Women in Philosophy

ERI Building, Room G51
Arts and Law, Research
Wednesday 25th April 2012 (13:00-18:00)
Download the date to your calendar (.ics file)

The presentations at this workshop will explore the consequences of gender bias and stereotypes in academic philosophy. The abstracts of these presentations are below together with short biographical notes on the speakers. The workshop is open to all audiences, and there is no attendance fee (refreshments will be free, but drinks and dinner will not be included).

13.00-14.30: Dr Fiona Jenkins (Australian National University) 
Singing the Post-Discrimination Blues: Notes for a Critique of Academic Meritocracy

14.45-16.15: Professor Jennifer Saul (University of Sheffield)
Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Women in Philosophy

16.30-18.00: Professor Helen Beebee (University of Birmingham)
Women and Deviance in Philosophy


Abstracts and biographical details

Fiona Jenkins: Singing the Post-Discrimination Blues: Notes for a Critique of Academic Meritocracy
There is for me an element of laughable exaggeration in the claims often made for the meritocratic purity of existing arrangements.’ (Duncan Kennedy)
In this paper I discuss how meritocratic selection for academic positions leads to a situation in which promoting disciplinary excellence and promoting equity goals come to seem disjunct, often competing agendas. This leads me to question the construction of ‘excellence’ as well as the integrity of meritocratic selection. Even as it seems the assessment of the ‘best’ work and ‘best’ people should be an important avenue for overturning established hierarchies, placing too much faith in meritocratic mechanisms can paradoxically be an obstacle to women seeking change.

This is one aspect of the ‘gendered academy’ which suggests that changing the gender profile of philosophy will require a broad intervention into the ways and means by which ‘excellence’ is established for institutions and disciplines. However in philosophy, as in the STEM disciplines, the disjunction of excellence and equity is further supported by the view that the pursuit of objective truth is indifferent to the social identities of truth-seekers. What does this lofty claim mean within an institutional frame where certain research projects and certain individuals will be supported, while others will not? How does a discipline, or an individual working within it, benefit from being able to present qualities that are readily recognized and assessed as being valuable, or of solid and convincing merit? And can these qualities themselves be gendered?

Fiona Jenkins is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Philosophy, RSSS, Australian National University. She has been working on a project on ‘Women in Philosophy’ since 2009, and has co-edited a book with Katrina Hutchison, Women in Philosophy: What needs to change? (m/s under consideration with OUP). She also has a comparative project “Gender and Feminism in the Social Sciences”, currently funded by RSSS, looking at different disciplinary trajectories in Philosophy, History, Sociology and Political Science, to examine the relationship between an improved gender profile and mainstreaming feminist and gender scholarship. Her wider research also includes a project on the significance of Judith Butler’s notion of “ungrievable life”, looking at equality and discrimination in a global context. She has a co-edited book, Allegiance and Identity in a Global World forthcoming with CUP in 2012. Her recent publications have appeared in journals including Angelaki, differences, Australian Feminist Law Journal, Australian Journal of Human Rights. 

Jennifer Saul: Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Women in Philosophy
There is by now a well-established body of research in psychology showing that human beings are strongly influenced by a range of unconscious biases and dispositions related to categories like race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, etc. So far, there has been little to no empirical work on whether philosophers are influenced by theses biases. But given that philosophers are human beings, it seems very likely that they are. My goal in this paper is to explore the effects these biases may be having in philosophy with respect to women, and to propose and explore some remedies philosophers could implement.

Professor Saul is Head of the Philosophy Department at Sheffield. Her primary interests are in Philosophy of Language and in Feminism. She is currently completing a book entitled Lying, Misleading and What is Said: An Exploration in Philosophy of Language and in Ethics (forthcoming, Oxford University Press). This argues that considering the distinction between lying and misleading-- which seems to many an ethically significant one-- can help to shed new light on methodological disputes in philosophy of language over notions like what is said, semantic content, assertion, impliciture, and expliciture. Professor Saul is also the Director of the new Leverhulme-funded Implicit Bias and Philosophy Project. With Helen Beebee, she recently published a report for the British Philosophical Association and SWIP UK entitled "Women in Philosophy in the UK: A Report". This report presents the first ever study of the gender imbalance in UK philosophy, and provides a list of recommendations to combat it. In addition, she is Co-Editor for Feminism entries for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and on the Editorial Board for Symposia in Gender, Race, and Philosophy. She is Director of the Society for Women in Philosophy UK, and she is on the Analysis Committee. 

Helen Beebee: Women and Deviance in Philosophy
Psychological research shows that members of social groups that are regarded as atypical also tend to be judged to be the ones who need to change in order to realise certain ends. Women are certainly regarded as atypical when it comes to academic philosophy. My paper explores two areas within philosophy where the dominance of male stereotypes or opinions may be in danger of leading to the view that the onus to change is on women specifically. These are the often aggressive and controntational attitude of the philosophy seminar room and the way in which 'atypical' responses to thought experiments are dealt with in the philosophy classroom.

Professor Beebee has been a Professor at the University of Birmingham since 2005. Her research encompasses a range of related topics in metaphysics, epistemology and the history of philosophy, and mostly engages with issues relating to ‘Humeanism’. She has worked recently on freedom of the will (defending compatibilism), causation and laws of nature, natural kinds, the problem of induction (in connection with a Humean account of laws), and Hume himself (in particular, developing a ‘projectivist’ interpretation of his work on causation). Professor Beebee is currently Head of the School of Philosophy, Theology & Religion. She is also a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Advisory Board, and an honorary professor at the Centre for Time, University of Sydney. Professor Beebee was Director of the British Philosophical Association from 2007-11, and sits on the joint BPA/SWiP Committee for Women in Philosophy.