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Knowing Otherwise

Race, Gender, and Implicit Understanding

Alexis Shotwell

Publication Year: 2011

Prejudice is often not a conscious attitude: because of ingrained habits in relating to the world, one may act in prejudiced ways toward others without explicitly understanding the meaning of one’s actions. Similarly, one may know how to do certain things, like ride a bicycle, without being able to articulate in words what that knowledge is. These are examples of what Alexis Shotwell discusses in Knowing Otherwise as phenomena of “implicit understanding.” Presenting a systematic analysis of this concept, she highlights how this kind of understanding may be used to ground positive political and social change, such as combating racism in its less overt and more deep-rooted forms. Shotwell begins by distinguishing four basic types of implicit understanding: nonpropositional, skill-based, or practical knowledge; embodied knowledge; potentially propositional knowledge; and affective knowledge. She then develops the notion of a racialized and gendered “common sense,” drawing on Gramsci and critical race theorists, and clarifies the idea of embodied knowledge by showing how it operates in the realm of aesthetics. She also examines the role that both negative affects, like shame, and positive affects, like sympathy, can play in moving us away from racism and toward political solidarity and social justice. Finally, Shotwell looks at the politicized experience of one’s body in feminist and transgender theories of liberation in order to elucidate the role of situated sensuous knowledge in bringing about social change and political transformation.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

It is difficult to put into words the web of connections that has sustained this book over the years. My first and deepest thanks go to the teachers and mentors who helped this work grow: Sue Campbell, James Clifford, Lorraine Code, Angela Davis, Barbara Epstein, Donna Haraway, and David Hoy. They are extraordinary scholars, unparalleled interlocutors, and exemplars of principled, warmhearted, cheerful living. ...

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pp. ix-xxiii

Even though humans are more committed to language than other animals, we use more than words in every aspect of engagement with our lives. We are intricately and intimately connected with others and with the world, and most of these connections happen alongside, beneath, and in other spheres than the words we say and the propositions we formulate. We know how to ...

PART I: Mapping Implicit Understanding

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Chapter 1: Theories of Implicit Understanding

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pp. 3-28

In the Anglo-American analytic philosophical tradition, there is relatively little attention paid to the fourfold category I am calling implicit understanding. Even so, there has been some significant work both squarely within and alongside this style of philosophy. In this chapter I aim to show how a range of theorists have articulated aspects of implicit understanding. Despite the ...

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Chapter 2: Racialized Common Sense

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pp. 29-46

According to W. E. B. Du Bois, “The problem of the future world is the charting, by means of intelligent reason, of a path not simply through the resistances of physical force, but through the vaster and far more intricate jungle of ideas conditioned on unconscious and subconscious reflexes of living things; on blind unreason and often irresistible urges of sensitive matter; ...

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Chapter 3: An Aesthetics of Sensuousness

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pp. 47-70

If common sense is a key aspect of oppressive social relations, as the prior chapter argues, transforming social relations will involve changes at the level of common sense. Susan Babbitt speaks to this with the language of dreaming impossible dreams—working for things that exceed what is considered possible under current conditions. Robin D. G. Kelley calls this the work of freedom dreaming in social movements. ...

PART II: Navigating Transformations

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Chapter 4: Negative Affect and Whiteness

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pp. 73-97

I worry about the process by which things become popular. This orientation toward the hip, nourished equally in DIY culture and in academe, pursues the new and the obscure, preferring to be among the first to plumb a new well. This approach is also, I think, rooted in capitalist social relations of marketability and, by extension, cornering markets. On all these grounds, I ought to excise this chapter, written when talking ...

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Chapter 5: Enacting Solidarity

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pp. 98-124

Often people’s racial, gendered commonsense understandings become palpable when they try to work in solidarity with others. As Gadamer suggests, it is something outside our horizon of presupposition—a text, a person— that puts our prejudgments into play. Minnie Bruce Pratt describes feeling that she could not simply move to a place where she “joined others to ...

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Chapter 6: A Knowing That Resided in My Bones

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pp. 125-155

“Knowledge for social movements must move us,” writes Avery Gordon; it must be “sensual and magical.”1 I find this an evocative and intuitively compelling call to action. What might happen when we understand our conceptual experience of social worlds to interact with and be conditioned by our embodied experience? I extend Gordon’s categories to think about sensuousness as material, embodied understanding ...


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pp. 157-171


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pp. 173-180

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271053646
E-ISBN-10: 027105364X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271037639
Print-ISBN-10: 0271037636

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2011