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Whose Knowledge is it Anyway? Epistemic Injustice and the Supervisor/Supervisee Relationship

By Katy Dineen, Sarah Thelen, Anna Santucci

In the mythical story The Salmon of Knowledge Fionn overcomes traditional hierarchies (albeit accidentally!) to gain knowledge. This legend has long been an important part of the Centre for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning at University College Cork (Ireland). 

The hierarches within the story have analogies in higher education. We saw parallels in the work we do with PhD supervisors and supervisees, particularly when the PhD is understood as an expert-novice pedagogical relationship.

The idea of knowledge as a good to be created or owned hierarchically strikes us as unjust. It seems unfair that the salmon was denied to Fionn. Likewise, it seems unfair that the hierarchies within higher education should impact a supervisee’s quest for knowledge. We found ourselves seeking a framework that we could use to unpick and understand this unfairness: The framework of epistemic injustice stood out as the obvious choice.

The article that resulted from these thoughts and explorations seeks to critique the hierarchies within higher education from a social justice point of view, by analysing the supervisor/supervisee relationship. We aim to show that the scholarship of teaching and learning is perfectly placed to do this type of work and to put higher education under the lens of social justice. 

Katy Dineen: I was motivated to write this article because I enjoy work that subjects higher education to social justice critique. Teaching and learning must be fair and respectful. 

Sarah Thelen: I was motivated to contribute to this article because I wanted to better understand the ways that power dynamics shape and constrain ways of knowing. 

Anna Santucci: After connecting with new colleagues over our shared passion for justice, I was excited to explore together how SoTL can speak truth to power and help dismantle oppression in higher education. 

Read the TLI article here.

Photo credit: Tess Hanafin, 2024

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