Epistemological authority and critical theory

Questions I ask:

  • How do we know what we know? How do we know it is true?
  • Why do we privilege some systems of knowledge over others?
  • How do people’s values and prejudices affect their sense of what can be true?

Why I study this:

These are all major questions in environmental politics (especially if you are studying climate change). Our collective knowledge – or our collective idea of what knowledge is – governs how ideas become actions, particularly in the realm of public policy. I have been using theories from science and technology studies, political ecology, feminism, and critical race theory to explore these questions.

Another area of concern is what happens when epistemological authority is disrupted – particularly in the context of climate change. Epistemic uncertainty describes a perceived gap in available knowledge which, depending on the biases of the decision-making process, may or may not inhibit policy action. Epistemic uncertainty exists in most scientific inquiry, but it can also be encouraged by those who wish to use doubt as a political tool. In the case of climate change, epistemic uncertainty is often fostered by vested interests who wish to maintain the political status quo at the expense of long term resilience.