Street Epistemology (SE) is a conversational technique that helps to talk to anyone about anything without arguing with them. Instead, a friendly interpersonal relationship can be ensured even when controversial statements are made. At the same time, the gift of doubt can playfully be seeded into the thoughts of your conversation partner.
In SE, a questioner asks an interlocutor about how that person arrived at one’s view. This means the focus of the questioning is the method of how you arrived at your conclusion. Thus, the focus is less on the interviewee’s opinion, but on how she got there. In this respect, the topic can include anything, such as favorite movies, political views, or individual belief in God.
The ultimate goal of SE is to reflect on the quality of the reasoning and the reliability of the argumentation methods. From this, the level of confidence in one’s deeply held beliefs can be independently deduced and, if necessary, reassessed.
The inventor of the method is Peter Boghossian. He is a philosophy professor and an activist from the skeptic and atheist scene in the US. The idea comes from his book
The Art of Mastering Difficult Conversations: Arguing Effectively, Defusing Heated Discussions, and Persuading Interlocutors.
SE can be practiced virtually anywhere, including face-to-face, video, audio, text chat, and social media, to name a few.
In general, it can be said that the method has been used by professing atheists in order to counter dogmatism and anti-intellectualism. Nevertheless, it can be stated that the method functions independently of the world view of the interlocutors and questioners.
The questioner is requested not to bring in his own world view, if possible, since this can lead to a biased attitude of the interviewee and thus to undesirable behavior. Moreover, the course of the interview cannot be foreseen in advance and thus cannot be controlled. Thus, one has no direct access to the opinion formation and reflection of the interviewee. The interviewee basically helps himself to assess the reliability and relevance of his own methods.
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