On Epidemiology As Racial-Capitalist (re)colonization and Epistemic Violence
Critical Public Health
This commentary reflects upon power-knowledge dynamics and matters of epistemic, procedural, and distributive justice that undergird epidemiological knowledge production related to racial health inequities in the U.S. Grounded in Foucault’s power-knowledge concepts—“objects”, “ritual”, and “the privileged”—and guided by Black feminist philosopher Kristie Dotson’s conceptualization of epistemic violence, it critiques the dominant positivist, reductionist, and extractivist paradigm of epidemiology, interrogating the settler-colonial and racial-capitalist nature of the knowledge production/curation enterprise. The commentary challenges epidemiology’s affinity for epistemological, procedural, and methodological norms that effectively silence/erase community knowledge(s) and nuance in favor of reductionist empirical representations/re-presentations produced by researchers who, often, have never stepped foot inside the communities they aver to model. It also expressly names the structurally racist reality of a “colorblind” knowledge production/curation system controlled by White scholars working from/for an invisibilized White scientific gaze. In this spirit, this commentary engages the public health critical race praxis principle of “disciplinary self-critique”, illuminating the inherent contradictions of a racial health equity discourse that fails to interrogate the racialized power dynamics underlying its knowledge production enterprise. In doing so, this commentary seeks to (re)frame and invite discourse regarding matters of epistemic violence and (re)colonization as manifest/legible within epidemiology research, suggesting that the structural racism embedded within – and perpetuated through – our collective work must be addressed to advance antiracist and decolonial public health futures. In this regard, I suggest the value of engaging poetry as praxis—as mode of knowledge production/expression to “center the margins” and offer counternarratives to epidemiology’s epistemic violence.
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Locate the Document
Petteway, R. J. (2022). On epidemiology as racial-capitalist (re) colonization and epistemic violence. Critical Public Health, 1-8.