Miranda Fricker

On testimony and the power of words, Miranda Fricker

How often are women not believed when reporting cases of sexual assault or harassment? How often are they not taken seriously, or their concerns minimized, when speaking out about discrimination? And how often are they not even listened to? We know what the answer is – all the time. We see it in the news every time a woman’s testimony is discredited so that her abuser can get away with it. We might have experienced it ourselves or know at least someone who has. If we don’t see it around us, we can imagine scenarios where it is the norm for a woman to suffer discrimination and abuse in silence – all because her word doesn’t count as much.

And yet the question we should be asking ourselves is – why does this happen? In this video*, the prominent philosopher of knowledge, Miranda Fricker, shares with us the concept of testimonial injustice or the idea that a speaker’s credibility can be diminished by the hearer’s prejudice against her.

The notion of testimonial injustice is a fundamental concept to keep in your toolbox. Our gender and social roles affect us all in ways we might not even suspect. The more you are aware of how that impacts you and why, the better you will understand your own experience and empathize with others’. 

To share this vocabulary is empowering: you too can make a difference by sharing our contents with your networks!
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To know more about Miranda Fricker’s engagement in Colombia, a country where 97% of cases of sexual violence are met with impunity, you can read her interview with the Colombian newspaper El Espectador here (in Spanish). An important point raised during the interview is that women’s fear for reprisal may be preventing them from speaking out against their perpetrators or denouncing them to the authorities. Asked whether justice can be done for these women, Prof. Fricker answers that justice is not achievable in the presence of fear, so we can only talk of testimonial injustice if speaking up is possible in the first place. “Safety is key for any kind of justice. That is why women speak out and are able to help other women speak out in turn”.

* This video was recorded thanks to Joan Gouverne.

Miranda Fricker is Presidential Professor of Philosophy at CUNY in New York. She is best known for her work on epistemic injustice, or the injustice that an agent suffers in her role of knower. This happens for example every time she is not believed (or even listened to) because of prejudice, in which case we talk of testimonial injustice (discussed in this video). Whereas we call hermeneutical injustice the injustice a person suffers as a result of lacking access to the concepts that can help her make sense of her situation, especially if this is one of abuse and oppression (check out our video with Christine Bratu talking about hermeneutical injustice here).

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