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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Advocacy, Negotiation and the Politics of Unknowing

21st June 2007, 20:00 to 21:00, Collingwood College

This is an IAS public lecture by Professor Lorraine Code which is free and open to all

The “politics of unknowing” in my title refers to practices of superimposing a grid of beliefs or prejudgements, derived from stereotypes, stubborn biases, fixed presuppositions, upon people, practices, ways of living, sufferings, and abuses and of thus claiming to “know” them and to act accordingly, while in fact blocking possibilities of knowing well. The literature of economic development details numerous instances of such “unknowing” superimposition of the values and expectations of affluent groups or societies on Others whose circumstances differ so radically from those of the ones who claim to know them that the “knowledge” informs harmful rather than beneficial policies and practices. My argument will be developed around an analysis of advocacy practices as they emerge from an example of medical aid inappropriately distributed in Tanzania, in circumstances where more situation-sensitive knowledgeable practice, ecologically engaged, came to make a significant difference. The example shows that, despite its negative “interest group” associations, where serving such interests seems to entail moving “the truth of the matter” to second place on a scale of importance, advocacy can contribute to countering epistemic/hermeneutic injustice. Thus, I will suggest, negotiation and advocacy are crucially important for working past the “unknowings” that often pass for knowledge. Negotiation and advocacy confirm the communal, social character, and the political salience of knowledge-gathering projects thus conceived, and demonstrate how knowing well has to engage both with “knowers” and with “the known”, in their specificities and commonalities, if it is to promote viable cohabitation across geographical and demographic diversity.

Professor Code is Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at York University in Toronto Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She was appointed in 1987 as a Canada Research Fellow at York University, and in 1990 as Professor in the Department of Philosophy. She has held visiting fellowships at the Humanities Research Centre of the Australian National University and at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia, has been a visiting professor at the University of New South Wales, and scholar in residence at Rhodes University in Grahamstown South Africa. From 1999-2001 Professor Code held the prestigious Canada Council Killam Research Fellowship; and in 2005 she was awarded a Doctor of Letters honoris causa (D.Litt.), by the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario.

Professor Code's best known book, What Can She Know? Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge (Cornell University Press, 1991) is a path-breaking book in feminist epistemology, which has been reprinted several times. In Rhetorical Spaces: Essays on (Gendered) Locations (Routledge 1991), she addresses such issues in the politics of knowledge as incredulity, empathy, relativism, voice and voicelessness, and the epistemological value of gossip. Her most recent book, Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location (Oxford University Press, 2006) develops an "ecological naturalism", which owes a debt to Quinean naturalized epistemology, but proposes looking to ecological science, where Quineans look to cognitive science, as a place - both literal and metaphorical - where knowledge is "naturally" made.

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