Article Title

Fierce Love: What We Can Learn about Epistemic Responsibility from Histories of AIDS Advocacy


This is the fourth paper in the invited collection. Shotwell examines the work of direct-action activists as forms of medical activism that express a non-reductionist and complex intersectional science and technology practice, bridging lay and professional medical contexts. Shotwell draws on Lorraine Code’s generative theory of the importance of “ecological thinking” as one way to practice what she calls “epistemic responsibility,” and to think about the varied and complex early responses of activists in Canada to AIDS. Activists made wide-ranging, theoretically sophisticated, and socially significant interventions in how AIDS manifested in Canada; their interventions manifested a kind of political work welcoming to unpredictable and emergent medical and social situations. Three preliminary insights are offered, from an ongoing research project investigating the history of AIDS activism in the Canadian context: (1) the usefulness of Code’s conception of the social imaginary for understanding how calcified social relations shape and limit the conditions for responsible knowing; (2) the importance of recognizing the communal and social nature of knowledge as a key piece of epistemic responsibility, articulated in terms of collective epistemic privilege; and (3) the possibility for practices of epistemic responsibility to create virtuous epistemic effects beyond what is known (about) or intended by particular agents.

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