Epistemic injustice and higher education in the digital age

Guest editors- Matteo Stocchetti and Tiina Räisä

Background to this special issue

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.

What we seek

The main goal of this special issue is to develop the insights of the innovative analysis of Miranda Fricker & colleagues in support of democratic education and the responsibility of higher education in dealing with the epistemic injustice associated with the processes of digitalization in formal education. With this special issue we also seek to ‘map’ the approaches to epistemic injustice in the digital age. In doing so, however, we are aware of the fundamental problem of representation. While a map is a representation of a space that exists independently from the map itself, in the task we are setting to ourselves, problems and tools exists only and only if they are represented. It is the distinctive quality of epistemic injustice – every form of injustice depending on ways of knowing – to exist as injustice only if and when their existence is revealed by epistemic mutations: more or less fundamental changes in the way we experience the world.

The special issue of the Journal of Digital Social Research welcomes contributions in form of a) summaries of the state of the art, b) preliminary efforts to combine epistemic injustice (EI) with digitalization, learning and higher education (HE), c) directions for further research aiming about combining EI, digitalization and HE in support of epistemic competences and democracy.

We also welcome contributions dealing with, but not limited to, the following themes:

  • The case for applying the EI approach to digitalization and higher education.
  • The classical approach to EI: contributions to a ‘history’ of the approach itself that could facilitate the identifications of ‘bridges’ towards digitalization and higher education.
  • What are the main features (e.g. concepts and problems) of the classical and the more recent approaches to the study of epistemic injustice.
  • Available ‘explorations’ of EI in the field of digitalization and higher education.
  • Empirical exercises: instances in which the EI approach has inspired empirical studies.
  • Methodological problems associated with the study of EI and the application of this approach to digitalization and higher education.
  • Exploration of the linkage between EI, learning, critical pedagogy, Bildung, etc
  • Representation of EI in social media and professional online networks
  • EI and AI: the question of applying EI to AI and related technology from the standpoint of higher education: reviews of available study, etc.
  • EI and ‘surveillance capitalism’ a notion discussed in depth by Shoshana Zuboff in her work. The linkage between these two notions and the debates around them deserve more attention for its critical potential.

What and how to submit

We invite researchers to submit an English-language abstract of no more than 500 words (without references). The author(s) should email their abstract proposal as a Word file to both (matteo.stocchetti /at/ arcada.fi) and (meda_epistemic /at/ ad.arcada.fi)

Process and timeline

May 2, 2022: Abstract submission opens.

June 30, 2022: Abstract submission deadline.

Mid-August : Notification of the decision to submit the full manuscript to JDSR.

Please note that the initial acceptance of an abstract does not guarantee acceptance of the full manuscript. No payment from the authors will be required

January 15, 2023: Full manuscript submission deadline.

January – April, 2023: Review process (1-2 rounds).

April, 2023: Decision on manuscripts.

For more information on the Journal of Digital Social Research, please visit the journal’s website: https://www.jdsr.io/