Network theory showed up in a recent post here. The idea was really quite simple: if we want to make changes in the culture of philosophy to make it more hospitable to women philosophers, then network theory might be a good source of ideas. After all, academic philosophy is a network. It surely behooves us to think about networks.
In that regard, here is an interesting lecture that is about how power flows through a network, including how networks create social change. On watching it this afternoon, I was struck by some of the analysis that is presented. At the moment, though, I’m distracted by a more specific question. And that’s a question about new movements within philosophy.
Three come to mind. One is feminist philosophy, another experimental philosophy and still another philosophy about embodied minds. For those of us at the Hypatia conference, feminist philosophy seems now fully an area of philosophy. More recently, experimental philosophy is at least gaining stature. After what has seemed – to me at least and I’m pretty sure some others – a slow period, the embodied mind movement is quite quickly gaining more notice.
If we think of Anglo American philosophy as including most of philosophy pursued and published in English, then it seems fair to say that the network contains some very powerful clusters which are themselves interconnected. The lecture linked to above maintains that innovations come from the edges and move in toward the center. On the edges you may find people who are connected to powerful clusters, but they count as outsiders because they are very young, or at least were, e.g., graduate students when they started. (This is stunningly true of experimental philosophy, I think, though there have been some established figures, like Steve Stich.)
These three movements have varied in the speed and success with which their innovations have moved toward the center. Given the body of literature produced, which is very considerable, feminist philosophy looks comparatively stalled. It might be interesting to think about this phenomenon in terms of network theory. Why has it stalled and what can we do?
One thing stands out in terms of the lecture: The connections are missing or at least not exploited. Connections are essential to movement in a network; either there are not enough connections to the clusters of power or feminist philosphers are not using the connections – or, of course, some combination of these.
From this point of view, the most important thing may be to work to get women within the more powerful clusters, where that includes enhancing their opportunities to connect with members of those clusters. Here is where the male only invited speakers really does cost women, who end up time and again with few opportunities for recognition as “one of us,” in addition to not getting the sheer conversational contact. But we can also think ourselves of doing what we can to create conversational contact opportunities.
Another factor is the production of cultural products, again according to the lecture. Here the effort to draw up lists of women’s writings seems very important.
In any case, the best lesson from this might be: The best way to promote feminist philosophy may be to promote women.