Seeking Knowledge of/in a Dark Grey World

Seeking Knowledge of/in a Dark Grey World:  The Epistemic Dimensions of Responses to Systematic Wrongs



Cindy Holder

Associate Professor

Philosophy Department

University of Victoria


Mihaela Mihai

Senior Researcher

Politics and International Relations

University of Edinburgh


Societies, and the individuals and groups that constitute them, respond to experiences and evidence of oppression and systematic human rights failure in a myriad of ways. Official investigations seek to establish the definitive account of “what happened”, while non-state actors (activists, victims’ associations, artists, historians, public intellectuals) often contest the inescapably selective – and politically motivated – truths emerging from such investigations. The complex, murky reality of systemic wrongs, ranging from historical cases such as U.S. internment of people labeled Japanese during WWII to ongoing denials of indigenous rights to family, land and culture, and gendered and racialized oppressions, thus present scholars with important epistemological, moral and political challenges. This workshop will focus on the epistemic dimensions of these responses, without, however, losing track of the interrelated moral and political implications. In particular, it will focus on the distinctive questions that emerge when these are considered as attempts to achieve and claim knowledge.  We invite presentations that examine:

  • how the social and collective bases of epistemic subjectivity play out in the attempts to generate knowledge of oppression and human rights failures;  
  • how different methods of describing and/or investigating oppression and human rights failures relate to epistemological goals such as justification;
  • whether and to what extent knowledge of oppression and human rights failure must be propositional;
  • whether and to what extent a subject’s experiences may be crucial to the success of a knowledge project, without the project being beneficial to the subject;
  • relatedly, what epistemic injustices – if any – are committed against the subject within socially orchestrated processes of investigation;
  • in what ways the concept of truth gets invoked by official (forensic, legal and quasi-legal) institutions involved in the investigation of systematic wrongs and how these invocations relate to, first, victims’ claims to truth in their testimonies, and second, their normative expectations and needs to “know the truth” about the murky past;
  • how we can make sense of and criticize the often proclaimed “right to truth”;
  • the relationship between the claims to truth emerging from official institutions, on the one hand, and non-official knowledge projects organized by below;
  • the knowledge contributions that artistic engagements with painful past produce. In other words, we analyze the types of knowledge emerging from artworks taking on systemic wrongs
  • whether and to what extent it is appropriate to invoke the concept of truth at all in descriptions and investigations of oppression and human rights failures.

We invite contributions by philosophers, political and legal theorists, historians, aestheticians, political scientists, lawyers and artists. We believe an interdisciplinary conversation will be the most productive way of tackling the thorny epistemological and political challenges outlined above: by cross-pollinating insights from a variety of disciplines we hope to have a clearer picture of the epistemologically, morally and politically grey zone of systemic wrongs.