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Hermeneutical Injustice and Polyphonic Contextualism: Social Silences and Shared Hermeneutical Responsibilities

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While in agreement with Miranda Fricker’s context-sensitive approach to hermeneutical injustice, this paper argues that this contextualist approach has to be pluralized and rendered relational in more complex ways. In the first place, I argue that the normative assessment of social silences and the epistemic harms they generate cannot be properly carried out without a pluralistic analysis of the different interpretative communities and expressive practices that coexist in the social context in question. Social silences and hermeneutical gaps are misrepresented if they are uniformly predicated of an entire social context, instead of being predicated of particular ways of inhabiting that context by particular people in relation to particular others. I contend that a more nuanced—polyphonic—contextualization offers a more adequate picture of what it means to break social silences and to repair the hermeneutical injustices associated with them. In the second place, I argue that the particular obligations with respect to hermeneutical justice that differently situated subjects and groups have are interactive and need to be determined relationally. That is, whether individuals and groups live up to their hermeneutical responsibilities has to be assessed by taking into account the forms of mutual positionality, relationality, and responsivity (or lack thereof) that these subjects and groups display with respect to one another. The central argument is developed through an examination of what in race theory and in contemporary epistemologies of ignorance has been termed “white ignorance”; that is, the kind of hermeneutical inability of privileged white subjects to recognize and make sense of their racial identities, experiences, and social positionality.

Keywords: Contextualism; Hermeneutical Injustice; Intelligibility; Nascent Meanings; Race Theory; Relationality; Responsibility; Silence; Speech Act Theory; White Ignorance

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2012

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