Social Philosophy Seminar

ATD Fourth World Social Philosophy Seminar

Above: “Poverty, Social Criticism and Merging Knowledge” co-researchers

On December 9-10, 2022 more than two hundred people attended ATD Fourth World’s Social Philosophy Seminar at Paris Cité University.

Three years of collaboration

After more than three years of collaboration, co-researchers of the “Poverty, Social Criticism and Merging Knowledge” project proudly and passionately presented their body of work. The co-researchers, eight ATD Fourth World activists, eight academic philosophers and twelve ATD allies and Volunteer Corps members focused on three key aspects: rights, resistance, and epistemic injustice.

“We managed to talk to each other, to understand each other. We sometimes challenged each other, but we created a real bond. Not everyone has the same level of education and not everyone has an experience of extreme poverty, but we all have something to learn from each other.”

Angélique Jeanne, ATD activist.

“This project was “a very significant step,” said ATD Director General Bruno Dabout. “It demonstrated that some of our intellectual efforts connect strongly with other currents of thought. This means that it is possible to create new knowledge without reproducing the domination that underlies certain academic traditions. This is the basis for breaking the cycle of poverty,” he continued.

Mutual understanding

The originality of the project impacted the academic philosophers. “In this collaborative research,” said philosopher Guillaume Le Blanc.

“Our teammates were people that others often dismiss as not knowing much or having only practical know-how. The foundation of our thought experiment was disputing the barrier between theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge.”

To achieve this result, the co-researchers needed to overcome a number of fears. They feared that other co-researchers would judge them or not understand them properly. Many were also afraid that some would not understand their “jargon” or might take their statements out of context….. From the beginning of the project in 2019, the co-researchers made a point of coming together not only for meetings, but also to share meals and times of relaxation together.

“These moments of conviviality helped build camaraderie among us all and made it possible to create mutual understanding without hiding our differences.”

Fred Poché, philosopher.

Social philosophy makes it possible to question society and critically examine its problems.

“One of the challenges of this research was to show that people who have been excluded from society because of poverty, have a wealth of knowledge about the root causes of injustice.”

David Jousset, philosopher and seminar leader.

A decisive contribution

Eventually, the project co-researchers would like their work to be published; even now, however, they see that their writings are already making an impact by upsetting some common assumptions. One speaker at the seminar was Claire Hédon, who holds the French government post of Defender of Rights. She told the co-researchers:

“Your work is truly necessary and indispensable. It gives us food for thought about ways that certain laws can backfire against people and pushes us to look further to see how rights can actually protect people in poverty.”

Claire Hédon

Another seminar speaker was Régis Brillat, the Executive Secretary of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe. Hearing how certain turns of phrase can reinforce the stigma against people in poverty, he was struck by the importance of choosing the “right words”. He stated, “Your input can be absolutely decisive in preventing the wording of a judgement—even one that stands up to legal scrutiny—from being hurtful or offensive.”

“The seminar was also a ‘personal transformation’ for some researchers,” explained David Jousset.

“I have changed the way I think and write, knowing that my intellectual rantings can become a weapon for some, and for others a means of breaking down the barriers of exclusion.”

David Jousset

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