I am pleased to have published a new paper, to appear in a Special Issue of Teaching in Higher Education. The Special Issue is entitled Experts, knowledge and criticality in the age of ‘alternative facts’: re-examining the contribution of higher education and will be available on the journal’s website in February 2019.
The paper, co-written with Dr Alison MacKenzie, draws from recent research that I carried out on the digital literacy practices of undergraduate students in Northern Ireland. During the project pilot study I began to notice how the students accord different levels of epistemic trust to different ‘actors’ in their practices of digital literacy. This was one of a number of aspects that I then further explored in the main research project, using the ‘epistemology of ignorance’ as a basis.
Ignorance needs careful examination. Some kinds of ignorance are mere oversights, other kinds are strategic. We have limited time and resources so it is rational to grant credibility to epistemic authorities. In this way ignorance plays a role in our knowledge practices. It is linked to our conceptions and production of knowledge.
Ignorance can also be actively produced (for discrimination, exploitation, or to maintain power). Those in the centre sometimes don’t want those on the margins to ‘know’.
We also pervasively rely on others’ testimony. We judge what to believe on whom to believe and to make these judgments, we need criteria of trustworthiness and consensus that are easy to apply. Reputation helps, but how we grant this kind of epistemic authority in digital environments, how people develop their own criteria based on plausibility, relevance, coherence, consistency, and credibility, needs to be better understood.
In a way this is a different kind of take on the ‘fake news’ discussion. Rather than looking at the news or information on its own, one of the things I do (through a ‘social practice’ approach to literacy) is to examine how belief formations which inform epistemic judgements are being developed by individuals in digital environments.
A pre-print of the author version of the paper is available from the following link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328702887_Just_Google_it_Digital_literacy_and_the_epistemology_of_ignorance
I hope it’s useful for you.