Education and the failings of democracy: a Frickerian analysis through the lens of epistemic injustice

This presentation concerns the interconnectedness of the fields of education and democracy and questions these concepts as changing forces of social good in modern times. Popular readings of education profess its ubiquitous virtues.  Equally, the West’s democratization project still endures and seeks to bring all under the moral righteousness of democratic education despite the looming shadows of demagoguery and intense political exchange characterised by its recalcitrant dialogue. I seek to explore how democracy and education can be understood in the context of the current political, cultural and theoretical landscape and a new reading of the connection between democracy and education through the sphere of epistemic injustice is offered.

In this presentation I explore the changing field of education as a domain of epistemic production and commodities, which encounters discourse as a means of producing understanding and meaning. Far from popular and simplistic readings of pedagogy and curricula as systems of equitable and unprejudiced knowledge transference, I argue that education can be seen a site of intense political, cultural and economic epistemic struggle. Utilising Fricker’s (2018) conception of hermeneutical epistemic injustice, it becomes possible to reread the democratic project, one which renders (or excludes) and reconceptualises the democratic citizen as consumer or producer of epistemic goods. Thus, it becomes possible to offer a different reading of the fall of democracy – alternatively know by such terms as ‘Democratic Backsliding’ or the rise of Trumpism (Brabazon, 2018). As such, disengaged or disenfranchised democratic agents, who are often labelled as uneducated or simplistic, can be understood as marginalised subjects unable to contribute to or influence the epistemic field due to their lack of erudition, their lack of proficiency in utilising discursive mechanisms or technologies or, simply, their lack of hermeneutical sufficiency.

Using discursive artefacts from journalism, education and politics, this presentation will examine how democratic agents can, instead, be situated as educational subjects of epistemic injustice rather than uneducated or adherents to demagoguery. Through this, it will be possible to understand why the changing field of education, which purports to play a key role in creating democratic citizens is not only implausible and outdated but theoretically implausible in its current formation. As Fricker suggests, I shall conclude by exploring ways in which expressions of hermeneutical epistemic injustice might be neutralised so as to remanifest the democratic citizen.