gain continuously toward white settler populations and their descendants. It departs from traditional studies in gender-based violence research that frame mental abuses such as gaslighting--commonly understood as mental manipulation through lying or deceit--stochastically, as chance-driven interpersonal phenomena. Building on structural analyses of knowledge in political epistemology (Dotson 2012, Berenstain 2016), political theory (Davis and Ernst 2017), and Indigenous social theory (Tuck and Yang 2012), I develop the notion of cultural gaslighting to refer to the social and historical infrastructural support mechanisms that disproportionately produce abusive mental ambients in settler colonial cultures in order to further the ends of cultural genocide and dispossession. I conclude by proposing a social epidemiological account of gaslighting that a) highlights the public health harms of abusive ambients for minority populations, b) illuminates the hidden rules of social structure in settler colonial societies, and c) amplifies the corresponding need for structural reparations.

Author's Profile

Elena Ruíz
Michigan State University


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