Jill Fellows, instructor with the UBC Arts One program, delivers an STS colloquium talk titled “Parrhesia, Pluralism and Polar Bears” on Thursday, February 13, 4:00-5:30 pm in Buchanan Tower 1197.
In this paper I will examine how trust-building might be possible if ontological pluralism is considered as a conceptual possibility. My tentative theory, is that in cases where trust cannot be built upon shared beliefs, it still may be built on a foundation of ‘good will’. I examine this with reference to the conservation of the polar bears in the Canadian Arctic. In addition to social, economic and political issues that make trust-building between scientists and Nunavut Inuit communities so difficult, there are also epistemic and ontological differences between these two groups. I argue that if both sides can trust that the other side is speaking with integrity and sharing what they genuinely believe to be the case, then a compromise may be reached even in cases of ontological pluralism (as indeed it was in 2005). But how does one know when another group speaks with integrity, or bears one a good will? Here, I think Michel Foucault’s work on parrhesia illuminates the issue. Parrhesia, translated as ‘fearless speech,’ is the mode of speaking where someone tells their own truths to others. This fearless speech is risky. For Foucault, the willingness to take this risk signals to others that one is trustworthy. Thus, Foucault’s work on parrhesia, suggests a possible way in which trust can be built where there is little epistemic or ontological common ground. Trust may be build on a foundation of shared vulnerability, rather than shared beliefs.