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Three essays on education, epistemic legitimacy, and their relationship with social justice

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Simon Macklin
Publication date2024
Number of pages193
Awarding Institution
Award date23/06/2020
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis draws attention to the contemporary (and historic) admiration for conceptions of ‘powerful knowledge’ (Young, 1995 [1971]) or ‘epistemic access’ (Morrow, 2009) in response to a public dismissal of intellectualism. This thesis argues that this focus, in educational theory and research, on power through access to, and participation in, a universal idea of knowledge does little to acknowledge that education, and particularly higher education, has not had many of the economic, political or social effects that this premise of ‘powerful knowledge’ proposes (for example, Hendel et al., 2005 ; Jencks, 2002 ; Roth, 2019 ; Wolf, 2002).
This thesis argues that by expanding on discussions of ‘legitimacy’ as seen in the historic and contemporary literature on the social, political, and economic power of knowledge, that a distinct conception of ‘epistemic legitimacy’ can be created and utilised to theorise this gap. In this sense, ‘epistemic legitimacy’ is characterised as ‘the utility’ of knowledge for epistemic participation in the public sphere separate from any exercise of power or value.
By using a history of ideas – from the three separate intellectual traditions of social, political and economic legitimacy – this thesis traces the interaction between these concepts, and argues that ‘epistemic legitimacy’ is a model which expands the ‘bureaucratic imaginary’ at the heart of Young and Muller’s conception of ‘powerful knowledge’ and contributes models for the development of the use of ‘powerful knowledge’ for the conception of a new reality, and the ‘authority of knowledge’ to affect an individual change or development in line with this reality.
This view allows a conception of ‘powerful knowledge’ as part of the historic (and ongoing) struggle between institutional and structural knowledge (‘bureaucracy’) and the authority within the public sphere to enable action and change (‘entrepreneurship’), and therefore, in turn, informs our understanding of the gaps in social justice theories which presuppose a link between access to, and participation in education; and social, economic, and political effects – theories such as social mobility.