Round up the usual suspects



Let me open with a caveat. What I’m about to say is entirely my opinion (I don’t speak for the other bloggers here) and it’s based on my general impressions (I don’t have any data). Given that caveat, here goes. The goal of the Gendered Conference Campaign has been both to (i) increase awareness of gendered conferences and their bad effects; (ii) to promote the work of women in philosophy. And while the GCC has arguably been a success on the former front, I worry we’ve stalled a little on the latter. We’ve gotten the message out that it’s important to have women at conferences. But which women?

My impression is that there is a small pool of women who, as a consequence of the growing awareness that it’s important to have women represented at conferences, now get inundated with invitations. (And lest this post start to sound like sour grapes*, I should say that I take myself to be one of these women.)These women have a lot in common. They are mostly white women with good, stable jobs at nice universities. They are mostly professionally well-established and financially well-off. And so on.

Now let me be clear: I’m not saying these women don’t deserve to be invited to things! They absolutely do. Many of them will tell you, though, that they probably receive more invitations than they should. Meanwhile, what is happening to the other women – the women of color, the women with less fancy jobs, the women doing great work on topics less palatable to ‘mainstream’ philosophy? And what is happening to people, regardless of gender, from other underrepresented groups?

My hunch is that the current state of affairs arises from taking the standard model of conference organizing – “Let’s think of some cool people for our conference off the top of our head!” – and adding a gendered component. Wait – we need some women at the conference too! Round up the usual suspects.

The GCC, of course, was never meant to be something that by itself created diverse conferences. (No one involved in the GCC thinks that once there’s at least one women at every philosophy conference we can all go home because feminism is finished.) It’s the start of a conversation – a conversation that needs to keep evolving.

Given all the evidence of the severe underrepresentation of, for example, people of color in philosophy (and the fact that just organizing a diverse speaker line up doesn’t mean your conference will actually be a welcoming, inclusive place), perhaps now is a good time to begin thinking about how that conversation might evolve. There’s been talk of parallel campaigns to the GCC, but I worry some that dividing into multiple separate campaigns might not ultimately be sustainable (and some individual campaigns might be too small to sustain attention). Perhaps instead we could utilize the UP Directory to make more conscious, reflective choices about conference invitations. I don’t really know. I don’t have answers. This post is just a request for discussion and reflection.


*Hi, pedants! Yes, I know this isn’t what ‘sour grapes’ originally meant, is supposed to mean, etc. Based on Aesop’s fable, ‘sour grapes’ is supposed to refer to cases in which you convince yourself you don’t want something you can’t have. But you should make sure to point this out to me in the comments anyway.

8 thoughts on “Round up the usual suspects

  1. Yes! Please everyone use the UPDirectory — totally searchable and the best resource we’ve got right now to learn about URMs out there and what they work on. Check out too the What Is It Like to be a Person of Color in Philosophy blog.

  2. Related to Carolyn’s suggestion is to look up a few of your “usual suspect” articles and books on Philpapers and then to look down at the automatically-generated “Similar books and articles” list and see if any plausible people pop up that you might not have thought of or might not be aware of. You can click on their article/book and then on their name to see what else they’ve published on the topic.

  3. I’d like to second (third?) Carolyn’s suggestion in comment 2. One thing I like about this proposal (a variation of which my institution recently used with some success) is that it is a way to find women to invite *on the basis of their published work*. And I am, in general, in favor of mechanisms that dole out professional goods on the basis of published work instead of, e.g., networking, pedigree, or institutional affiliation.

  4. I’m slightly surprised not to see, in the rationale for the GCC, (iii) changing the general image of the discipline or its subdisciplines. Writers at FP have made this point before so I assume it’s a harmless omission, but the point is worth dwelling on nonetheless.

    To take the concrete example I know: philosophy of physics is a small field; that part of philosophy of physics that’s concerned with the conceptual implications of contemporary physical theories is even smaller. And as you’d expect from a subject at the intersection of two male-dominated fields, it’s extremely male-dominated. (I’m familiar with the work of pretty much everyone in the UPDirectory in this field above PhD level; I know most of them personally.) I think the GCC has probably increased talks given by women in philosophy of physics and the women in philosophy of physics are generally *very* good so that’s been a good thing in itself, but in addition, I think it’s really helpful in terms of the image of the discipline as perceived by graduate and undergraduate students, junior people looking to see what’s going on in this niche, and so on.

  5. Oh, I absolutely agree, David! I was sloppily lumping this under the ‘and their bad effects’ bit of (i) – i.e., one of the bad effects of gendered conferences is that they create a misleading and possibly alienating picture of the relevant discipline. But you’re probably right that it deserves a little number-in-parentheses all its own.

  6. Great post. I’d just like to add that those of us that get more than our fair share of invitations because of the lines of privilege you have mentioned ALSO get more than our fair share of ‘invitations’ to do all sorts of committee work at the department, university, national, and international level. It is flattering but totally overwhelming, and less flattering once one keeps in mind all the social determinants of the phenomenon.

  7. As someone who has put together a number of APA panels (for the committee on law and philosophy), but not conferences or bigger things, I can say that something that has helped me a lot is when a “big name” person who is too busy suggests some other, perhaps less well connected, people to contact. (I’ve also found it useful in getting people to take part to say “such and such big name person suggested that I contact you to take part in this”)

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