Search type


Leonie Smith

PhD thesis

Epistemic Exclusion, Resistance, and Personhood


Research interests

Social ontology, social epistemology, political theory, global justice, collective agency, personhood

Current research

My thesis introduces an account of the mechanism of epistemic injustice as a problem of reciprocal access to sets of social knowledge; the sets of information that individuals within different social spheres ‘just know’. As epistemic agents, we rely on being able to both contribute to - and depend upon - the dominant set of social knowledge. When the set is in some way impoverished or damaged, then we are all potentially epistemically impacted.

I focus specifically on how this mechanism operates in the case of members of social groups who tend to be overlooked by analyses of epistemic injustice, and whose testimony is rarely, if ever, heard at all by dominant knowers: Materially impoverished social out-groups, such as refugees, homeless populations, and those living in poverty in otherwise wealthy nations such as the UK. I identify a pervasive form of epistemic exclusion which these types of out-groups are particularly exposed to as a result of problems in the makeup and access conditions of the dominant set of social knowledge. This exclusion facilitates the deepening of existing prejudices, negative bias, and substantive material harm towards populations who are already at severe risk of impoverishment and human rights abuses.

Beyond the epistemic concern, there are, I suggest, deeper ontological implications for the status of the epistemically excluded as persons at all. From this rather bleak prognosis, I investigate alternative ways to alleviate the problem of epistemic exclusion, with particular emphasis on how the excluded might act in the face of their own oppression, rather than relying on the epistemic virtue of dominant knowers and institutions.


  • How Might Financial Aid form a part of the Negative Duty Not to Harm, in the Case of Global Poverty? Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (forthcoming, 2018).
  • The Curious Case of Ronald McDonald’s Claim to Rights: An Ontological Account of Differences in Group and Individual Person Rights. The Journal of Social Ontology (forthcoming).
  • Suggestions and Challenges for a Social Account of Sensitivity. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, vol. 5, no. 6 (2016), pp. 18-26.

Presented papers (* indicates 'by invitation')

“Epistemic Exclusion and Resistance under Austerity”

  • Department of Philosophy guest speaker. King’s College London (UK). November 2017.*

“Who is remedially responsible for the harms caused by the global community in the case of global poverty?”

  • MANCEPT Workshops 2017: Collective Agents and Global Structural Injustice (presented as workshop co-convener). University of Manchester (UK). September 2017.*

 “Testimonial injustice and epistemic exclusion”.

  • Summer School in Social Epistemology. Autonomous University of Madrid (Spain). August 2017.

“Epistemic objectification and testimonial injustice: A non-instrumentalist account”.

  • The 9th Congress of the European Society for Analytic Philosophy. LMU Munich (Germany). August 2017.

“How might compensation form a part of the negative duty not to harm, in the case of global poverty?”.

  • Postgraduate Session at The Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and Mind Association. University of Edinburgh (UK). July 2017.
  • The 20th Oxford Annual Graduate Philosophy Conference. University of Oxford (UK). November 2016.

“Alleviating global poverty: Why the easiest action is also one that is demanded of us”.

  • The Society for Applied Philosophy Annual Conference. Copenhagen (Denmark). June 2017.

“UK austerity measures and epistemic exclusion”.

  • UK Social and Political Inequalities Group: Reflections on 2016: The Politics of Marginalised Groups. University of Manchester (UK). June 2017.

“Povertyism, exclusion, and epistemic objectification”

  • The Vienna Forum for Analytic Philosophy. University of Vienna (Austria). May 2017.*
  • Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) UK: PhilChat 2017. The University of Manchester. April 2017.*

“Individual charitable giving and the negative duty not to harm”.

  • The Ethics of Giving Conference. University of St Andrews (UK). May 2017.

“Global poverty and individual duties”.

  • 5th Stockholm Philosophy Graduate Conference. Stockholm University (Sweden). April 2017.

“The curious case of Ronald McDonald’s rights as a person”.

  • The Stirling Philosophy Society. University of Stirling (UK). November 2016.*
  • The AHRC North West Consortium. University of Keele (UK). December 2016.*

“Performative personhood and shared group agency”.

  • I, You and We Phi: First Cork Annual Workshop on Social Agency. University College Cork (Ireland). October 2016.

 “An ontological account of group-agent / individual-agent differences in responsibilities and rights”.

  • Collective Intentionality X (ISOS). The World Forum, The Hague (Netherlands). August 2016.
  • MANCEPT Workshops 2016: Expanding the Horizon - Collective Moral Agency and Global Justice. University of Manchester (UK). September 2016.

“Suggestions and Challenges for a Social Account of Sensitivity”.

  • Graduate conference in Social Epistemology. University of Tartu (Estonia). March 2016.

Conferences/workshops organised

“Collective Agents and Global Structural Injustice”: A MANCEPT 2017 workshop. The University of Manchester. September 2017. Co-convener.

The University of Manchester conference series on “Personhood and Selfhood”: A Royal Institute of Philosophy conference series, additionally supported by the AHRC North West Doctoral Training Partnership. The University of Manchester. Forthcoming: January 2018 / April 2018 / August 2018. Co-convener.

“PhilChat 2018”: A MAP (Minorities and Philosophy) UK event for undergraduate students. The University of Manchester. Forthcoming: March 2018. Co-convener.

“Open Minds XIII”: A conference for postgraduate philosophy. The University of Manchester. Forthcoming: August 2018. Co-convener.

The Philosophy PhD seminar series. The University of Manchester. Held weekly during term-time. Co-convener 2016/17; convener 2017/18.


2017/18: Critical Thinking (first semester); Intro to Metaphysics and Epistemology (second semester).

External prizes/conference funding

First prize in the 2016 Essay Competition of the International Social Ontology Society (ISOS) for my paper: “The Curious Case of Ronald McDonald’s Rights as a Person: An Ontological Account of Differences in Group and Individual Person Rights”.

Royal Institute of Philosophy postgrad conference funding award for a series of conferences on aspects of Personhood and Selfhood. Co-prepared and submitted.

AHRC North West Doctoral Training Partnership funding award for the first event in a series of conferences on Personhood and Selfhood: “Social Personhood”. Prepared and submitted with Professor Sorin Baiasu (Keele University).

Other information

My work is generously funded by a doctoral studentship award from The University of Manchester.

Prior to my PhD, I read PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) at the University of Oxford, graduating in 2015, and studied the MLitt in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, awarded with Distinction in 2016.

Even more prior, I had a career as a programme director and strategy consultant, primarily working in banking and retail.

Alongside my research, I am an administrator for The Mind Association; editorial assistant at the journal Global Justice: Theory, Practice, Rhetoric; a Manchester Access Programme tutor; and a MAP (Minorities and Philosophy) UK mentor. I also regularly speak at schools, colleges and other access events on my research. Please feel free to contact me in respect of any of these roles.


To contact Leonie Smith, please use the following email: