Thanks to everyone who gathered last month to think together about place, memory, universities, and knowledge work. A phrase that has stuck with me from that discussion is “critical hope“—that seems to capture the spirit of what we are creating together in this space. The kind of hope that Mariame Kaba speaks of when she says that “hope is a discipline”:
It’s less about “how you feel,” and more about the practice of making a decision every day, that you’re still gonna put one foot in front of the other, that you’re still going to get up in the morning. And you’re still going to struggle, that that was what I took away from it.
It’s work to be hopeful. It’s not like a fuzzy feeling. Like, you have to actually put in energy, time, and you have to be clear-eyed, and you have to hold fast to having a vision. It’s a hard thing to maintain. But it matters to have it, to believe that it’s possible, to change the world. You know, that we don’t live in a predetermined, predestined world where like nothing we do has an impact. No, no, that’s not true! Change is, in fact, constant, right? Octavia Butler teaches us. We’re constantly changing. We’re constantly transforming. It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily good or bad. It just is. That’s always the case. And so, because that’s true, we have an opportunity at every moment to push in a direction that we think is actually a direction towards more justice.
—Mariame Kaba on Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill
It’s helpful, for me, to think about hope as a discipline rather than a feeling, because my feelings are so often at cross-purposes with anything resembling hope. But a discipline can be practiced regardless of feelings. Even now.
Our next session, focused on epistemic injustice and led by Alyssa Arbuckle, will be on Thursday, December 16 from 5-6pm ET. Sign up here for the link!
We’ll look at the following texts:
Denisse Albornoz, Angela Okune, and Leslie Chan, “Can Open Scholarly Practices Redress Epistemic Injustice?,” from Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access (2020)
Robin Wall Kimmerer, “Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass” from Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2015)
Azar Causevic and Anasuya Sengupta, “Whose Knowledge Is Online? Practices of Epistemic Justice for a Digital New Deal” (2021)
Here is what Alyssa has shared regarding her approach to these texts:
I’m hoping that these readings can spur on a discussion about epistemic injustice and diverse and/or plural knowledges.
Epistemic injustice is a term originally coined by Miranda Fricker (in Epistemic Injustice: Power and Ethics of Knowing) and can be considered as an injustice specifically associated with one’s knowledge-based experience (within a context of social power). Fricker’s definition of the term is “a wrong done to someone specifically in their capacity as a knower.” Epistemic injustice is two-pronged, according to Fricker: it can take the form of testimonial injustice—where a speaker is discredited due to the hearer’s prejudice—or hermeneutical injustice—where a broader social misunderstanding or conceptual gap puts a speaker at a disadvantage.
The concept of diverse and/or plural knowledges, to me, recognizes that there are many different knowledge systems that interplay with each other. These can be social, historical, community-based, cultural, academic / scientific, personal, etc.
I selected the Albornoz, Okune, and Chan article because it encapsulates a really key issue: the perpetuation of epistemic injustice by well-meaning actors in the higher education system, namely, open access advocates. The authors argue that the current state of open scholarship has failed to live up to its democratizing promises and has, in some cases, devalued marginalized groups and their knowledges. If openness is a value of the future higher ed system, it is critical to examine the ways in which it can contribute to epistemic injustice and how to shift open practices and policies in a way that renders them truly representative and supportive of diverse and plural knowledges.
I included this chapter of Braiding Sweetgrass because it blends Indigenous knowledge with the scientific method (with the caveat that of course there is no one single “Indigenous knowledge”; Kimmerer is looking at very specific practices of sweetgrass harvesting in the eastern part of the US). I think there’s some interesting discussion to be had about the primacy of a specific knowledge system in the academy (e.g. the scientific method) and how rethinking this primacy may open up the university as a space of diverse and plural knowledges rather than one committed to the hegemonic order of academic tradition.
Finally, I shared the Causevic and Sengupta piece because it explores the ways in which the infrastructure of the Internet enacts epistemic injustice. Again, thinking of the theme of this discussion group, I wonder how academic-based infrastructures — digital and otherwise — can be epistemically just spaces and in doing so become sites of rich, multivalent, and overlapping knowledges.
I hope that you all find these readings as interesting and thought-provoking as I do, and I’m very much looking forward to engaging with everyone over this on the 16th.
I hope many of you can be there, and that the discussion can be a bit of a respite from the many end-of-semester challenges. Again, here’s a sign-up link.
If you’ll be participating in the MLA this year, let me know; I’d be happy to compile sessions that we’re all a part of. For my part, I’ll be part of a virtual roundtable on Thursday, January 6 called “Pandemic, Academics, Gender, and Race: Effects on Women and Work.” It’s a conversation I feel like I’ve been living for the past… however long it’s been, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to talk about it with others in a critical and engaged way. I’m finding it especially interesting to think through this right now, having just made the decision to opt out of one way of working and adopt an entirely new one.
Would anyone be interested in co-proposing a session for next year’s American Studies conference? I’d love to propose a reading group session that starts from the structure and themes we’ve been exploring together and builds on them in a different and broader context.
As always, even if you haven’t been able to join a discussion yet feel free to dig into our collaborative notes and open Zotero library. And, feel free to share this email with others who may be interested.
Looking forward to seeing many of you soon as we enter this time of reflection and transition—end of semester, end of 2021, and soon the solstice that signals the slow return of light.
In solidarity and hope,