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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stereotype Threat, Epistemic Injustice, and Rationality

Stacey Goguen
Draft, forthcoming (2016) in Brownstein and Saul (eds), Implicit Bias and Philosophy, Vol I,
Oxford University Press.

Stereotype threat is most well-known for its ability to hinder performance. However, it actually has a  wide range of effects. For instance, it can also cause stress, anxiety, and self-doubt. These additional effects are as important and as central to the phenomenon as its effects on performance are. As a result, stereotype threat has more far-reaching implications than many philosophers have realized. In particular, the phenomenon has a number of unexplored “epistemic effects.

These are effects on our epistemic lives — i.e., the ways we engage with the world as actual and potential knowers. In this paper I flesh out the implications of a specific epistemic effect: self-doubt. Certain kinds of self-doubt can deeply affect our epistemic lives by exacerbating moments of epistemic injustice and by perniciously interacting with ideals of rationality. In both cases, self-doubt can lead to one questioning one’s own humanity or full personhood. Because stereotype threat can trigger this kind of self-doubt, it can affect various aspects of ourselves besides our ability to perform to our potential. It can also affect our very sense of self. In this paper, I argue that we should adopt a more comprehensive account of stereotype threat that explicitly acknowledges all of the known effects of the phenomenon. Doing so will allow us to better investigate the epistemological implications of stereotype threat, as well as the full extent of its reach into our lives. I focus on fleshing out stereotype threat’s effect of self-doubt, and how this effect can influence the very foundations of our epistemic lives. I do this by arguing that self-doubt from stereotype threat can constitute an epistemic injustice, and that this sort of self-doubt can be exacerbated by stereotypes of irrationality. As a result, self-doubt from stereotype threat can erode our faith in ourselves as full human persons and as rational, reliable knowers.

The full text is here.