Preamble: Below you see a hypothesis presented. I don’t think “hypothesis” carries with it any suggestion of truth or really even plausibility. If a question has been bothering you, sometimes it is a help to form hypotheses as possible answers. It may be that what occurs to one in such a process is something that’s been worked over below consciousness and is on an interesting – or even right – track. But also maybe not. The thought that maybe the missing butter is in the bathroom might be right, or it might be the product of an association based on the first letter of each word.
Nothing below should be read as asserting the hypothesis I describe. This is purely trying something out. What I am most interested in now is what others think.
The question: Why isn’t philosophy making a lot more progress on diversity? Quite often someone announces a fact about the discipline’s failure in diversity. Many of us think, “Something must be done,” but the statistics don’t change much. Why not?
The hypothesis: Diversity is just too hard, or at least harder than most participants in the field realize.
Some evidence: I started to take thinking about the hypothesis to be more promising when I read some of John Dovidio’s latest work.** (He’s psychology, Yale.)
Suppose we have two groups: Group A, socially the higher status group, and B, the lower status group. It may seem that all we need is to get them together into one group with which each can identify. Then we will have shared knowledge, goals and even friendships. We will even break down some of the regularities that have give rise to implicit biases. As Joe Biden so memorably stated, he came to see Barak Obama as, among other great things, “clean”.
So what’s wrong with this picture? Here I’m going to summarize and probably simplify Dovidio’s work: We cam think of the resulting group as a melting pot or more as an interdisciplinary cluster. If we suppose that in, e.g., hiring, inviting speakers and refereeing, we want a melting pot, then there are going to be big problems. The problems come from the fact that members of the dominant group have a very vested interest in continuing in their dominant ways, and they tend not to be interested in changing and absorbing the others’ ways of doing things. In effect, the subordination and isolation from power of the subordinate group will continue. As it will if we go for the interdisciplinary model unless members of the dominant group are willing to open their ranks to people who are different from them.
Is there any evidence that philosophy has this problem? That is, do we need for the dominant group to accept, to put it very briefly, some changes in their standards, topics, etc. And has that proved unworkable? I can only think of one piece of evidence. I think it is telling, but others may not. Here it is: when people are assigned to a disadvantaged position for reasons irrelevant to their quality as thinkers, they often acquire interests in topics surrounding ideology, justice, discrimination, etc. Such topics may in fact affect their research and teaching interests. But, I hear time and again, these topics are not really philosophical topics, or at least not very important philosophical topics. They are, rather, political, and one definitely doesn’t need them represented in a philosophy department.
Do note the idea that members of the groups are different is said merely to be a difference between occupying dominant and occupying subordinate social positions.
Do also note that this whole post is merely about a hypothesis that has some grounding in empirical research. Is it right or even worth more thought? What do you think?
**Included but Invisible? Subtle Bias, Common Identity, and the Darker Side of “We”
JF Dovidio, SL Gaertner, EG Ufkes, T Saguy, AR Pearson
Social issues and policy review 10 (1), 6-46, 2016