Hermeneutical injustice and the far right?

Hermeneutical injustice is defined as the inability to communicate and/ or understand one’s own social experience, owing to a lack of concepts available in society used to define the experience. For example, before Carmita Wood’s introduction of the concept of sexual harassment, individuals were incapable of understanding and communicating this social experience and the significant wrong that occurred during instances of sexual harassment.

According to Miranda Fricker’s conception of hermeneutical injustice, three key elements are required to be satisfied in order for the concept to be applicable to a social group. These are as follows:

  1. The experience must be significant to the group,
  2. The experience must be obscured from collective understanding,
  3. The group must be subject to marginalisation due to a structural identity prejudice.

Each of these elements can be sufficiently applied to the social movement of far right fringe groups in England, such as the English Defence League and Britain first in relation to their concerns about culture and identity. My purpose for applying hermeneutical injustice to far right fringe groups is not to reinforce far right rhetoric or suggest that the far right are a victim of an injustice; rather, applying hermeneutical injustice as a framework may offer us new resources for understanding and potentially resolving the concerns and possible threat that the these groups pose.

According to the first element of hermeneutical injustice, the experience must be significant to the social group. Far right fringe groups in England are constantly referring to the notion of ‘Britishness’ being eradicated due to the effects of multiculturalism and globalisation and the change that these factors cause to the demographic in England. This change in the demographic has resulted in individuals believing that there is a loss of English culture and identity. For example, in recent years there has been an active suspension of patriotic pride and symbols in mainstream society. The significance of this experience of change causing a loss of English culture and identity has lead individuals to respond by creating groups which we refer to as far right, whose purpose (according to their supporters) is to preserve and defend traditional English culture and identity.

The second element is that the experience must be obscured from collective understanding. During interactions between individuals who belong or adhere to the rhetoric purported by far right groups, their concerns relating to culture and identity are recognised by other individuals as genuine concerns about a number of social issues. However, during interactions with others who do not belong or adhere to far right rhetoric, these individuals who raise such concerns are regularly referred to as and branded with such labels as Nazi, fascist, and many other pejorative social  identities. Due to the negative connotation of these labels, when such groups enter exchanges with individuals who do not identify as far right, their concerns are awarded deflated credibility and subsequently disregarded., Such responses to their social identity isolates their social experience from public understanding.

The final element for hermeneutical injustice to be applied to far right fringe groups is that they must marginalised. Far right fringe groups in England have typically been comprised of individuals who belong to the working class. Generally, those individuals who belong to the working class confront substantial obstacles, such as access to resources and social services, when attempting to gain positions of social power. Consequently, individuals who form far right fringe groups are often socio-economically marginalised and potentially excluded from contributing to the process of democratic decision making.

The concept of hermeneutical injustice can be sufficiently applied to far right fringe groups, due to each of the three elements described above being satisfied. This leads to further question of how we can attempt to resolve this injustice, or whether hermeneutical injustice should be resolved when applied to controversial social groups like far right fringe groups?

Mr Callum Downes  is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a Doctoral candidate in Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter. See his profile here.

© Callum Downes. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).