Exploitation, flourishing, and epistemic diversity

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1. Mundane and diverse practitioners

Diverse practitioner

  • A member of a (relevant) underrepresented group in a (particular) community
  • Provides situational/demographic diversity and/or epistemic diversity
    • Related because knowledge is situated
  • Outside of parts of the mainstream culture of a community
  • Member of a group that is not very powerful

Mundane practitioner

  • A member of a (relevant) overrepresented group in a (particular) community
  • Commonplace position or perspective
  • Part of the mainstream culture of a community
  • Member of a powerful group

Fluid categories

  • Relative to the composition of particular communities
    • Me at FEMMSS = mundane practitioner
    • Me at PSA = diverse practitioner
  • Relative to the goals of particular communities
    • Epistemic, ethical, institutional, …


  • People will be diverse in some respects and mundane in others
  • Not all of these respects are available for other people to perceive
  • People experience being mundane and diverse differently

What is the use of such fluid and intersectional categories?

  • There are some clear patterns of overrepresentation of some groups in some communities
    • For example, consider the white male face of philosophy
  • Useful for policy makers
    • There is a range of diversity goals that one could have

2. Epistemic approach to diversity

Diversity is good for science (Fehr 2011)

  • Rigor: make the role of assumptions and values in the relationship between evidence and hypotheses explicit and open to evaluation (Longino 1990)
  • Creativity: lead communities to develop new theories and methods
  • Range of public goods: increase the range of problems that spark a community’s interest

Influx of feminist women into Primatology

  • Made androcentric and sexist values in the best scientific practices of the time visible (assumptions of female passivity, sexual dimorphism, gendered divisions of labour, and the connection of sex with reproduction)
  • Developed widely accepted methods for studying animal behavior, and overthrew previous theoretical approaches
  • Opened the door for research into female alliances, sexual autonomy, mothering

Epistemic approach to diversity

  • Diversity leads to good science
  • Communities should take steps to improve diversity in order to generate these epistemic benefits
  • It is in the interest of communities to hire diverse practitioners because the communities, which consist primarily of mundane practitioners, will benefit from diversity

3. Exploitation and the epistemic approach

Two ways that an epistemic approach can trade on the exploitation of diverse practitioners

  • Using diverse practitioners to meet a community’s and its mundane practitioners’ epistemic ends.
  • Engaging with an opaquely unfair exchange with diverse practitioners relative to mundane practitioners

3.1 Using diverse practitioners

Using diverse practitioners (in practice things can get dicey)

  • injustice -> underrepresentation -> usefully rare perspectives

Epistemic disrespect

  • Invite diverse practitioners into a community in order to provide dissent on existing projects, rather than because of the inherent value of the diverse practitioners’ projects
  • Focus on benefits for mundane practitioners, rather than benefits for community

Assumptions about culture

  • Expectation of productive dissent without culture change
  • No discussion of the cost to mundane practitioners
  • Problem of assimilation

3.2 Opaquely unfair exchange

Opaquely unfair exchange

  • Mundane and diverse practitioners can experience the same workplace very differently.
  • Mundane practitioners often fail to perceive that the costs and benefits of community membership are different for diverse and mundane practitioners.

3.2.1 Costs

Women scientists have more stress, more social isolation, greater challenges with work-life balance, make more sacrifices with respect to family than men do.  (Wylie et al 2007, Fehr 2011)

These are uncompensated costs of community membership for women.

Three categories of cost associated with a focus on an epistemic approach

  • Credibility and bias
  • Stereotype threat
  • Speaking from a minority position

Credibility and bias

  • Double jeopardy? Gender bias against women of color in science

Joan Williams, Katherine Philips, and Erika Hall (2015)


  • Mixed methods study: survey and interviews with 60 women scientists of colour

Credibility and bias: Prove it again

“Women often have to provide more evidence of competence than men in order to be seen as equally competent “

  • 3/4s of Black women, and 2/3rds of White and Asian women and Latinas experience Prove it again.
  • “Asian-American women’s experiences were shaped far more by the negative stereotype that women are not good at science than the positive stereotype that Asians are.”
  • Black women tended to attribute their experiences of Prove it Again to race rather than to gender

Credibility and bias: The tightrope

“Women often find themselves walking a tightrope between being seen as too feminine to be competent—or too masculine to be likable.”

  • ½ of the White, Black and Asian women and nearly 60 percent of the Latinas surveyed reported backlash for expressing anger.
  • More than 60 per cent of Asian women report backlash for being assertive.

Credibility and bias: The maternal wall

“By far the most damaging form of gender bias is triggered by motherhood. Maternal wall bias includes descriptive stereotyping that results in strong assumptions that women lose their work commitment and competence after they have children.”

  • This bias was prevalent in all of the groups they studied.

Credibility and bias: Experiences of racial stereotypes

For example:

  • Black women tended to report “bleak isolation.”
  • Black and Latina women (and men) report being mistaken for custodial staff

Credibility and bias: Epistemic impact of incredulity and systemic doubt

Experiencing these biases is a cost of community membership that women pay in their role of diverse practitioners.

  • Maternal wall and Prove it again represent systemic incredulity of competence as scientists.
  • Incredulity + power = decreased capacity of a knower (uptake and confidence)
  • Code 1995, Collins 2000, Ortega 2016

Credibility and bias: Dissent on a tightrope?

Mundane practitioners may not realize that in the epistemic approach they are asking diverse practitioners to dissent while on a tight rope:

  • Asking Latinas and Black women to disagree without seeming angry
  • Asking Asian women’s dissent to get uptake when punishing them for being assertive.
  • It is a different thing to offer dissent as a White man than it is for a Black women

Credibility and bias: Culture change to mitigate these biases

These costs unique costs of community membership also undermine capacity of diverse practitioners to offering dissenting and creative views.

Three categories of cost associated with a focus on an epistemic approach

  • Credibility and bias
  • Stereotype threat
  • Speaking from a minority position

Stereotype threat (Reducingstereotypethreat.org)

Under performance when the task has a risk of reinforcing negative stereotypes about one’s group.

  • Studies demonstrate that it harms the academic performance of women, and of Black, Hispanic, and low SES students (Steele and Aronson 1995, Schmader & Johns, 2003; Croizet & Claire 1998)
  • Triggered by making group membership salient
  • Epistemic approach to diversity makes group membership salient

Speaking from a minority position

Epistemic approach invites diverse practitioners to dissent

  • Vulnerability, risk, and justified distrust
    • systematically ignored, disempowered, disrespected, mocked, and subjected to violence
  • Diverse practitioners may not want to dissent, and may not want to do so from their minority subject positions
    • Interest
    • Ease (Maria Lugones 1987)
    • Safety (Patricia Hill Collins 2000)

3.2.1 Benefits

Two categories of benefits

  • Community inclusion
  • Professional rewards

Community inclusion

  • Collaboration
  • Isolation
  • Familiar projects and perspectives

Professional rewards

  • Hiring, salary, and promotion
    • Implicit bias
  • Respect and social standing with peers and the public
    • Micro and macro inequities

Exploitation and the epistemic approach: summary

  • Problematic relationships among diverse practitioners, mundane practitioners, and the epistemic community
  • Epistemic communities, and their mostly mundane members, hurt diverse practitioners and set back their projects in order to benefit themselves.
  • Two ways of thinking about this
    • Using diverse practitioners: focus on mundane practitioners projects
    • Opaquely unfair exchange: inequitable distribution of costs and benefits, exacerbated by an epistemic approach

4. The irony of exploitation; the need for culture change

If you want positive epistemic outcomes, help diverse practitioners flourish

  • Diverse practitioners develop and share dissenting views and new ideas
  • Communities succeed in training and recruiting diverse practitioners and give the work of diverse practitioners uptake.

Positive outcomes undermined by exploitative relationships

  • Using diverse practitioners harms recruitment and creativity
  • Offering diverse practitioners an unfair deal harms recruitment and retention, expends diverse practitioners’ time and energy, undermines performance
  • Neither path nurtures the development of ideas or offers a safe environment to express dissent

Distinguish between the community and its mundane members

  • Positive outcomes of the community need not include short-term positive outcomes for mundane community members
    • Epistemic goods vs. professional rewards
  • For example feminist women in Primatology were excellent for the field, but undermined the work of many mundane practitioners in the community

Demographic change -> cultural changes

  • Projects, practices, norms, structures
  • Address the unfair deal and to engage with diverse practitioners respectfully

Mundane practitioners have to become a little less mundane

  • Decrease in proportion of the community
  • Be open to change
  • Give up epistemic centrality

Territorial acknowledgement

I wrote this paper on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnawbe and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.

Thank you

  • All of you
  • University of Waterloo Feminism and Science Research Group, Southwestern Ontario Feminist Philosophy Workshop, my 2016 Human Natuer and Oppression Seminar, Samantha Brennan, Shannon Dea, Peggy DesAutels, Sandra DeVries, Milo Fehr, Nathan Haydon, Vanessa Lamont, Boyana Peric, Amanda Plain, Katie Plaisance, Sara Weaver


Code, L. (1995). Rhetorical Spaces: Essays on Gendered Locations. Psychology Press.

Collins, P. H. (2000). Gender, Black Feminism, and Black Political Economy. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 568(1):41–53.

Croizet, J.C. and Claire, T. (1998). Extending the Concept of Stereotype Threat to Social Class: The Intellectual Underperformance of Students From Low Socioeconomic Backgrounds. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(6):588–594.

Fehr, C. (2011). What is in it for me? The Benefits of Diversity in Scientific Communities. In Grasswick, H., editor, Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, pages 133–155. Springer.

Intemann, K. (2009). Why Diversity Matters: Understanding and Applying the Diversity Component of the National Science Foundations’ Broader Impacts Criterion. Social Epistemology 23(3-4): 249-266.

Longino, H. E. (1990). Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry. Princeton University Press.

Lugones, M. (1987). Playfulness, “World-Travelling”, and Loving Perception. Hypatia, 2(2):3–19.

Ortega, M. (2016). In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self. SUNY Press.

Schmader, T. and Johns, M. (2003). Converging Evidence That Stereotype Threat Reduces Working Memory Capacity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(3):440.

Steele, C. M. and Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(5):797.

Williams, J., Philips, K., and Hall, E. (2015). Double Jeopardy? Gender Bias Against Women of Color in Science. http://www.uchastings.edu/news/articles/2015/01/double-jeopardy-report.pdf

Wylie et al. (2007) Women, Work, and the Academy. http://faculty.washington.edu/aw26/WorkplaceEquity/BCRW-WomenWorkAcademy_08.pdf