Whose Knowledge is it Anyway? Epistemic Injustice and the Supervisor/Supervisee Relationship





research supervision, supervisor/supervisee relationship, epistemic injustice, hierarchies


Higher education often acts as a bridge to society, preparing people for future social, political, and economic roles. For many academics, social justice and social inclusion are areas of research interest and teaching expertise. As such, institutions of higher education are well placed to foster reflection on social justice, through research and teaching, and thereby impact the wider society as students take up their roles within it. Yet, higher education itself should be subject to critique from a social justice point of view. Our aim in this article is to provide one such critique. We will focus on PhD research supervision, and in particular the supervisor/supervisee relationship. We will argue that the hierarchical nature of supervision can give rise to injustice. We will use the concepts of epistemic injustice and epistemic power as explanatory tools to clarify what is at issue within dysfunctional supervisor/supervisee relationships. Throughout, we will make use of the mythological story, "The Salmon of Knowledge," to unpack the hierarchies involved in knowledge acquisition/creation. Finally, we will conclude by noting the space within the scholarship of teaching and learning wherein critique of the structures within higher education from a social justice point of view occur, and where there exist potential gaps in this scholarship.

Read the corresponding ISSOTL blog post here.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biographies

Katy Dineen, University College Cork

Katy Dineen is lecturer in teaching and learning enhancement in the Centre for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) and assistant lecturer in philosophy at University College Cork (ROI). Her work focuses on the inclusion of women and children in society, politics, and education.

Sarah Thelen, University College Cork

Sarah Thelen is lecturer in teaching and learning enhancement (digital education) in CIRTL. Her research explores questions of identity and belonging as well as how the organisation of information intersects with cultural and political systems.

Anna Santucci, University College Cork

Anna Santucci is senior lecturer in teaching and learning enhancement in CIRTL. Her work focuses on critically inclusive pedagogies informed by applied theatre, performance activism, language education, and intercultural teaching and learning.


Archer, Alfred, Amanda Cawston, Benjamin Matheson, and Machteld Geuskens. 2019. “Celebrity, Democracy, and Epistemic Power.” Perspectives on Politics 18 (1): 27–42. https://doi.org//10.1017/S1537592719002615. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537592719002615

Astuto, Terry A., David L. Clark, and Anne-Marie Read. 1994. Roots of Reform: Challenging the Assumptions that Control Change in Education. Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa Foundation.

Barnes, Benita J., Elizabeth A. Williams, and Shuli Arieh Archer. 2010. “Characteristics That Matter Most: Doctoral Students’ Perceptions of Positive and Negative Advisor Attributes.” NACADA Journal 30 (1): 34–46. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-30.1.34. DOI: https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-30.1.34

Behari-Leak, Kasturi. 2020. “Toward a Borderless, Decolonized, Socially Just, and Inclusive Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.” Teaching & Learning Inquiry 8 (1): 4–23. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.8.1.2. DOI: https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.8.1.2

Blackmore, Jill. 2020. “The Carelessness of Entrepreneurial Universities in a World Risk Society: A Feminist Reflection on the Impact of Covid-19 in Australia.” Higher Education Research and Development 39 (7): 1332–36. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2020.1825348

Booth, Shirley, and Lorenzo. C. Woollacott. 2018. “On the Constitution of SoTL: Its Domains and Contexts.” Higher Education 75 (3), 537–51. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26449093. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-017-0156-7

Castelló, Montserrat, Marta Pardo, Anna Sala-Bubaré, and Núria Suñe-Soler. 2017. “Why Do Students Consider Dropping Out of Doctoral Degrees? Institutional and Personal Factors.” Higher Education 74 (6): 1053–68. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-016-0106-9. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-016-0106-9

Chelsea (forum username). 2012. “PhD Postgraduate Forum - HELP ME PLEASE Supervisor a Nightmare.” www.FindAPhD.com. October 27, 2012. Last accessed 15 June 2022. https://www.findaphd.com/advice/phd-discussion-thread.aspx?thread=23445.

Cohen, Aaron, and Yehuda Baruch. 2022. “Abuse and Exploitation of Doctoral Students: A Conceptual Model for Traversing a Long and Winding Road to Academia.” Journal of Business Ethics 180 (2): 505–22. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-021-04905-1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-021-04905-1

Filipovic, Jill. 2014. “We’ve Gone Too Far with ‘Trigger Warnings.’” The Guardian, March 5, 2014, sec. Opinion. Last accessed 13 June 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/05/trigger-warnings-can-be-counterproductive.

Flynn, Deirdre. 2020. “On Being Precarious.” Irish University Review 50 (1): 51–54. https://doi.org/10.3366/iur.2020.0433. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3366/iur.2020.0433

Fricker, Miranda. 2006. “Powerlessness and Social Interpretation.” Episteme: A Journal of Social Epistemology 3 (1): 96–108. Project MUSE, https://doi.org/10.1353/epi.0.0004. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/epi.0.0004

Fricker, Miranda. 2009. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Geuskens, Machteld. 2018. “Epistemic Justice: A Principled Approach to Knowledge Generation and Distribution.” PhD diss., Tilburg University. https://research.tilburguniversity.edu/en/publications/epistemic-justice-a-principled-approach-to-knowledge-generation-a.

Gilpin, Lorraine, and Delores Liston. 2009. “Transformative Education in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: An Analysis of SoTL Literature.” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 3 (2), Article 11. https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2009.030211. DOI: https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2009.030211

González-Ocampo, Gabriela, and Montserrat Castelló. 2019. “How Do Doctoral Students Experience Supervision?” Studies in Continuing Education 41 (3): 293–307. https://doi.org/10.1080/0158037X.2018.1520208. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0158037X.2018.1520208

Halse, Christine, and Janne Malfroy. 2010. “Retheorizing Doctoral Supervision as Professional Work.” Studies in Higher Education 35 (1): 79–92. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070902906798. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070902906798

Harkavy, Ira. 2006. “The Role of Universities in Advancing Citizenship and Social Justice in the 21st Century.” Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 1 (1): 5–37. https://doi.org/10.1177/1746197906060711. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1746197906060711

Hazell, Cassie M., Laura Chapman, Sophie F. Valeix, Paul Roberts, Jeremy E. Niven, and Clio Berry. 2020. “Understanding the Mental Health of Doctoral Researchers: A Mixed Methods Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis and Meta-Synthesis.” Systematic Reviews 9 (1): 197. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-020-01443-1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-020-01443-1

Hemer, Susan R. 2012. “Informality, Power and Relationships in Postgraduate Supervision: Supervising PhD Candidates over Coffee.” Higher Education Research & Development 31 (6): 827–39. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2012.674011. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2012.674011

Highsmith, Patricia. 1992. The Talented Mr. Ripley. New York: Vintage Books.

Hill, Joanne, Rod Philpot, Jennifer L. Walton-Fisette, Sue Sutherland, Michelle Flemons, Alan Ovens, Sharon Phillips, and Sara B. Flory. 2018. “Conceptualising Social Justice and Sociocultural Issues Within Physical Education Teacher Education: International Perspectives.” Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy 23 (5): 469–83. https://doi.org/10.1080/17408989.2018.1470613. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17408989.2018.1470613

Huber, Mary Taylor, and Pat Hutchings. 2005. “Surveying the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.” In The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons, by Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Huber, Mary Taylor, and Sherwyn P. Morreale. 2002. “Situating the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A Cross-Disciplinary Conversation.” In Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Exploring Common Ground, by Mary Taylor Huber and Sherwyn P. Morreale. New York: Routledge.

Hutchings, Pat, and Lee S. Shulman. 1999. “The Scholarship of Teaching: New Elaborations, New Developments.” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 31 (5): 10–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/00091389909604218. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00091389909604218

Hutchings, Pat. 2002. “Ethics of Inquiry: Issues in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.” Carnegie Publications. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Jacob, Romain, Irena Kuzmanovska, and Nina Ripin. 2018. “AVETH Survey on Supervision of Doctoral Students.” Report. ETH Zurich. https://doi.org/10.3929/ethz-b-000262661.

Jones, James W., Lawrence B. McCullough, and Bruce W. Richman. 2005. “The Ethics of Bylines: Would the Real Authors Please Stand Up?” Journal of Vascular Surgery 42 (4): 816–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvs.2005.06.026. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvs.2005.06.026

Jones, Michael. 2013. “Issues in Doctoral Studies - Forty Years of Journal Discussion: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?” International Journal of Doctoral Studies 8: 83–104. DOI: https://doi.org/10.28945/1871

Kotzee, Ben. 2017. “Education and Epistemic Injustice.” In The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice. New York: Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315212043-32

Kreber, Carolin. 2013. “Empowering the Scholarship of Teaching: An Arendtian and Critical Perspective.” Studies in Higher Education 38 (6): 857–69. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2011.602396. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2011.602396

Kusch, Martin. 2009. “Review: Miranda Fricker: Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing.” Mind 118 (469): 170–74. https://doi.org/10.1093/mind/fzp020. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/mind/fzp020

Lasser, Jana, Lindsey Bultema, Anja Jahn, Michaela Löffler, Vera Minneker, and Cornelia van Scherpenberg. 2021. “Power Abuse and Anonymous Accusations in Academia – Perspectives from Early Career Researchers and Recommendations for Improvement.” Persönliche Beziehungen Und Hochschulgovernance 42 (1–2): 48–61.

Law, Ian, Deborah Phillips, and Laura Turney. 2004. Institutional Racism in Higher Education. Stoke on Trent, UK: Trentham Books.

Leibowitz, Brenda, and Vivienne Bozalek. 2016. “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning from a Social Justice Perspective.” Teaching in Higher Education 21 (2): 109–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2015.1115971. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2015.1115971

Liston, Delores D., and Regina Rahimi (eds). 2017. Promoting Social Justice Through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning - Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Indiana: Indiana University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt2005zc2

Löfström, Erika, and Kirsi Pyhältö. 2012. “The Supervisory Relationship as an Arena for Ethical Problem Solving.” Education Research International 2012 (January). https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/961505. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/961505

Löfström, Erika, and Kirsi Pyhältö. 2014. “Ethical Issues in Doctoral Supervision: The Perspectives of PhD Students in the Natural and Behavioral Sciences.” Ethics and Behavior 24 (3): 195–214. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10508422.2013.830574

Löfström, Erika, and Kirsi Pyhältö. 2020. “What Are Ethics in Doctoral Supervision, and How Do They Matter? Doctoral Students’ Perspective.” Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 64 (4): 535–50. https://doi.org/10.1080/00313831.2019.1595711. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00313831.2019.1595711

Luckett, Kathy, and Suellen Shay. 2020. “Reframing the Curriculum: A Transformative Approach.” Critical Studies in Education 61 (1): 50–65. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2017.1356341. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2017.1356341

Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. 2019. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure. New York City: Penguin Books.

MacKillop, James. 2004. “A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology.” In A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Manathunga, Catherine. 2007. “Supervision as Mentoring: The Role of Power and Boundary Crossing.” Studies in Continuing Education 29 (2): 207–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/01580370701424650. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01580370701424650

Martie_28 (forum username). 2010. “PhD Postgraduate Forum - Supervisor Won’t Let Me Finish!!” www.FindAPhD.Com. July 20, 2010. Last accessed 15 June 2022. https://www.findaphd.com/advice/phd-discussion-thread.aspx?thread=15510.

Mawritz, Mary Bardes, David M. Mayer, Jenny M. Hoobler, Sandy J. Wayne, and Sophia V. Marinova. 2012. “A Trickle-down Model of Abusive Supervision.” Personnel Psychology 65 (2): 325–57. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2012.01246.x. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2012.01246.x

McAlpine, Lynn, and Cheryl Amundsen. 2012. “Challenging the Taken-for-Granted: How Research Analysis Might Inform Pedagogical Practices and Institutional Policies Related to Doctoral Education.” Studies in Higher Education 37 (6): 683–94. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2010.537747. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2010.537747

McCarthy, Marian. 2002. “Where Finbarr Taught, Let Munster Learn.” In Advancing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Through a Reflective Portfolio Process, edited by Nona Lyons, Áine Hyland, and Norma Ryan. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press.

McCusker, Darcy. 2019. “What Is the Harm in Gendered Citation Practices?” Philosophy of Science 86 (5): 1041–51. https://doi.org/10.1086/705495. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/705495

Milly_Cat (forum username). 2011. “PhD Postgraduate Forum - Scared of Being Used for Cheap Labour.” www.FindAPhD.com. May 20, 2011. Last accessed 15 June 2022. https://www.findaphd.com/advice/phd-discussion-thread.aspx?thread=18317&order=2.

Moje, Elizabeth Birr. 2007. “Chapter 1 Developing Socially Just Subject-Matter Instruction: A Review of the Literature on Disciplinary Literacy Teaching.” Review of Research in Education 31 (1): 1–44. https://doi.org/10.3102/0091732X07300046001. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3102/0091732X07300046001

Moss, Sherry E., and Morteza Mahmoudi. 2021. “STEM the Bullying: An Empirical Investigation of Abusive Supervision in Academic Science.” EClinicalMedicine 40 (October): 101121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.101121. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.101121

Okoro, Chioma, Oluwatobi Mary Owojori, and Nnedinma Umeokafor. 2022. “The Developmental Trajectory of a Decade of Research on Mental Health and Well-Being amongst Graduate Students: A Bibliometric Analysis.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 19 (9): 4929. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19094929. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19094929

Piccirillo, Rachel. 2019. “The Sexual Assault Epidemic in Education: A Comparative Look at the United States and Australia.” Suffolk Transnational Law Review 42: 201–248.

Powell, Kendall. 2021. “Academia’s Ableist Mindset Needs to Change.” Nature 598 (7882): 693–95. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02907-7. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02907-7

Reisig, Michael D., Kristy Holtfreter, and Marcus E. Berzofsky. 2020. “Assessing the Perceived Prevalence of Research Fraud among Faculty at Research-Intensive Universities in the USA.” Accountability in Research 27 (7): 457–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/08989621.2020.1772060. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/08989621.2020.1772060

Rowan, Leonie. 2019. Higher Education and Social Justice: The Transformative Potential of University Teaching and the Power of Educational Paradox. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-05246-1

Satinsky, Emily N., Tomoki Kimura, Mathew V. Kiang, Rediet Abebe, Scott Cunningham, Hedwig Lee, Xiaofei Lin, et al. 2021. “Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidal Ideation among Ph.D. Students.” Scientific Reports 11 (1): 14370. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-93687-7. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-93687-7

Shulman, Lee. 2002. “Forward.” In Ethics of Inquiry: Issues in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, edited by Pat Hutchings. Menlo Park, CA.: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Skewes, Lea, Joshua C. Skewes, and Michelle K. Ryan. 2019. “Attitudes to Sexism and Gender Equity at a Danish University.” Kvinder, Køn & Forskning, no. 1–2 (July): 71–85. https://doi.org/10.7146/kkf.v28i1-2.116118. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7146/kkf.v28i1-2.116118

u/stressednhappy (forum username). 2013. “My Advisor Is Trying to Steal My Work.” Reddit Post. R/AskAcademia. October 6, 2013. Last accessed 15 June 2022. www.reddit.com/r/AskAcademia/comments/1nu922/my_advisor_is_trying_to_steal_my_work/.

user1231233278 (forum username). 2019. “Is Gift Authorship for PhD Advisors Rampant in Academia?” Message posted to academia forum. Last accessed 15 June 2022. https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/133715/is-gift-authorship-for-phd-advisors-rampant-in-academia.

Vähämäki, Maija, Essi Saru, and Lauri-Matti Palmunen. 2021. “Doctoral Supervision as an Academic Practice and Leader–Member Relationship: A Critical Approach to Relationship Dynamics.” The International Journal of Management Education 19 (3): 100510. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijme.2021.100510. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijme.2021.100510

van Rooij, Els, Marjon Fokkens-Bruinsma, and E. Jansen. 2021. “Factors That Influence PhD Candidates’ Success: The Importance of PhD Project Characteristics.” Studies in Continuing Education 43 (1): 48–67. https://doi.org/10.1080/0158037X.2019.1652158. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0158037X.2019.1652158

van de Werfhorst, Herman G. 2020. “Are Universities Left-Wing Bastions? The Political Orientation of Professors, Professionals, and Managers in Europe.” British Journal of Sociology 71: 47–73. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12716. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12716

Williams, Simon. 2019. Postgraduate Research Experience Survey 2019. York: Advance HE. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/postgraduate-research-experience-survey-2019.

Woolston, Chris. 2019. “PhDs: The Tortuous Truth.” Nature 575. 403–406. https:/doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-03459-7. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-03459-7

An illustration of a salmon rising out of the open pages of a book.




How to Cite

Dineen, Katy, Sarah Thelen, and Anna Santucci. 2024. “Whose Knowledge Is It Anyway? Epistemic Injustice and the Supervisor/Supervisee Relationship”. Teaching and Learning Inquiry 12 (January):1–13. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.12.3.