Some injustices of the #MeToo era are epistemic: they harm sexual violence survivors specifically as knowers by questioning whether they are reliable witnesses of their own lives. The Kavanaugh confirmation process evidenced the current prevalence of such harms by showcasing both an unwillingness to believe survivors and a predilection to automatically accord the accused greater credibility. In the face of such extensive injustice, how should we respond? While some philosophers have argued for the importance of resisting the wrongs of epistemic injustice, I argue for a different approach: epistemic refusal. Epistemic refusal represents a wholesale rejection of dominant forms of knowing through a repudiation of the need for others’ belief in and recognition of one’s status as a survivor. The case of mass, informal disclosure of survivorhood through social media provides one potent example of how epistemic refusal works in practice and demonstrates how it has the power to open new vistas of knowing by fostering greater empathy and solidarity between survivors. Throughout the talk, images from historical and contemporary art demonstrate the mechanisms and meanings of refusal and how it differs from the cognate concepts of resistance and rebellion.

Co-presented with Brooklyn Public Philosophers.

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