Alcoff’s argument draws upon the research of fellow CUNY Philosophy faculty member Miranda Fricker‘s work on social epistemology & epistemic injustice:
“The philosopher Miranda Fricker, now at the City University of New York, has explored how social status can affect how we use testimonial reports from others – carving up knowledge-making roles so that some people are treated as instruments, akin to a thermometer, while others are accorded the ability to interpret, analyze and judge. As a tool of bare perception, a victim might be believed, but only in a severely limited domain. Perhaps we have the necessary information that can be used as evidence, but we mustn’t overstep in trying to parse, assess or examine what we know.
This reduced role gives derided groups very little room to move. Yes, we might be relied upon (some of us, some of the time) to read the weather report, but it’s not for us to do the difficult work of meteorologists in interpreting the subtle signs of a coming storm. Our perceptual mechanisms are in working order, but that doesn’t entail a capacity for genuine, considered judgment. So when we fail to be consistent about simple facts, we are failing in the only epistemic capacity we are granted: the ability to name the date or record the color of a shirt. We are supposed to leave it to others to judge the worthiness, significance and moral meaning of the facts that we recall. Judging the intentions or motives of our attackers, for example, might be out of bounds.”
For more insight into Alcoff’s research on sexual violence, see her most recent book, Rape and Resistance: Understanding the Complexities of Sexual Violation (Polity Press, 2018).