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Invisible Identities, Social Blindness, and Irresponsible Ignorance

José Medina, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Women's and Gender Studies, Vanderbilt University
When Aug 02, 2011
from 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM
Where 101 Osmond Lab
Contact Name
Contact Phone 814-863-5911
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José Medina

Associate Professor of Philosoph, Vanderbilt University, and Distinguished Chair in the Humanities at the Carlos III University (Madrid, Spain)

José Medina is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University and Distinguished Chair in the Humanities at the Carlos III University (Madrid, Spain). He works primarily in Philosophy of Language, Social Epistemology, and Political Philosophy, with a special focus on gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity. Drawing on speech act theory from multiple philosophical traditions, Medina has articulated a polyphonic contextualism that provides a performative account of meaning, identity, and discursive agency. His recent work has focused on intersectionality and struggles against multiple forms of oppression. He is the author of Speaking from Elsewhere(SUNY Press, 2006), Language: Key Concepts in Philosophy (Continuum, 2005), and The Unity of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy (SUNY Press, 2002). His new book is entitled The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and the Social Imagination (Oxford University Press, Forthcoming). His articles have appeared inDialecticaInquiryInternational Philosophical QuarterlyInternational Journal of Philosophical Studies, The Journal of PragmaticsThe Journal of Speculative Philosophy,MetaphilosophyPhilosophical ForumPhilosophical InvestigationsPhilosophy and Social Criticism, and Social Epistemology.

"Invisible Identities, Social Blindness, and Irresponsible Ignorance"

"I am an invisible man. […] I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. […] it is as if I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me." (Prologue of Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison)

How and why are some identities (or aspects of identity) rendered invisible and othershypervisible? And what is the relationship between the invisibility and the hypervisibility of certain identities? A great deal of social interaction happens in the dark, with people acting blindly toward each other and exhibiting a stubborn resistance to recognize crucial aspects of each other’s identities. What are our epistemic responsibilities with respect to this social blindness? What counts as culpable ignorance in this context? These are the key questions that I will try to answer. I will focus on the social blindness that renders marginalized racial and ethnic groups invisible (or deficiently visible). I will extend this analysis to other forms of social blindness that render invisible other oppressed identities—such as gender- and sexual non-conformists. I will discuss different kinds of complicity with these oppressive forms of social blindness, analyzing what counts in this context as culpable ignorance and highlighting the special role that educational institutions and academic disciplines can play both in maintaining and in denouncing and repairing the blind-spots of our social gaze. I will also gesture toward strategies of resistance to fight invisibility and social blindness.