Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage


Justice (epistemic)

The term “epistemic justice/injustice” refers to forms of fair/unfair treatment related to issues of knowledge, understanding, and participation in communicative practices.  The production and validation of knowledge and meaning (epistemic practice) is described as injust or violent when executed by hegemonic and oppressive powers holding interpretive privilege over the oppressed groups.  

Epistemic violence confronts the lack of equity between epistemic agency (who is socially able to produce meaning) and epistemic privilege (who  is mentally capable to produce meaning), underlining the  importance of self-knowledge. “Self-knowledge” refers to knowledge of one’s own mental states ,  feelings, thoughts , believes or desires. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,  since Descartes, most philosophers have believed that self-knowledge differs markedly from our knowledge of the external world (where this includes our knowledge of others’ mental states), and therefore each subject should be able to produce their own knowledge.

Epistemic agency is given to the ones having interpretive authority (the authority to interprete and give meaning to things through their narration and representation) and is normatively granted to a very concrete fragment of society, named the white, middle to upper class, western, cisgender male, heterosexual, able-bodied. Museums, archives, educational institutions, but also the media hold interpretive authority on society through the messages they deliver to it.

For the philosopher Gayatri Spivak, the figure of the subaltern derives from a situation of epistemic injustice. Her more contested text “can the subaltern speak” poses the question. Whether colonized subjects could have the autonomy to speak and be heard in situations of epistemic violence, when one’s knowledge and voice are utterly denied by another culture.

For the scholar Marisa Belausteguigoitia, Epistemic violence is a way of rendering the other invisible, expropriating him of his possibility of representation: "Violence is related to the amendment, editing, erasure and even annulment of both the systems of symbolization, subjectivation and representation that the other has of himself, as well as the concrete forms of representation and registration, memory of his experience (...). Epistemic violence is related to the question posed by Edward Said "who has permission to narrate?" (Belausteguigoitia, 2001)

In the context of para-enactments, the communities enacting historical facts are given interpretive authority to comment and reconstruct the past. The following text is an excerpt from the guidelines  “Reenactors at Your Historic Site” published by Tyler Rudd Putman for the University of Delaware’s Museum Studies Sustaining Places initiative

“When you host reenactors who will be interacting with the public, you release what is called interpretive authority to them. It is important to keep in mind that most reenactors have little or no formal interpretive training (although they often have substantial interpretive experience). As a result, they may introduce interpretive ideas and arguments that diverge from your site’s official narratives. For example, Civil War reenactors are often very knowledgeable, and they hold a variety of opinions about the origins and outcomes of the Civil War. This makes it important to clarify some of your site’s interpretive policies (see page 6) and to monitor reenactor programming. Because public interpretation is the ultimate goal of your site hosting a reenactment, you should search out reenactors who take their roles as interpreters seriously.”

︎︎︎Putman, Tyler Rudd , Reenactors at Your Historic Site, University of Delaware’s Museum Studies Sustaining Places initiative

︎︎︎Belausteguigoitia Rius, M. (2001, octubre 1). Descarados y deslenguadas: el cuerpo y la lengua india en los umbrales de la nación. Debate Feminista, 24. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.22201/cieg.2594066xe.2001.24.668

︎︎︎The Spivak Reader: Selected Works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Routledge. 1996. http://abahlali.org/files/Can_the_subaltern_speak.pdf

︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

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