The Epistemic Turn in Political Theory

September 9, 2020 - September 11, 2020
Manchester Center for Political Theory, University of Manchester

Arthur Lewis Building, Oxford Road
Manchester M13 9PL
United Kingdom


Utrecht University

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In recent years, contemporary political theory has experienced what could be referred to as an epistemic turn. While not commonly known by this name, this turn refers to a number of debates within political theory which have displayed an increased interest in issues of knowledge and communication.  Democratic theorists, for instance, have started to consider how democracy’s value may come from its ability to gather and aggregate information (Landemore, 2017). Epistemic democrats argue that elections and deliberation allow democracy to utilise the demos’ collective intelligence (Anderson, 2006; Goodin & Spiekermann, 2018), while their critics point to the problem of voter ignorance as grounds for rejecting or restricting democratic rule (Brennan, 2016; Caplan, 2007). The political theory of markets, on the other hand, has also seen a mounting interest in epistemic issues (DeCanio, 2014). This work not only makes positive claims about the workings of market institutions, but also argues that an epistemic view allows markets to more effectively reply to normative problems of social justice (Pennington, 2011; Tebble, 2016). Yet other areas of political theory which could be considered part of the epistemic turn, include research on epistemic injustice and the problems of testimony (Fricker, 2009), knowledge problems within theories of distributive justice (Herzog, 2012), and research on the role of expertise in politics (Moore, 2017).

While numerous areas within political theory have taken an interest in issues of knowledge and communication, there is yet to be significant engagement between these currently independent strands of research. With a few recent exceptions, for instance, there has so far been limited discussion between epistemic democrats and epistemic defenders of the market, and both fields have displayed relatively little engagement with problems of testimony and epistemic injustice. This workshop, therefore, aims to bring together researchers working within these currently independent elements of the epistemic turn, in order to provide space for a cross-fertilisation of ideas. In accordance with this aim, the workshop is interested in attracting paper abstracts on any of the following:

(1)  Papers focused on topics within any of the independent research areas (epistemic democracy, epistemic injustice etc) which would be of wider interest to the epistemic turn in political theory.

(2)  Papers which directly attempt to bridge two or more of these different research areas or bring them into engagement with one another.

(3)  Papers which focus on the epistemic turn itself and consider such things as the current states of research, the nature of epistemic approaches to political theory, or how these approaches fit within the wider field of political theory.

Details: Abstracts of 300-400 words should be submitted to by the deadline of 25th May 2020.  If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Jonathan Benson at the same address.

MANCEPT Workshops: The conference takes place in Manchester from the 9th-11th of Sept 2020. There is registration fee, but competitive bursaries are also offered by the conference. For more information please see:



Anderson E (2006) The Epistemology of Democracy. Episteme 3 (1–2): 8–22.

Brennan J (2016). Against Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Caplan B (2007) The Myth of the Rational Voter. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

DeCanio S (2014) Democracy, the Market, and the Logic of Social Choice. American Journal of Political Science 58 (3): 637–652

Fricker M (2009) Epistemic Injustice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goodin R E and Spiekermann K (2018) An Epistemic Theory of Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Herzog L (2012) Ideal and Non-ideal Theory and the Problem of Knowledge. Journal of Applied Philosophy 29 (4): 271-288

Moore A (2017) Critical Elitism. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Landemore H (2017) Beyond the Fact of Disagreement? The Epistemic Turn in Deliberative Democracy. Social Epistemology, 31(3): 277-295.

Pennington M (2011) Robust Political Economy. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Tebble A J (2016) Epistemic Liberalism. New York: Routledge. 

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