Arianne Shahvisi


In this paper I explore a method for refusing uptake when explanations are morally and epistemically troubling. Gaile Pohlhaus Jr (2011) has shown that imploring marginalised people to “understand” marginalising practices amounts to a request that they legitimise their own marginalisation. In this paper, I expand upon this analysis with the aim of describing a method for withholding understanding. First, I analyse understanding through its association with explanation. Drawing on pragmatic theories, I describe explanations as speech acts whose success depends on the explainee granting the explainer uptake by revising their background assumptions. Those background assumptions sometimes reference troubling generalisations, and in those cases, the explanation must be blocked. Accordingly, I formalise a form of explanatory resistance in which the explainee feigns misunderstanding to corner the explainer into exposing the problematic assumptions upon which their explanation depends. Second, I situate wrongful requests for understanding within the epistemic injustice schema as “explanatory injustices,” emphasising the fact that marginalised groups are also specifically marginalised within the explanation economy. I conclude that we should be more cognisant of the way in which explanations track power, and be prepared to undertake resistance in order to expose moral and epistemic shortcomings in how we explain.