How can we identify epistemic violence in online spaces?
Identifying epistemic violence against marginalized communities in online spaces is a complex exercise, as epistemic violence may not openly manifest itself. The processes that enable it function in the undercurrents. Since the dehumanizing language directed at marginalised groups is mostly borrowed from colonial writers and those of dominant castes, there is a tendency to subconsciously and unquestioningly accept the prevailing nomenclature and myths. While unpacking these narratives, we will find that most of the dominant discourses are rooted in prejudicial assumptions about communities that have historically been marginalized through the subjective writings of the privileged sections of the society.
This short checklist for identifying visible and invisible epistemic violence against certain sections of the society may be helpful in our critical understanding of the phenomenon:
- What is the author's background? How is the author related to community he/she is writing for?
- What sources does the author quote or cite in constructing the narrative of their writing?
- What kind of experience does the author posses in dealing with the subject of the writing? Are there several other bodies of work or is it a new contribution?
- Where do you locate the author's work in the local, national and international politics on the subject? Is the author advocating on the side of the dominant culture or the subordinate one?
- How does the author represent or depict women from marginalized communities?
- Is the narrative presented by the author a dignified and honest representation of marginalized communities?
- Did the author seek the consent of the members of relevant marginalized communities before making the writing public? Did the author gain the members' confidence? Do the members approve of the narrative presented by the author?
- Was the published work sufficiently reviewed by peers, that is, other authors who have the experience of working on the specific subject of the work?
- Does the published work or document cautiously make efforts to disassociate itself from patriarchal narratives and does it incorporate voices from all genders and classes of the marginalised community?
- Is the narrative of marginalized communities paternalistic in approach and does it try to infantilize its subjects?
[Editor's note: The questions in this checklist refer to content in the text form, which has been published online or in print or both. However, the questions may also be applied to content in other forms and formats, such as videos.]
[Editor's note: If any mention of these processes of seeking informed consent and gaining the trust of the community is conspicuous by its absence from the published work, then it is an indication that the author has not carried out these processes.]
[Editor's note: These questions give the reader a pointer to the author's own experience (or lack thereof) of life as a part of a marginalised existence. This is important because the narrative changes with the narrator. If the author does not belong to the community they write about, then have they made an attempt to be fair, ethical and objective in their representation of the people, and to be balanced and proportional in the importance they give to different narratives? When the author is far removed from the subject of writing, the outcome is rarely unbiased or just.]
Exercise for learners:
- Identify some Wikipedia articles about marginalised communities. These could be articles on the topic of the community itself, their traditional knowledge, practices, customs, insignia, notable people from the community, specific events reported in the news, laws meant to protect them or their property, and so on.
- Take a look at the references.
- Try to determine if the references are reliable sources [WP: RS] according to Wikipedia's policies.
- Is there a balance among the number and kind of references originating from primary, secondary and tertiary sources? See Wikipedia's policy on neutral point of view [WP:NPOV] for the definition of "balance" in this context. Primary, secondary and tertiary sources are defined in the policy for no original research [WP: NOR].
- Is the content that these references support in the article proportionate and balanced? See WP:NPOV for the definition of "proportionate" and "balanced" in this context.
- If you search for references that are authored or peer-reviewed by members of the community or the people/ organisations they are associated with, what do you find?
- Who are the experts cited/ quoted in these references? Do they have on-ground experience, that is, field experience of working with these communities?
- What content or references may be included in the article in keeping with WP: NOR and policies against tendentious editing [WP: TE]?