Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Six: Epistemic Injustice and Powerlessness in the Context of Global Justice: An Argument for "Thick" and "Small" Knowledge

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Six: Epistemic Injustice and Powerlessness in the Context of Global Justice: An Argument for "Thick" and "Small" Knowledge

Article excerpt

Introduction

Global justice is first and foremost concerned with "material" injustices, such as poverty and a lack of basic goods, while the underlying system of knowledge production, namely the production and distribution of our knowledge about these injustices and about how they can be overcome, is largely neglected. This comes with a reliance of most concepts of global justice on a specific form of third-person knowledge, which can be characterized as distant, "big"1, unpersonal, "thin"2 and objectified. Such knowledge presents us with figures and numbers about hundreds of millions of people living in misery, but the "voices" and experiences of the victims of injustices are marginalized in this kind of knowledge and therefore under-represented in concepts of global justice. In order to overcome this shortcoming, I argue for a greater concern with "thick" and "small" third-person knowledge, which necessitates work with first-person testimonials, narratives and life stories. It is not a question of either/or, but a balance between different kinds of knowledge bases. "Windows into reality" are needed, otherwise many injustices will simply go unnoticed, unheard and will ultimately not be criticized, constituting an epistemic injustice.

My paper is structured in four sections: Every concept of global justice needs a "window into reality" to know what injustices to criticize and how to overcome them. In the first section, I argue that concepts of global justice rely mainly on "big" and "thin" third-person knowledge about global injustices, and I explain why this increases the risk of neglecting certain forms of injustices. In the second section, I turn to epistemic injustices that are embedded within global injustices resulting in poverty and exclusion as well as in the production of knowledge about these injustices. Concepts of global justice that rely on "big" and "thin" third-person knowledge are often not concerned with the production of this kind of knowledge and the ways epistemic injustices are present in it. Besides being the victims of harsh injustices, the global poor are also trapped in a state of epistemic powerlessness. In the following third section, I propose the concepts of "thick" and "mall" third-person knowledge to empower the victims of (epistemic) injustices by giving them the opportunity to tell their stories and their experiences. Thus, people acquiring this kind of knowledge should be able to gain deep insights into such injustices and into the ways they affect the victims and their lives. In the fourth and final section I argue for a balance between different types of "windows into reality" and connect this matter to issues of empowerment and recognition.

Theories of Global Justice and "Windows into Reality"

Theories of global justice often start with the observation that our contemporary world is radically unjust, and they try to come-up with answers that can help us to remove these injustices. Furthermore, most theories of global justice acknowledge that they rely on empirical findings they cannot produce themselves, including data about the state of the world's poor, the conditions they live in, the institutional arrangements on the national and global level that produce, reproduce or reduce poverty as well as the political and legal systems that shape these arrangements. According to many theorists, global justice, if it wants to be considered as a venture that is as feasible as it is reasonable, has to take these non-ideal circumstances and the limits they pose into account, not only for the realization of global justice but also with regard to its conceptualization. This point is made strongly by the so-called non-ideal camp, whose proponents argue that we need to know a lot about the world to apply and to design theories of justice - opposed to the so-called ideal camp, whose proponents argue that we should refrain from as much empirical influence as possible when we design theories of justice (Valentini, 2012). …

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