On Anticipatory Epistemic Injustice: Replies to Eric Bayruns García and Trystan S. Goetze, Ji-Young Lee

I am grateful to both Eric Bayruns García and Trystan S. Goetze for their insightful commentaries on my original article, ‘Anticipatory Epistemic Injustice’. In this entry, I pick up on some of their responses to my work … [please read below the rest of the article].

Image credit: darius norvilas via Flickr / Creative Commons

Article Citation:

Lee, Ji-Young. 2021. “On Anticipatory Epistemic Injustice: Replies to Eric Bayruns García and Trystan S. Goetze.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 10 (10): 39-42. https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-6dT.

🔹 The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers.

This article replies to:

❧ García, Eric Bayruns. 2021. “On Anticipatory-Epistemic Injustice and the Distinctness of Epistemic-Injustice Phenomena.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 10 (7): 48-57.

❧ Goetze, Trystan S. 2021. “Anticipation, Smothering, and Education: A Reply to Lee and Bayruns García on Anticipatory Epistemic Injustice.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 10 (9): 36-43.

Articles in this dialogue:

❦ Lee, J. Y. 2021. “Anticipatory Epistemic Injustice.” Social Epistemology 35 (6): 564-576.

On Anticipatory Epistemic Injustice

In my paper, I made the claim that anticipatory epistemic injustice (AEI) is a type of epistemic injustice phenomenon that agents can experience owing to anticipated challenges in their testimony sharing. When agents anticipate that negative outcomes await should they dispense with certain testimonies, they might engage in various kinds of testimony-suppressing behaviour. This behaviour includes withholding, diminishing, retracting, repudiating, and even revising one’s own testimony as a result of negative anticipation. An example of this is an LGBTQIA+ agent who does not ‘come out’ because they anticipate negative backlash. In the existing epistemic injustice literature, the phenomenon AEI most resembles is Kristie Dotson’s account of testimonial smothering, the latter of which involves self-silencing practices owing to anticipation of a would-be audience’s testimonial incompetence. As such, the framework of testimonial smothering especially is one that I sought to distinguish from my own view.

In his commentary to my paper, Eric Bayruns García critically points out that AEI appears conceptually indistinct from Kristie Dotson’s testimonial smothering, contrary to my own claims of AEI’s distinctness. García cites a shared ‘causal story’ involving structural and content similarity as the aspects that converge on both AEI and testimonial smothering. The structural similarity between both accounts is that “society’s structure depresses the likelihood that these non-dominant subjects’ audiences will properly receive their testimony” (García 2021, 50), and the content similarity is that both these phenomena involve “that a subject either refrains from issuing testimony or truncates the content of her testimony” (García 2021, 50).

One difference that I had pointed out between AEI and testimonial smothering involved the claim that my own account, contra testimonial smothering, lacked the requirement of an incompetent audience. García rightly points out, however, that testimonial smothering does not necessarily require the presence of testimonial incompetence on part of the audience. He discusses a case set in the Deep South in the US, where a Black woman speaker avoids answering a White woman on what she is researching: how to raise a Black son in the US. Even if that particular White-woman speaker does not “harbour pernicious ignorance which would result in her testimonial incompetence” (García 2021, 51), the Black woman speaker may nevertheless appropriately judge her audience to be very likely to be testimonial incompetent. In other words, signalled testimonial incompetence is sufficient for one to suffer testimonial smothering.

I would add, however, that while testimonial smothering does appear to capture cases of signalled testimonial incompetence, it does not explain why testimony might be suppressed in spite of continued demonstration or evidence of a competent audience. An agent’s initial approximation of an audience’s likelihood to be testimonially incompetent should, presumably, be revised in light of evidence to the contrary. However, there may be cases where someone persists in silencing their own testimony despite it being quite clear that their audience signals competence. I would argue that AEI, rather than testimonial smothering, can address these sorts of cases. After all, we can distinguish between and evaluate our various audiences. We can recognize that some audiences may be our allies, advocates, or even epistemic activists who “[denounce] and [resist] unfair patterns of epistemic neglect and silencing” by, for instance, displaying epistemic solidarity (Medina 2021, 193). In fact, sometimes our audiences are agents with whom we share common experiences of epistemic injustice. Yet it seems to me that even positive audience feedback from groups identified as testimonially competent by marginalized agents do not preclude individual experiences of AEI.


Consider, for example, the #MeToo movement. One might argue this campaign “encourages both individual and collective instances of silence-breaking” (Jackson 2018, 17) and that testimony-sharing is conducive to epistemic value for “the survivor qua hearer when experiences like hers are represented by others” (Freedman 2020, 2). Nevertheless, #MeToo did not enable everybody to feel comfortable to share their testimony—plausibly, for anticipatory reasons. Of course, in this case one might protest that public disclosure of trauma is an extremely challenging feat to begin with, even if a majority of persons were to display solidarity.

Let us consider, then, a less public case. A person who suffered intimate partner violence may choose not to share their story with someone who is professionally trained and fully equipped to support them, despite genuinely believing that their testimony could be safely and confidentially received by their audience, and despite believing also that such an advocate could provide them with access to resources that would help them. If we set aside the bleak possibility that some agents may be only masquerading as allies—and thus “use their identity as an ‘ally’ as a defense” against bad behaviour (McKinnon 2017, 167)—we can glean plenty of other reasons for why testimony is truncated.

Perhaps, in the example above, the agent unconsciously resents the idea of becoming part of a statistic about intimate partner violence; perhaps they want to avoid pity from others; perhaps their sense of authority is shaken by past experiences of gaslighting; perhaps they have physical aversions to certain sensitive topics; perhaps they feel ashamed to talk about the abuse whilst being unable to pinpoint why they don’t have the strength to leave the relationship; perhaps they don’t want to elicit other people’s advice; perhaps even making an assessment about reasons for or against disclosing proves burdensome, in light of one’s generally precarious position in the social environment.

It seems to me quite plausible to think that even agents who accurately perceive that their audience would sympathize with them, unfortunately often have other reasons—some of which may be entirely obscured to the agent themselves—for their negative anticipatory behaviour. What I call opaque anticipatory epistemic injustice can make sense of the cases where agents self-silence without necessarily being aware of the reasons for their anticipatory behaviour, and despite rationally adducing that their audience is not testimonially incompetent in a way that would render one’s testimony ‘risky’ or unheard.

In the more transparent cases, as Trystan S. Goetze demonstrates, there may also be anticipation of negative ethical outcomes at play in the testimony-suppression, which in fact “depend on the hearer accurately and intelligibly interpreting the speaker’s meaning” (Goetze 2021, 38). In Goetze’s example of sexual assault survivors who might be inclined to not report the crime, it is suggested that not all survivors are interested in “subjecting their assailants to the criminal justice system” (Goetze 2021, 37).

The causes for impulses to self-silence may be various and complex, independent of signalled testimonial incompetence or competence, and transparent or opaque to the sufferers of AEI. Hopefully the discussion above explains why anticipatory epistemic injustice can capture ways that self-silencing practices can in some cases be voluntary (rather than coerced, as happens in testimonial silencing) and how negative anticipation can proceed independently of even positive expectations a would-be speaker has about their audience(s).

Nevertheless, my claims to distinctness were not intended to suggest that the two phenomena cannot overlap. Rather, I should say my account is more expansive than testimonial smothering, without being mutually exclusive with the latter. AEI includes testimonial smothering, but as explained in previous paragraphs, encompasses a much broader variety of testimony-suppressing cases. It should therefore not be at all surprising that testimonial smothering overlaps with AEI—testimonial smothering is a sub-type of AEI. On this point, I am in agreement with Goetze’s helpful suggestion to understand testimonial smothering as a species of AEI.

On the Value of Distinctness

In any case, I am overall sympathetic to García’s pushback on the value of distinctness—involving “parsimony of description” and “connection to prescriptive theses and remedies” García 2021, 55)—for justifying the place of various epistemic injustice phenomena. He says that “…the phenomena that epistemic-injustice theorists take as paradigmatic are quite broad phenomena and thus quantify over lots of nuances and complexities…” (García 2021, 55). Identifying sub-types of epistemic injustice phenomena, then, could aid theorists in finding remedies that are specific to the nuances captured under the descriptions involved in the sub-type. This would tell in favour of identifying sub-types.

Trystan S. Goetze takes up this idea in his commentary to my work by showing how the framework of anticipatory zetetic injustices in educational contexts is a way to understand the specific anticipatory challenges marginalized students face in classroom settings when it comes to discussion and participation. Anticipatory zetetic injustice captures cases where students truncate or withhold questions (rather than testimony), owing to anticipation that their questions will be misconstrued. In formulating this view, we can then recognize that low student participation levels can be “either due to their social location or simply vis-à-vis the way the power differential between student and teacher is constructed in a particular class” (Goetze 2021, 42).

Identifying sub-types of epistemic injustice phenomena as a way to help inform and tailor our ameliorative strategies in different contexts is indeed a commendable objective. Goetze points out that “the way we map these injustices in conceptual space is perhaps less important than what these distinctions help us do in order to alleviate and prevent epistemic injustices” (Goetze 2021, 42). I wonder whether we should not also treat the particular stories, narratives, and instantiations of injustice in the literature as worth highlighting and illustrating in our academic context anyway. Much of the epistemic injustice literature already proceeds through discussion of paradigmatic or representative cases, and stories that focalize on different dimensions, features, harms, and mechanisms of the injustice at hand. Given that the injustices in our epistemic realm (and beyond) are many, my view is that a big part of why this literature on epistemic injustice phenomena sub-types should take up space is not only to refine conceptualizations, neatly tell apart phenomena, or even to prescribe unique remedies. It is an opportunity for us to bring diverse and challenging case studies to the fore, evaluate these stories through different lenses, and to treat these cases as ever philosophically relevant and urgent by generating ongoing attention and concern to the wrongs we recognize in them.

Author Information:

Ji-Young Lee, ji.young.lee@sund.ku.dk, University of Copenhagen.


García, Eric Bayruns. 2021. “On Anticipatory-Epistemic Injustice and the Distinctness of Epistemic-Injustice Phenomena.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 10 (7): 48-57.

Freedman, Karyn L. 2020. “The Epistemic Significance of #MeToo.” Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 6 (2): Article 2.

Goetze, Trystan S. 2021. “Anticipation, Smothering, and Education: A Reply to Lee and Bayruns García on Anticipatory Epistemic Injustice.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 10 (9): 36-43.

Jackson, Debra L. 2018. “‘Me Too’: Epistemic Injustice and the Struggle for Recognition.” Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 4 (4): Article 7.

McKinnon, Rachel. 2017. “Allies Behaving Badly: Gaslighting as Epistemic Injustice.” In The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice edited by Ian James Kidd, José Medina, Gaile Pohlhaus, 167-174. Routledge.

Medina, José. 2021. “Agential Epistemic Injustice and Collective Epistemic Resistance in the Criminal Justice System.” Social Epistemology 35 (2): 185-196.

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