Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Philosophy and Representation

I noticed today a call for papers for a forthcoming conference on the topic of "Under-Represented Groups in Philosophy", a conference supported by the Mind Association and the Aristotelian Society and organised by the British Philosophical Association in association with the Society for Women in Philosophy. Such a group of luminaries addressing a topic of such intrinsic interest is a matter of note. In the discussion of the rationale for the conference particular attention is paid to the way in which women are a minority within philosophy, something clearly true and which has been a topic of philosophical concern in recent years, particularly with the arrival of the area of "feminist philosophy". In addition the positions of ethnic and racial minorities are mentioned, those of disabled people and even those from working class backgrounds.

A notable omission from the list of "excluded" or "under-represented" groups is lesbian and gay people. On noticing this I contacted the conference organiser who sent out the CFP, Jules Holroyd, to ask her why it was the case and she replied she was unsure whether or not lesbian and gay people are "under-represented" in philosophy or how to discover this. In one sense Holroyd is right since one can see that it is intrinsically difficult to say how many people fall into the category of being lesbian or gay. It is, in senses not applicable to the other categories listed, a mutable notion. However, it is surely undeniable that not only the majority of philosophers behave and identify themselves consistently in ways that show them to be heterosexual. Since this is so and since those who do so relate to themselves are not clearly in a good position to address the way philosophical and academic structures relate to gay experience one would have thought there is a prima facie case to address here.

Putting the problem in terms of "under-representation" ensures that certain minorities are, as often, excluded. Stating this is not to attack the idea of the conference but it is to note the way that its way of being circumscribed has exclusionary implications of its own.


Anonymous said...

Slightly tangential point. You're not the first person to make this mistake (and no doubt won't be the last): Jules Holroyd is correctly referred to with the third personal pronoun 'she', rather than 'he'.

Gary Banham said...

Thanks for this point: will correct the posting immediately! One of those names (like Hilary and Robin) were gender is not apparent.