Confronting diminished epistemic privilege and epistemic injustice in pregnancy by challenging a "panoptics of the womb"

J Med Philos. 2015 Feb;40(1):44-68. doi: 10.1093/jmp/jhu046. Epub 2014 Dec 12.


This paper demonstrates how the problematic kinds of epistemic power that physicians have can diminish the epistemic privilege that pregnant women have over their bodies and can put them in a state of epistemic powerlessness. This result, I argue, constitutes an epistemic injustice for many pregnant women. A reconsideration of how we understand and care for pregnant women and of the physician-patient relationship can provide us with a valuable context and starting point for helping to alleviate the knowledge/power problems that are symptomatic of the current system and structure of medicine. I suggest that we can begin to confront this kind of injustice if medicine adopts a more phenomenological understanding of bodies and if physicians and patients--in this case, pregnant women--become what I call "epistemic peers."

Keywords: Foucault; epistemic injustice; epistemic peers; epistemic privilege; phenomenology; pregnancy.

MeSH terms

  • Authoritarianism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Labor, Obstetric / psychology*
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Pregnancy / psychology*
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / psychology*
  • Women's Health
  • Women's Rights