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The Problem of Speaking for Others

Burcu Erciyes

Wednesday 8th February, 6-7.30pm
Graham Wallas Room, Old Building (see here for LSE maps and directions) 
Chair: Ania Plomien

Free and open to all

The problem of speaking for others is essentially about the dangers of speaking across differences of race, class, culture, ethnicity, nationality, political and religious beliefs, sexuality and power. The problem rests on the contention that a speaker's social location has an epistemically significant impact on that speaker's claim and can serve either to authorize or de-authorize her speech. As Linda Alcoff puts it in her article “The Problem for Speaking for Others” (1991), the problem presents itself as a dilemma. It involves either risking the disempowerment of marginalized groups by speaking for them from a privileged position or failing in a moral obligation to help those who cannot speak for themselves. In addressing this dilemma I will explore the conditions under which we could understand others across our differences, and will question if such understanding is sufficient to speak for them. An important thing to note is that the problem of speaking for others is not simply a problem for individuals, but also for groups of people and for different cultures and nations. As such, it has wide ranging implications beyond the academy because it stretches into everyday and professional life. To name but a few, speaking for others impacts international development programs, human rights actions, and even world health issues. Especially in the current political climate, with refugee crises and the rise of racism and Islamophobia it becomes essential to explore questions of who can and should speak for whom.


Burcu Erciyes holds a PhD in Philosophy from York University, Toronto. She specializes in feminist and postcolonial epistemology and philosophy of science. Her general interest lies in the question of the roles of social values in knowledge production and its everyday implications. Her thesis focuses on the reconceptualization of scientific objectivity in favor of a more inclusive science. Her current research is concerned with the problem of speaking for others where she inquires into the conditions under which one can speak for the oppressed from a privileged social position. 


 Burcu Erciyes