Volume 37, Issue 1, January 2021
Making Sense of “Microaggression”
On Family Resemblance and Standpoint Epistemology
Though philosophers are beginning to pay attention to the phenomenon of microaggressions, they are yet to fully draw on their training and skills in conceptual analysis to help make sense of what microaggression is. In this paper, I offer a philosophical analysis of the concept of microaggression. I ultimately argue that ‘microaggression’ as a concept gets its meaning not by decomposing into a set of necessary and sufficient conditions, but rather by means of what Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953) has called “family resemblance.” That is to say, what unifies the concept of microaggression is a set of common, overlapping features that link related instances together, but are not necessarily all present in all cases. I identify and explain a common set of features that together form the basis for a family resemblance account of the concept. I then argue that despite the difficulty that microaggressions pose in terms of being reliably recognized and understood as such, some people, in virtue of their epistemic standpoint, are better suited to recognize these features and subsequently identify instances of micraoggression in practice. I argue this by drawing on the vast literature in feminist standpoint epistemology (Alcoff, 1993; Hill Collins, 1990, 2004; hooks, 2004; Harding, 2004, 2008; Wylie, 2013).