Institutional epistemology aims to understand the formal and informal institutions of social knowledge production. The approach combines the perspectives of philosophy of science, social ontology and political philosophy, and takes into account the empirical and theoretical resources of the social, behavioural and cognitive sciences. Hence, an institutional epistemology approach investigates questions such as what kind of incentive structures enable the efficient, reliable and fair pursuit of knowledge? Institutional epistemology also looks at the epistemic powers of institutions (Anderson 2006). How can the epistemic performance of knowledge institutions such as universities, think tanks and media organisations be improved by careful design? What unintended consequences arise or are likely to arise from different institutional arrangements? In addition to studying the effects of institutional arrangements to the epistemic state of individuals, institutional epistemology also studies the possibility of institutionally organized collective epistemic agents.
Knowledge production and cultivation does not take place in an institutional vacuum. In order to understand the collective epistemic dynamics of knowledge institutions, we must uncover the social mechanisms underlying such dynamics. In contrast to traditional individual-centric epistemology, institutional epistemology studies epistemic rationality in real-world contexts rather than analysing concepts of knowledge and justification in the abstract. Institutional epistemology focuses on concrete social mechanisms and processes, as well as on the unintended consequences of action and arrangements (cf. Goldman & McGrath 2015). Some recent examples of the kinds of phenomena that institutional epistemology can help to shed a light on include the public’s growing distrust toward the scientific community, manufacturing doubt to discredit science, post-truth politics, and epistemic bubbles.