Social Dominance Theory & Biased Practices

It’s such fun to discover a theory!  Here’s today’s find:

Social Dominance Theory is about hierarchical status within social groups.  It describes a characteristic that many individuals within a structured social environment have.  If recent research is correct, it may provide a clue about how to mitigate bias in hiring.  Equally, it offers an explanation of an array of behaviors that can seem puzzling.

Social Dominance Theory describes social dominance orientation,  a widely spread trait in structured social groups, which characterizes those

who will support the mechanisms that produce and maintain {the] group-based social hierarchies [which they are in].

SDO is defined as “…the degree to which individuals desire and support group-based hierarchy and the domination of `inferior’ groups by `superior’ groups” …. Individuals who are high in SDO are motivated to support and adhere to the traditional societal hierarchy such that they express more negative responses toward members of low-status groups than high-status groups. Thus, no matter the basis of group formation (e.g., race, gender) those higher in SDO will tend to support the hierarchy evident among these groups. Consistent with this notion, measures of SDO have been shown to correlate highly with prejudice and negative reactions toward a variety of low-status groups…

The authors present data that supports the effectiveness of a particular mitigating measure:  If someone in authority tells a person high in SDO to hire a (very qualified) low status person, then they are more likely to do so.

If this research is on the right track, you can increase the chances of  hiring women and other minorities into your department by getting your dean to advocate such hiring, given your dean has authority with your department.

Does this just say that people higher up in a social hierarchy tend to work to support the hierarchy?  I think it goes beyond that.  It might offer an explanation of a lot of attitudes and tendencies to behavior that self-interest alone does not.  Of course, one might try to amplify an explanation in terms of self-interest with appeals to other things, so I can’t claim that SDT wins out. 

But here’s one thing it might explain:  The demeaning language that Leiter uses to describe specialities that he thinks are not main stream.  What’s going on with “pander,” “pet” and “mafia,” for example?  (See here and comment 8 on it.)  SDT would say:  He’s really keen on the philosophical hierarchy and is promoting it, not just describing it.

If this diagnosis is correct, then you’d expect to find other behaviors that can seem very puzzling in philosophers:  The persons high in SDO are awfully good at obeying those above them.  And one can expect them to adopt without much judgment the deliverances in assessments the hierarchy issues or embodies. 

Since the hierarchy is so often white male, the women who are high in SDO can seem to be even worse sell-outs, but that might not be quite what is going on.  Rather, they might well support women in a hierarchy, if there were such.

So if you have a hire coming up, see if you can get your dean to support diversity.  If not, try getting the provost to work on the dean.  Etc.

Science and the US Election

The distinguished science journal, Nature, asked Obama and McCain to answer 18 questions about science and science policy. Obama responded, McCain did not. You can see the answers here, along with what Nature could unearth of McCain’s views.

Just remember, if Palin ends up as president, things get pretty scary on this front too.  Stem cell research out, creationism in, and so on.

-Brian Leiter reveals vast knowledge of feminist philosophy


Comments on this post have led to a re-evaluation of our commenting policy.  Until that is completed, comments for this post are closed.


This review has now been completed, and because we’re sick to death of debates over the acceptability of comments on this particular post, we’ve unapproved all previous ones, even the mildest. Comments are now open again, but do observe our new policies.


 Brian Leiter writes :

Thom Brooks (Newcastle) compiles a list of the A*, A, and B journals from the [Australian Philosophical Association] exercise. The A* list isn’t bad, apart from some dubious inclusions (probably meant to pander to this-or-that interest group) like Hypatia, Political Theory, and Philosophy East and West. (The best work in feminist philosophy, for example, has surely appeared in many of the other A* journals, not in Hypatia, and important work in political philosophy–the kind that engages philosophers–rarely appears in Political Theory.)

Surely the best work in feminist philosophy is published in top mainstream journals all the time! Surely! Mere introspection reveals this. Sadly, however, very little feminist philosophy makes it into mainstream journals, as we’ve often discussed here. (Seeking confirmation? Check out Sally Haslanger’s paper.) Many feminist philosophers who work in multiple areas of the subject have reported that their feminist work (unlike their other work) is regularly refused without even going to a referee. And when it does go to a referee, the reports often fail to engage it at all, sometimes simply insisting that nobody could possibly care about such issues.

It’s fantastic that the Australian list is giving Hypatia the recognition it deserves. Now if we can just get others to stop dismissing it. (Thanks to Cynthia for the heads-up!)

Comments on this post have led to a re-evaluation of our commenting policy.  Until that is completed, comments for this post are closed.


Ask for equal pay!

 In the run up to Equal Pay Day on the 30th Oct, Fawcett Society have an open letter to John Hutton MP (in the UK), Sec state for business enterprise and regulatory reform. In it, there are recommendations for closing the 17% gender pay gap, such as regular checks to monitor for inequalities (which would presumably help address other inequalities too, such as those Jender writes of here).

You can sign the letter here!
More info on Fawcett’s campaign here.

McCain: Campaign over Country? Never!!

Well, hardly ever.

Let’s just hope the London Times has this wrong:

Inside John McCain’s campaign the expectation is growing that there will be a popularity boosting pre-election wedding in Alaska between Bristol Palin, 17, and Levi Johnston, 18, her schoolmate and father of her baby. “It would be fantastic,” said a McCain insider. “You would have every TV camera there. The entire country would be watching. It would shut down the race for a week.”

It's just all gotten to be too much!


Thanks to KW for the pic!

Palin and Planned Parenthood: Big Success!

H/T to Rogue Rebel Ridiculous for letting me know what a big success the Palin/Planned Parenthood Donation Campaign has been. According to the New York Times,

So far, the scheme seems to be getting a strong response. As of Friday, Planned Parenthood had taken in $802,678 in donations from 31,313 people, said a spokesman for the organization, Tait Sye. More than two-thirds of the individuals are first-time donors to Planned Parenthood, Mr. Sye said, and money came in from all 50 states.

So, congratulations to all of you who have helped make this such a success!

SGRP Pornography Symposium

Symposia in Gender, Race and Philosophy has a new symposium up, on Anne Eaton’s “A Sensible Anti-Porn Feminism”, and I urge you to check it out. (You have to register, but that’s easy.) Eaton’s paper is an exceptionally careful exploration of what a sensible anti-porn feminism should look like: how such a view should define ‘pornography’, what conception of causation it should use, what sorts of causal claims it should make/explore, what sorts of rigorous testing would be needed to actually establish these claims, and what sorts of remedies it should advocate (not necessarily legal ones). It’s well worth reading even for feminists who are not anti-pornography, partly because it provides a new and interesting foil, but mostly because it raises so many fascinating and important methodological points. (And, in fact, Eaton’s anti-pornography feminism might not be characterised as anti-pornography by everyone.) It’s followed by an excellent series of commentaries by Patrick Hopkins, Rae Langton, Ishani Maitra and Laurie Shrage; and a reply by Eaton with lots of great original material in it. Go check it out! (It’s the Spring (No.2) Symposium.

Sunday cat rescue II


by Herbert Hofer
by Herbert Hofer

From CNN, 9/25/08 (or 25/9/08): The cats finally prevail at the Hemingway museum on Key West. 

They are all descendants of Snowball, a cat with six toes Hemingway was given in 1935.  The US Department of Agriculture has been challenging the cats’ residency for years, and threatening fines of $200 a day per each of the 50 cats. 

Finally, about a year ago, Morawski [President and CEO of the museum] and a USDA deputy administrator agreed to hire an independent animal behaviorist to make recommendations. Dr. Terry Curtis, from the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a report that the cats appeared “well-cared for, healthy and content” and suggested the special fence that was installed.

“We’re excited we found a solution that protects the health and welfare of the cats while preserving the historical integrity of the Hemingway Home and Museum,” Morawski said. “That’s been our whole goal since we were notified by the USDA in 2003.”

The home is where the Nobel prize-winning author wrote "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "To Have and Have Not."
What's not to love?

 For the earlier cat rescue, see here.