Epistemology (or, an Episteme)

The word epistemology is used in different contexts, with different shades of definition. Here, an epistemology is a system of making meaning and/or a system of making knowledge. We all know things, but we often don’t pay attention to the fact that we know them in particular ways because there are many possible paths to that knowing. The same thing can be understood differently or have different meanings to different people because those different understandings or meanings come from different epistemologies.

Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? If you find yourself making an argument that it must be one or the other, you’re doing it wrong. If you find yourself thinking, “well technically it’s a (fruit/vegetable) because…” you’re doing it wrong. By applying this understanding of epistemology, we can have better, more useful conversations about what a tomato is. Botanically, a tomato is a fruit* because it is part of the reproductive system of a plant. Culinarily, it’s a vegetable* because of how it is used in recipes. Through a botanical system of making knowledge, it’s a fruit. Through a culinary system of making knowledge, it’s a veggie. So it’s both, or either, depending on the context and the lens(es) being used to understand the tomato.

* Keep in mind, though, that these bits of knowledge are not necessarily universal. In some places, tomatoes are used in recipes like a fruit, for example.

More Core Concepts and Big Ideas
Analytical frameworks, critical frameworks, critical lenses, and so forth
Habitus—Norms, in Other Words