Epistemic injustice and distortion in development theory and practice

Authored by: Anna Malavisi

Routledge Handbook of Development Ethics

Print publication date:  July  2018
Online publication date:  July  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138647909
eBook ISBN: 9781315626796
Adobe ISBN:


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One of the fundamental problems of development theory and practice is grounded in the limitations of theoretical discussions of knowledge, and how this knowledge is then applied. Development depends on knowledge. Understanding what development is relies on knowledge; decisions about development policies and programs are based on a certain knowledge; often the knowledge of some can be deemed to have a higher epistemic authority and, hence, more credibility than the knowledge of others. However, there is also an increasing awareness that the persistence of certain types of knowledge can actually lead to harm and injustice. This chapter provides an analysis of the notion of knowledge as understood within development, but also, how epistemology plays a role in development ethics. The focus is on the value of epistemology for the pursuit of worthwhile development and, in particular, how critical theories of epistemology such as social epistemology, feminist epistemology, epistemologies of ignorance, and alternative epistemologies are relevant for development ethics. The concept of epistemic injustice is introduced, and an analysis is given on how the theory and practice of global development is epistemically unjust. Finally, some thoughts are offered on how to mitigate epistemic injustices as a component of development ethics.

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