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Epistemological Hegemony and Inequality in Science, Engineering and Health

Sun, August 21, 10:30am to 12:10pm, TBA


Can the hegemony of Western epistemologies anchor processes of inequality? In this paper we consider how epistemological hegemony in science, engineering and health (SE&H) fields perpetuate disadvantages for students who enter higher education with marginalized epistemologies. Drawing from in­depth interviews with Native American students enrolled at two U.S. research­oriented universities who adhere to or revere indigenous epistemologies, we find that epistemological hegemony in Western SE&H degree programs disadvantages students through three processes. First, this hegemony delegitimizes Native epistemologies and marginalizes and silences students who value them. Second, in the process of learning Western epistemologies, SE&H courses occasionally require students to participate in pedagogical practices that directly challenge indigenous ways of knowing. Third, students encounter epistemological imperialism: The majority of students in the sample working to earn SE&H degrees do so in order to return to tribal communities to “give back,” yet, because U.S. laws regulating the practice of SE&H extend onto tribal lands, students must earn credentials in epistemologies that devalue, delegitimate, and threaten indigenous knowledge ways. We examine how students navigate these conflicts and end with a discussion of the implications of these findings for SE&H education and for understanding the ways epistemological hegemony can reproduce inequality.


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