EPISTEMIC INJUSTICE AND HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE DIGITAL AGE
The notion of epistemic injustice is described in the seminal study by Miranda Fricker, Epistemic Injustice, Power and the Ethics of Knowing, and the contributions that followed (Anderson, 2012; Kidd, José Medina, & Pohlhaus, 2017; Medina, 2011; 2012; Pohlhaus, 2012). With this call for a special issue of the Journal of Digital Social Research we want to contribute to the development of this approach, extending the heuristic potential of ‘epistemic injustice’ to the epistemic effects of digitalization and to support democratic education by providing professional educators with an intellectual tool to equip future generations with the competences and moral inclination, to address the epistemic roots of the current ‘crisis’ of democracy (D’Olimpio, 2021). There is great potential to this exploration as it suggests, for example, that the contemporary concerns with epistemic trust in political communication (Dahlgren 2016) pay insufficient attention to issues of social power and to the idea that ‘social disadvantage can produce unjust epistemic disadvantage’ (Fricker, 2007, p. 2).
At least three arguments in the current debate, point to the key role of higher education in the fight against epistemic injustice.
First, the importance of ‘epistemologies of ignorance’ (Mills, 2007), or the social ignorance about the limits of our knowledge that has roots in ‘social silences’ (Medina, 2012) and ‘willful hermeneutic ignorance’ (Pohlhaus, 2012), and that plays a fundamental role in preserving epistemic injustice despite e.g. technological progress.
Second, the notion of institutional responsibility in the protection of epistemic justice (Anderson, 2012), or the idea that democratic social institutions must promote justice also on epistemic level.
Third, the notion of ‘epistemologies of resistance’ (Medina, 2013) which engage with the epistemic level of the social practices fighting injustice. To look further into the epistemic dimension of social injustice is thus important for deeper understanding of the current ‘crisis of democracy’ and the possibility of more effective educational and pedagogical interventions.
Considering the extent to which the Internet is an integral part of (especially young) people's daily life, and the growing impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning in social governance, the impact of new technologies on epistemic injustice cannot be ignored. Previous research by the special issue editors has focused on the nature of epistemic beliefs (Ståhl, 2019) and epistemic authority (Ståhl et al., 2021) among higher education students, indicating that a higher level of internet reliance goes hand in hand with a view of knowledge as certain, as simply structured and as being handed down by authority. Most worryingly, the latter study suggests that ‘algorithmic authority’ seems to be a neglected concept.