Module 1: Introduction to Disability Studies

1.4 Epistemology

“When in those in-between moments—in between male and female, or in between death and health— when do you still count as a human?”
Taylor (12:30)

Before going any further, let’s take a moment to clarify what is meant by ‘’.

Epistemology refers to theories of knowledge: How do we know what we know? How does ‘knowledge’ become knowledge? Where is it found, and what is the process by which it is accepted?

These questions can be a lot to grapple with, but, as we will soon see, they are questions at the foundation of disability studies, which discipline must revise its answer to again and again, and again.

This process of investigating knowledge and asking questions about its logical foundations and historical origins is one way of ‘doing’ epistemology. Disability studies is constantly engaged in this examination of where knowledge about disability comes from.

Disability studies examines the contexts in which knowledge is produced, and the social locations of those involved in its production. The authority of professional ‘experts’ on disability is questioned; conversely, the knowledge that comes with experience is highly valued. The social location or positionality of the speaker is considered to be highly relevant to the content of their ideas (Alcoff, 1991; Prince, 2016).

Different perspectives do not emerge in a vacuum. Understanding how knowledge about disability is constructed in different ways also requires us to think about power. In society, some individuals are listened to more than others. Some individuals, such as psychiatrists and professors, are able to impose their knowledge upon others. Disability studies exposes the relationship between ideas about disability and the complex web of power and social relations from which those ideas emerge, and through which they are deployed (Alcoff, 1991; Prince, 2016).

You can continue watching, reading or listening to the video here (the video and transcript start from 12:29, the quote above)

Click here to continue reading the Examined Life video transcript, starting after the quote above


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Digital Methods for Disability Studies Copyright © 2022 by Esther Ignagni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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