Beyond the “Now”: Epistemic Oppression and “Common Sense”. Mass Incarceration in the USA

14 November 2018 (Wed), 6-7pm
At Tan Chin Tuan Lecture Theatre
Prof. Kristie Dotson (Michigan State University)
In this presentation, I narrate an encounter with two young teenage Black boys who attempted to steal my cellphone, which illustrates the difficulty of insisting on accountability while avoiding the worst parts of the state-run criminal justice system. Ultimately, I demonstrate that in certain situations of serious wrongdoing calling for accountability, one can find oneself trapped in a “now” that has been constructed by ineffective carceral imaginations, insufficient structural options for accountability, and inadequate lexicons of permissibility caused by aporias which are themselves produced by shifting community accountability to state actors. It is that “now” that generates the so-called “common sense” of mass incarceration in the USA.
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Prof. Dotson specializes in epistemology, feminist philosophy (particularly Black feminism and feminist epistemology), and critical philosophy of race. Here is her answer to the question: “Why Philosophy?”
I do philosophy because it can be engaged in and created from the position of service.
This is not a claim to uniqueness, it is simply an explanation of the way I have come to understand myself as a professional philosopher. I do philosophy from the position of service.
When a Black feminist social scientist approaches me with the need for a theoretical framework that facilitates the ability to do research on Black women that does not presume a serial pathology, for example, I engage with them. I try to get a sense of what they need in a theory and whether, from my area of specialization, i.e. epistemology, I can help. If I can, then I write up a theory for them. One that I believe in, but one that first and foremost serves a purpose…That is to say, I put my epistemology training to work for the sake of Black feminist activism.