The misappropriation of “woke”: discriminatory social media practices, contributory injustice and context collapse

Nick Allen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

This article aims to give an analysis of the phenomena of unjust misappropriation of marginalised groups’ terms online, using the example misappropriation of ‘woke’ from the Black community on Twitter. I argue that using terms such as these outside their original context warps their meaning, decreasing the intelligibility of the experiences of the marginalised agents who use them when attempting to express themselves both within their community and without. I intend to give an analysis of this phenomena, with the expectation that understanding it better will provide a crucial step in combatting it. To this end, I argue it can be understood as a specialised form of what Kristie Dotson calls ‘contributory injustice’, injustices which involve the suppression of a marginalised community’s existing hermeneutical resources, combined with a specific consequence of what Boyd and Marwick call ‘context collapse’, the removal of social norms created through the homogenising effect of social media sites like Twitter. The result is a novel misappropriation phenomenon, I label ‘Context-Collapsed Contributory Injustice’ or ‘CC.CI’. This type of misappropriation is particularly harmful due to it being faster-acting than historical varieties of misappropriation. Furthermore, unchecked continual cases of CC.CI can cause a novel from of what Miranda Fricker calls ‘hermeneutical injustice’, which is demarcated from standard cases by its ability to reintroduce conceptual lacunas through undermining existing hermeneutical resources. I finish by disambiguating cases of CC.CI from natural meaning change and critically analysing some existing philosophical treatments of “woke”.
Original languageEnglish
Article number84
Number of pages30
JournalSynthese
Volume202
Early online date30 Aug 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2023

Keywords

  • Epistemic injustice
  • Social media
  • Feminist philosophy of language
  • Misappropriation
  • Race and culture
  • Language and society

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