Kristie Dotson on Epistemic Violence (An Exposition of the Netflix Series, “Unbelievable”)

Kristie Dotson in her essay, Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silence, concerns herself with how members of marginalized groups are epistemically not given the rights they deserve by a method of silencing. She particularly looks at “testimonial quieting” and “testimonial smothering” (237).

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Dotson starts her analysis by claiming that laying out that communication is dependent on not only having speakers but an audience to receive the information that is being presented. Dotson quotes Jennifer Hornsby, who speaks about the “successful linguistic exchange.”

Hornsby’s notion was that the listener should satisfy two conditions to successfully participate in “reciprocal” communication, namely: (1) listen and comprehend the words of the speaker, and (2) receive the words in the way they were originally meant to be taken. It is with this knowledge that we can, with Dotson, conclude that the overarching success of the speaker entirely depends on the audience. One way to picture this is to imagine dialogue and meeting in the middle to see where terms are agreed upon and where terms are disagreed upon. When engaging in discussion, it is very difficult to get past linguistic hiccups if these parameters are not satisfactorily met. Dotson argues that the extent to which groups of people are not able to listen properly to the words that are being uttered by the speaker is what constitutes the epistemic violence or injustice committed.

In watching the Netflix series, Unbelievable, I could notice similarities between the theoretical groundwork Dotson is laying out in her essay in pragmatic ways. The protagonist, Marie, is forcibly coerced into accepting that she was not raped by the interrogative process of the police officers. The police almost methodologically manipulate and distort the memory of the poor victim. The scenes seem to be dramatized for effect, nonetheless, surely there are similar horror stories where the testimony of rape victims is doubted at every sentence because of the unethical and ignorant methods of police investigations.

It is once even posed to Marie that every moment the police officers “waste” with her, they could instead be used productively in stopping crime “out there.” It is, thus, unsurprising that the protagonist doubts herself and the reliability of her memory. The interrogators question her, juxtaposing Dotson’s argument in her essay. Dotson argues that, in order to guarantee reciprocity, communication should be clearly met half-way with not only the ability to listen but to listen in the way that the speaker intends for. There are, of course, different conditions that should be met in accepting evidence but the most productive means of achieving epistemic justice is to listen carefully and with care for the speaker.

With that, we could then avoid a lot of pointless misery.

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Author of “Up in the Air: Christianity, Atheism & the Global Problems of the 21st Century” on AMAZON | Exploring Ethical Living | IG: jakub.ferencik.official

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