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Message posted on 26/04/2021

CfP "Knowledge and Power: Epistemic Conflicts in Democracy"

                Call for Papers "Knowledge and Power: Epistemic Conflicts in Democracy"

• Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference at the University of Essex
• 29-30th July 2021


• Linsey McGoey (University of Essex)
• Fabienne Peter (University of Warwick)
• Daiva Stasiulis (Carleton University)

Despite promising an ideal equality, liberal democracies often display
elements of epistocracy. Governments appoint academic advisers, launch expert
councils and committees, and hire consulting firms to decide key public
policies. These practices embed political decisions with epistemic legitimacy
– who, if not experts, know how to collect and interpret data, and prescribe
effective solutions? Examples of this dynamic can be found both in government
sponsorship of academics to write key social-policy reports (Stasi Commission
2003, Bouchard-Taylor Report 2008) and the strategic branding of economic
policy as the domain of erudite “experts” to restrict public participation
(Ascher 2016; Stasiulis 2013). Authors such as Jason Brennan (2016) even go so
far as to propose curbing citizens’ voting rights based on their epistemic

Further, it seems science has become politicised to a degree that any
statement runs the risk of being relativised as interest-bound such that
scientific insight no longer grants epistemic legitimacy to political
decisions. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and the Trump
administration have demonstrated that political actors do not always value
expert opinion; and/or they mobilise counter-expertise that supports their
agenda. Instead, their actions resonate with the emerging literature on
agnotology (e.g., Proctor and Schiebinger, 2008) and ignorance studies (e.g.,
Gross and McGoey 2015), which claims that “ignorance should not be viewed as
a simple omission or gap, but rather as an active production” (Proctor and
Schiebinger 2008, p. 9). While there are things we simply do not know, the
inclusion of interests and power relations in the analysis of (non-)knowledge
shows how certain things are actively rendered to be unknown or uncertain.

Normative democratic theory tends to abstract epistemic conflicts away. Some
theorists (e.g., Rawls 1993; Quong 2011) consider ideal politics only to take
place between sufficiently and (roughly) equally rational and reasonable
political actors. Important criticisms of such idealized conditions of
deliberative democracy have been developed in works of critical political
theory that expose relations of power in the construction of
knowledge-producing discourses (Foucault 1980; Young 2000; Mouffe 2005). In
epistemology, a rich strand of literature on disagreement has evolved that
also informs political philosophy (e.g., Peter 2016). But even here, authors
tend to construct an idealised stand-off in which only competent persons of
equal knowledge and abilities (“epistemic peers“) face off (e.g., Bogardus
2009; Christensen 2007; Elga 2007; Enoch 2010; Foley 2001; Pasnau 2015).
Certainly, many contemporary and urgent debates do not display this structure
(Frances 2010; 2014; King 2011; Matheson 2014). Additionally, there is an
on-going debate about the context-sensitivity in the link between expertise
and political legitimacy (Peter 2019).

It is imperative to clarify the structure and conditions of epistemic
conflict. Who is to decide who counts as an epistemic equal/expert; how do
they decide this; what are the historically, socially, and politically
contingent grounds for that decision; what are the practical
consequences of this decision prior to engaging in epistemic conflict; how
do these factors translate into the experience of epistemic conflict? How is
(non-)knowledge bound up with relations of power and oppression?
This post-graduate conference is an interdisciplinary endeavour to work on the
very foundations of epistemic conflict in contemporary societies. The
conference welcomes contributions from postgraduate students and early-career
researchers from sociology, political theory, philosophy, STS and related
disciplines. Further, we invite authors working in decolonial/post-colonial
studies, feminism, critical phenomenology, and gender theory, to present their

Topics of interest for submission include, but are not limited to:

• What is an epistemic conflict? How can we resolve them effectively?
• What constitutes an expert?
• How do processes of racialization and intersecting social relations of
power enter into the construction of and disqualification for the role of
• How is lay/counter-expertise being used to challenge expertise?
• What can we learn from the experience of epistemic conflict?
• What is/should be the role of experts in democratic decision-making
• Who are the actors that draw the line between expertise/ignorance,
knowledge/nonknowledge? How do they draw this line?
• How can ‘the authority of the expert’ function to occlude dissent in
public debates?
• What is the role of ideology, socialization, or hegemony in the
construction of expert discourses?

Submission details:
Please send an abstract (300-500 words) to
Proposed papers should be suitable for 20 minutes-presentations. Proposals
should contain the paper’s title and keywords and should be suitable for
blind review. Please list the author’s details (name, institution, e-mail
and qualification) in the body of the email. The submission deadline
is Sunday 13th June 2021. Notifications will be sent out by 28h June. This
conference is jointly hosted by PhD candidates at the departments of
Sociology, Government, and the School of Philosophy and Art History at the
University of Essex, with help from CRESI and cIDA. The conference will
take place online via Zoom.
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