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Do The Oppressed Really Know Best?

Nov 01, 2018 |  Spencer Case

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Do The Oppressed Really Know Best?

Nov 01, 2018 | 

Spencer Case

Editors Note: This article was originally published on Arc and is written by NAS member Spencer Case.

Many intellectuals and activists believe that oppressed groups have special knowledge in virtue of their “lived experience” of oppression. According to this view, outsiders suffer an epistemic deficiency that they will only be able to remedy if they come to see and feel as the oppressed do. Until then, the oppressed deserve deference on a range of important issues.

A new effort of the British government reported in the Daily Telegraph appears to be guided by this theory. White male professors are to be paired with “reverse mentors” — younger, non-white female academics — in order to help the elderly mentees confront their biases. Since the junior mentors have less experience as scholars, their suitability as mentors must stem from their identities as marginalized individuals.

Despite the prevalence of this view, I’ve found no compelling evidence that one’s “lived experience” generally contributes much in the way of knowledge about public issues. Nor that marginalization provides grounds for intellectual deference.

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Image: stormtrooper star wars lego by aitoff // CC BY

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