Writing and Epistemic Injustice

When my paper “Writing as Being: On the Existential Primacy of Writing for a Deaf Scholar” came out last January, there was an immediate effort to have the paper retracted (or whatever it was that was being attempted).

The journal editors sent the complaint to the publisher’s legal team to see if the paper could be viewed as libelous. After a period of time, the legal team responded. It is worth quoting at some length from the lawyer’s email that was shared with me by the journal editors.

  1. While remarking on the “vociferousness” of the complaint, the legal team noted there was no basis for the legal complaint of libel (i.e., my paper does not assert as a statement of facts something that hurts another’s professional reputation or is not true).
  2. In the context of an analytic ethnography article, my approach to not naming the source of a comment on Twitter was reasonable since the comment was not particularly novel or innovative (the broad consensus on Twitter indicates that the position taken in the comment that I cited is generally accepted).
  3. The comment was not substantial to the main point of my article but rather provided a contrast to my autoethnographic work about my experience as a deaf scholar and writer.
  4. My reference to the comment was not disparaging. (Rather, I stated in my paper that the position taken in the comment was sensible and understandable.)
  5. I do not represent another’s ideas as my own (i.e., the paper does not plagiarize).
  6. I was not being unethical or dishonest not to specifically cite the comment in my brief reference to the exchange.
  7. The complainant is/was attempting to bully me (as a minoritized scholar) into changing or retracting my paper.

Over the course of this past winter and spring, I have given some thought to the reactions to my paper and its claims for writing as freedom as speech in both the Derridean sense, “the freedom to bring forth the already-there as the freedom to auger,” and in the sense I describe in the paper about writing as being less mediated for me than face-to-face encounters. To understand the reactions, something needs to be said about audism and epistemic injustice.

Miranda Fricker coined the term epistemic injustice to describe what happens when a person’s testimony is discarded because of the person’s standing. Fricker refers to testimonial injustice, where members of a certain social group are seen as having less credibility, and to hermeneutical injustice, where some area of a person’s experience is excluded from the common stock of knowledge due to prejudice.

I was seen on Twitter as lacking credibility because of being a deaf scholar with less social capital (the 600+ likes that the complainant garnered for their tweets attacking my paper as compared to the approximately 9 likes that I received for mine announcing publication of my paper are evidence of this). In addition, the claims I made in the paper about my own experiences as a deaf writer and about writing as (a) language for many people with communication disabilities were rejected out of hand because of ableism and audism, and because the claims I made were different from the general consensus. As the disabled poet Jillian Weise has remarked, most (nondisabled) audiences prefer to read about disabled (and deaf) people rather than reading work by a disabled person.

Happily, “Writing as Being” will remain published.