Albert Atkin, at 3AM

Fascinating interview.  A couple of high points for me…

Despite being someone who wants to explore potentially specific problems in philosophy. I think there’s a lot of truth in this:

 I honestly think claims that there is something intrinsic to the discipline that means it attracts a particular type of person (who tends to be male and white and wealthy) is weak tea. Philosophy has a problem, but it has a problem because the world is a shitty place, and the most comfortable and interesting jobs tend to be populated by the most privileged. As much as people complain about academia, it’s a pretty cushy gig. Why are there so few black academics? Because for the most part, society is racist. Why do we struggle to get gender equality? Because for the most part, society is sexist. Why are working class people underrepresented in academia? Because for the most part society makes it easier for the privileged to succeed. Why are people of disability made invisible in academia? Because for the most part society is ableist. Philosophy may be a particularly troublesome and resistant pocket of that society, but it’s hardly the last or biggest hold out.


I think readers of this blog will be especially interested as well to read Albert’s thoughts on philosophy of race and the importance of definitions with respect to Roma identity, a perspective that is (to put it mildly) not often discussed.

I use a particular approach of saying that careful definition and clarity are important, that these are what analytic philosophers take themselves to be good at, and that they should get involved in this project. I can understand why people might not find that approach useful, especially in the current context in America where there needs to be a real focus on the differences in lived experience between races. From my point of view though, understanding what we can do by getting involved in projects of definition are important and do have a role.

To illustrate, I have a paper included in a collection of articles on the condition of Roma in Europe. The collection “We Roma“, is edited by Daniel Baker and Maria Hlavajova and has contributions from both Roma and Non-Roma. In my paper, I try to make it clear that there are official definitions of Roma groups which are designed to identify us with properties that can be (and are being) removed — its definitional genocide. I argue that we need to be involved in defining ourselves, to own the definitional project, otherwise we, as a group, are doomed in Europe. Given the surge in far right sentiment across Europe I worry that we may already be doomed, but while ever someone else controls whats defines us we can simply be erased by fiat.

Read the whole thing.


2 thoughts on “Albert Atkin, at 3AM

  1. I think it is important to stress that there is a racist and societal background to philosophy’s diversity problems. Nonetheless, there has also got to be something fairly peculiar to philosophy, since a number of other disciplines have advanced considerably more than we have.

  2. I am a social/political philosopher who reads across the tradition, including continental sources on social/political. From this perspective, the problem with the analytic approach is that it tends take what might be called a “non-comprehensive” approach to these issues. Providing a “careful definition” of this or that ignores the much more interesting and just as pressing question of how we (including the analytic philosopher) come to have the definitions we do and whether every definition depends on a social context. “Clarity” is a fine goal, but modeling context is complex (see Foucault), and to sacrifice complexity for clarity/simplicity will not advance our understanding of social/political phenomena.

    As this author observes, a people may be defined in such a way that their needs and interests are effectively erased. We have seen the same phenomenon in the United States, of course. But this observation is not owing to the clarity of analytic philosophy, but rather this author’s moving beyond clear definitions to consider the broader social meaning of definitions. Clear analysis in and of itself is insufficient for critique. We need a model of agency and contextualization that addresses the human ability and need to transcend a given definition. I find that continental theorists (including Kant and the post-Kantian tradition) have richer resources for this, and I wish there weren’t such a disciplinary prejudice against drawing on them.

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