On Epistemic Violence


Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and while perusing my usual daily fare of blogposts and daily updates ( as well as thinking more of my research), I noticed  a bit of a trend. I think as activists/feminists/womyn we often get so caught up in championing our collective causes, that we are unaware of the universalizing, stereotypes and distortions that we might be replicating.

Spivak defines epistemic violence as the violence of knowledge production, notably by white feminists in their writings on Africa, women in the global south and even feminism in the global south. Such epistemic violence includes the distortions, sterotyping and generalizaing of Third World women’s conditions, as if they were all homogenously belaboured, lacking agency and needing saving.

The truth of the matter is that as we wage our collective battles against multiple forms of transnational oppression, especially in the constrained written nuggets of the world of social media, we need to be wary of not being complicit  in this epistemic violence. Writing from a position of privilege, either by virtue of geographical location and context, class, access, what have you,we need to be careful of making sweeping generalizations like ‘ African women and girls are the most oppressed group in the world’. Well..not always, and not all the time. In our enthusiasm to champion our causes we sometimes make reductionist statements to get people on board, kinda like those WorldVision ads. Yes, we want to bring people to the table, and yes we want others to be as passionate about the issues as we are, but at what cost? Are we ultimately replicating relations of inequality, and saying that African women need to be saved by rich people in the West. Or that I, as a privileged, Western educated, Western- located expert, can go back and save the people. This smacks a little of a messianic complex, and as women working for change we need to check our hubris at the door. That is not to say that we can not make change, but to bear in mind that people have their own solutions, knowledge and expertise, and that I women’s studies major, do not know everything about community development, international development or gender issues.

Love, love, and encouragement to everyone fighting the good fight in the academy, on the streets, and in this world we love that is the blogosphere!

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