Sunday, April 12, 2009

Alternative Epistemologies: Will they ever be considered truth or remain an alternative perspective?

Though we did not conclude our discussion on alternative epistemologies, the last point made during the class discussion really made me think. I agree with Mills’ perspective that traditional epistemologies are based on a universal subject/observer that can be characterized by the “superior” group of society; white males. This creates a very narrow understanding and perspective on knowledge. If we examine traditional school curriculum and what is taught in the majority of schools, it is very much so limited to what has been canonized or deemed important by the superior group of society. With this, so many perspectives have been ignored or labeled not important or irrelevant. Not until alternative epistemologies are accepted and seen as credible will other perspectives be respected. No single viewpoint can be generalized as the experience of all people. This is true within social groups as is most definitely true across groups. I personally think that it is ridiculous that in order to study “black history” or to read “black literature” there have to be separate classes labeled “African American History” or “African American Literature”. This is true of contributions made by other minority groups. This to me is saying that these perspectives are so unique and unrelated to society that they must be studied separately from all other literature and history.
While I think that the fact that courses similar to these are offered in schools is a sign of advancement in itself, I would be surprised to see the day when minority authored literature is merged with “American literature” or canonized. If you look back at history books that claim to document American history, you will see that minority groups and their contributions have been traditionally ignored. While recognizing alternative epistemologies exist is a necessary step, the way of thinking of these perspectives as “alternative” to the norm will assure that they continue to be separate and the option of ignoring it will remain on the table.
In our society it is not too much of a stretch to consider the white perspective as the perspective and experience for society as a whole, but a minority perspective will never be generalized. It will always be the alternative to the norm. An interesting point was made during the class discussion that oppressed groups have a broader epistemology than that of the dominant group. I wonder what can be achieved by combining these truths rather than seeing one as the norm and the other as an alternative. And with that I would ask how likely the dominant group is to see the oppressed groups truths as actual truth, rather than an exception or alternative perspective to its own truth?


  1. This is a very interesting post! The concept of changing alternative epistemologies into the actual ones is a very unique thought. To answer the question Annie asked, I personally do not think that the dominant group is likely to see the oppressed groups views are the truth. By saying the word " dominant" or " majority" we are claiming that they comprise most of the whole in society, hence their opinions are consider the norm but if there are a few opinons that vary from theirs, those few are just the exceptions from the norm. These few opinions are the thoughts of the minorities or opppressed. Though I do agree that the "oppressed groups have a broader epistemology than that of the dominant group", their epistemology is just a deviation from the norm hence will be less likely to be seen as the actual truth.

  2. I definitely agree with you that only looking at the perspective of white males limits the number of experiences and understanding or knowledge from that. Its sad that through the years this is what we consider the norm and it could be possibly due to what we are taught. There tends to be a focus on the white male dominance in the United States, which carries into the classroom and textbooks. I feel differently about specialized classes such as "African American History." I think it is great that a whole class is specifically directed towards teaching the students about a whole different perspective. Although it would be great to incorporate everyones perspectives into our basic history classes, it would be hard to fully understand their experiences. Taking a single class to focus on a single races experiences helps to spread their knowledge to undermine the norm.

  3. I think Annie makes a great point that alternative epistemologies need to be recognized first. Also that recognition is only the first step among a trail of steps needing to be taken. I feel that alternative epistemologies are a version of the truth being left unsaid. This calls to me as a history person who has always been taught to look under the cover of motives because there is always something being left unsaid. It reminds me of our last few classes discussing what Mamdani uncovers about American involvement in the Cold War and how the media never seemed to alert the public to the truth. For instance, I had never understood our involvement in Afghanistan until our last class. Obviously this created an alternative epistemology amongst certain empowering Muslims. In the end, if we don’t acknowledge how they see the world and keep thinking it is how all Muslims are, then we jeopardize our safety as well as their stability.
    As to your question, I think it is so difficult for any one class to cover so many views of the world. Most history classes still only give the conquerors side of the story. But I think the steps we have made in recognizing African American literature, for instance, by giving it its own class are incredibly fruitful.


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