Lauren Bialystok, The Authority of Identity in Academic Practice (Ethics@Noon-ish)

Ethics at Noon

The Authority of Identity in Academic Practice

Academics increasingly feel obliged to “situate” themselves relative to the content of what they have to say and their presumed authority to say it, in both written scholarship and verbal dialogue or teaching. What kind of epistemic or ethical goods are secured by the use of positionality (“As a [race], [gender], [etc.], I…”) to attenuate our roles in political or philosophical discussions? Intended as a gesture of inclusion, these declarations – especially coming from those of us with greater unearned social privilege – can communicate self-awareness in a context where background conditions of unequal power are an exhausting, even prohibitive, hurdle to some people’s participation. Such intentions can also motivate includes pronoun checks, land acknowledgements, and other inclusion-oriented strategies. These practices have become culturally mandatory in some academic milieus, to the point that not partaking in them may immediately raise suspicions. I argue that positionality, while symbolically important, depends on implausible assumptions about identity and knowledge. Worse, it can function as a proxy for the deeper philosophical and educational work that we ought to do to further social justice. Self-positioning should be voluntary and calibrated to the epistemic value of having or not having a certain identity.

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Lauren Bialystok
University of Toronto
Social Justice Education, OISE

Wed, Oct 28, 2020
12:30 PM - 01:45 PM
Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto
200 Larkin