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Accepted Paper:

Anthsplaining: Advocates or Institutional Echoes?  
Kelly Fagan Robinson (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper addresses potential epistemic dissonance and testimonial injustice by interrogating the delicate treadlines between advocacy and appropriation. It critically engages with re-presentations of deaf people by a non-deaf anthropologist, on forms for benefits assessments and in ethnography.

Paper long abstract:

During field research, I volunteered as an advisor at a deaf support charity. Alongside other volunteers I collected testimonial evidence from deaf claimants as they sought to be approved for the UK benefits Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA). I wrote down their statements, attempting to explain their reasons for claiming, highlighting their accounts of “long term adverse effect” which according to the Equality Act 2010 would prove these claimants were eligible for State support.

However, expression and reception of testimonials attesting to pain in daily life are shaped by experiential proximity to such life-ways, and though I witnessed the adversity, I had not personally experienced it. Sensorial, social, material and ethical experiences within welfare claiming have profound implications for legibility of claimant testimonies, empathy, and understanding. My re-presentations and those of thousands of other support volunteers throughout the UK wielded significant influence over eligibility statements within UK benefits claiming processes with untold consequences. Between 2013-2019 more than 1,363,000 benefits benefits judgements were reviewed, 3-of-4 decisions were ultimately deemed incorrect.

This paper unpacks epistemic dissonance and resulting testimonial injustice (Fricker 2007; Wanderer 2017) through interrogating the delicate treadlines between advocacy and appropriation. It maps instances of communicative/epistemic disjuncture affecting deaf disability support claimants, witnessed and recounted by a non-claiming, non-deaf anthropologist. It critically engages with deep implications re-presenting another person brings to bear on communication barriers within both welfare and ethnographic practices, particularly when textual representations can inadvertently uphold hegemonic rigidities, impacting our interlocutors' ability to survive.

Panel Speak07a
Responsibility as critique. Reimagining the political in the ethnographic encounter I
  Session 1 Tuesday 30 March, 2021, -