Those who endorse and practice the Gendered Conference Campaign are often asked: why focus on gender instead of other under-represented groups, such as people of color, disabled or GLBTQ philosophers? This question comes up so often that I thought it might be worth trying to formulate an answer to it.
First of all, let me submit that we should worry about under-represented groups in philosophy specifically and predominantly with respect to groups that have been historically oppressed. A friend half-jokingly asked me why I do not worry about the under-representation of skate-boarders at philosophy conferences; without having to resort to essentialism, I suppose we can all agree that there is an important difference in historical background here. That women, members of certain ethnic groups, disabled people, GLBTQ people, and specific other groups have a long and complex history of systematic oppression and social injustice, in particular with respect to education and academia, is (I suppose) beyond doubt. So no, it is not any random, gerrymandered under-represented group that deserves the same focus; there are long histories of inequalities for specific groups that we are trying to catch up with.
Shelley Tremain provides us this link to the Facebook version of a CHE piece by noted scholar Lennard Davis of the University of Illinois-Chicago. The intro graf reads:
It has been more than 20 years since the Americans With Disabilities Act took effect, but while the law has changed some things in higher education, it hasn't changed the way academic culture regards people with disabilities. While our current interest in diversity is laudable, colleges rarely think of disability when they tout diversity. College brochures and Web sites depict people of various races and ethnicities, but how often do they include, say, blind people or those with Parkinson's disease? Or a deaf couple talking to each other in a library, or a group of wheelchair users gathered in the quad? When disability does appear, it is generally cloistered on the pages devoted to accommodations and services.
There's a great post over at Feminist Philosophers on the topic of how to make conferences more accessible for people with disabilities. It is an important but difficult issue, as Magical Erzatz (author of the post) recognizes from the start:
Trying to design an accessible conference can be a confusing, even intimidating, process. The experiences of disabled people are so varied that there’s no way you can predict the appropriate accommodations for everyone, and sometimes an accommodation for one disability can be actually be hindrance for another. It can be hard to know where to start. But while we probably won’t get things exactly right, I suspect that in philosophy we could be doing much better.
Do check out the post for some suggestions and recommendations! (The comments are worth reading too.)
Jenny Saul and I (Magical Ersatz) are very proud to introduce a new project we’ve been working on: Disabled Philosophers.
The goal of this project is to raise awareness of the existence of disabled philosophers. There are lots of issues that arise from the intersection of disability and philosophy. But we thought a very basic starting point – and hopefully a good way of starting a conversation – was to say “Hey! We’re here. We exist. In greater numbers and greater variety than you might’ve thought.”
Though we’re using a blog format, this isn’t a traditional blog. We won’t have posts on a wide variety of topics, and we won’t host discussion. What we’ll do is create a space where we can learn about disabled philosophers – sometimes who they are (though we welcome anonymous contributions), sometimes a little about their experiences of being a philosopher with a disability, sometimes both.
So if you’re a disabled philosopher, please do get in touch. We’d also love to hear from you if you’re a philosopher who loves someone who’s disabled – your partner, your child, etc. Caregiver and partner experiences are a huge part of understanding disability, and philosophers who are caregivers or partners of disabled people give us an important perspective on the interaction between disability and philosophy. So please do write to us – whether you’re yourself disabled or your daily life is affected by disability because of who you care about.
And if, at this point, you’re wondering why on earth you’d want to tell strangers about your experience of disability, we have some reasons for you. We hope you find them persuasive.
In comments to this post, Shelley Tremain provides the following useful bibliography. She prefaces it in part by writing:
I hope readers of the blog will be provoked to seek out some of this work and thus to seriously consider the impact of ableist metaphors in particular and ableist language in general on the self-worth and self-esteem of disabled people.
Barasch, Moshe., 2001. Blindness: The History of a Mental Image in Western Thought, New York London: Routledge.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post on blind mathematicians, discussing the case of Bernard Morin and the eversion of the sphere in particular. I had been thinking about blind mathematicians then because I was working on a paper on the role of external symbolic systems (written systems such as notations in particular) for mathematical reasoning and mathematical practice. I have now completed a first, preliminary draft of the paper, and uploaded it on my academia website (it's on top of the list under 'Papers'). Should anyone be interested in taking a look, comments would be most welcome! I discuss the case of Bernard Morin all the way at the end of the paper, as well as the case of Jason Padgett, the man with acquired savant syndrome who sees shapes as fractals and can hand-draw fractals of pretty much any image you can think of. Here is the abstract:
My better half is a Vitreo-retinal surgeon. Apropos a recent discussion: in her field they prefer to speak of "masked review" (rather than "blind review.") I like the term because it reminds us of the very real and recurrent temptations to look -- or peek from -- behind the mask.
Over the last couple of decades, disability theorists in the humanities have produced work that shows how signifiers of disability employed in literature, art, films, pop culture, the news media, and everyday discourse are paradigmatically and stereotypically oppressive to disabled people: the nasty villain with facial scars, the evil pirate with a prosthetic arm, the wicked witch with one eye, the determined cripple who overcomes all odds and is redeemed, and so on. One focus of these efforts has been the ways that “blindness” is used as a rhetorical and representational device to signify lack of knowledge, as well as epistemic ignorance or negligence and the moral downfall it implies.
I first wrote about the use of blindness as a metaphor in 1996. For the last few years, I have tried to get the APA to remove the phrase “blind review” from its publications and website. The phrase is demeaning to disabled people because it associates blindness with lack of knowledge and implies that blind people cannot be knowers. Because the phrase is standardly used in philosophy and other academic CFPs, it should become recognized as a cause for great concern. In short, use of the phrase amounts to the circulation of language that discriminates. Philosophers should want to avoid inflicting harm in this way. Now, one might think that the term “blind review” means, literally, that reviewers cannot “see” the name of an author (or authors) of a given paper. But consider that under the terms of this form of refereeing, it would be not be acceptable for an editor to verbally communicate the name (or names) of an author (or authors) to a referee, while preventing the referee from seeing the name or names. Equally, it would not be acceptable if a blind philosopher heard the name (names) read out by her screen-reader software, even though she can’t see them.
A couple of years ago, I emailed both the Executive Director of the APA and the past President of the CPA (Canadian Phil. Assoc.), explaining to them why the use of the phrase “blind review” in their publicity materials, CFPs, etc. was oppressive and demeaning to disabled people, and I posted these emails in the body of a comment on the Feminist Philosophers blog. In an email to me, the Executive Director of the APA wrote that this matter had never been brought to his attention in the past and that he would have APA staff act on it immediately. The President of the CPA made a commitment to me that he would raise the issue at the next meeting of the CPA Board of Directors.
As a result of these correspondences, the phrase “blind review” was removed for a time from the APA National Office’s publicity materials. However, the term was still used by at least two divisions in their published materials. The CPA no longer uses the phrase “blind review” and has replaced it with the phrase “anonymous review”.
The editors of Different Art invite submissions for an innovative new book that explores the complex fusion of disability and artistic expression. This work seeks to investigate and muse on the varied and often contradictory ways that disability is created, contested and circulated in art and media (both in the visual and other forms). We encourage submissions of works that explore these issues from theoretical lens as well as writings from practitioners placing these concerns in dialog with their own practices as artists. This includes artist statements/essays and poetry/prose. In all contributions, we are especially interested in writing that is enriched by consideration of transnational concerns.
This book is already under contract with Intellect LTD, and will be distributed in the US by University of Chicago Press.
Essays may consider any and all forms of artistic expression. As cultural conceptions of disability have historically been wedded to the visual rhetoric of the body, we are especially interested in essays that consider visual media. At the same time, we feel strongly that essays that consider other forms are an important part of the work's scope. As such, the work is organized in six major sections:
We now have 65 comments on the "Proposal for a 'Count Me In' Campaign" thread, so it seems we have enough interest for an open thread on the campaign itself. Post your suggestions here for tactics, opportunities, and other ways of catalyzing the campaign. If you can, use your name; if you don't feel comfortable doing that, please consider at least using an email address that others can use to contact you. It's a matter of forming a network of contacts at this point, so don't be shy!
This is a cross-posting of comments that Rebecca Kukla made at the Leiterreports blog. I thought it worth putting it up here, to encourage discussion and because we may well draw a more pluralistic group of readers. (Obviously Rebecca is a colleague and co-author of mine at Georgetown, and Georgetown is mentioned in a positive light below. I think that everything she says about the place is true - and I'd invite anyone who doubts it to interview any of the women in our department. But I'm not unbiased, and the points Rebecca makes are independent of her assessment of the climate at GU.)
Philosopher Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown) writes:
It seems to me that there are lots of reasons to be deeply suspicious of the area rankings here. BL and FW point out plenty of weirdnesses, and one could cite way more. Since there are no faculty lists published, one can't judge how accurate the starting data was, and there are reasons to suspect that some of the information used is not very current. For example, the advisory board contains dead people, and some of the rankings are only comprehensible if you assume that out of date information about who is in a department and available to supervise students was used. Lack of transparency makes it impossible to check for this type of source of error.
But I am much more concerned with the 'climate for women' rankings. We have no idea who answered these questions, how many responses there were for each department, exactly what questions they were asked, why we should believe the people who answered them had any good basis for an opinion, or why we should think, if they do have a strong opinion about a department, that they can serve as impartial judges of it. Nor, again, do we have any faith that the information they were working from was current.
This matters a lot because (a) the climate for women matters a lot, and (b) there is no obvious competing source of information. When it comes to departmental quality, we can each consult the Gourmet Report (and weight it how we like), or check the faculty list ourselves and do some strategic googling and reading. But when it comes to something as amorphous as 'climate for women' all we can really do is look at this list, or draw upon the lived experience that comes with being in a department for a long time.
There's a substnatial risk to female students if a department is listed as recommended, but in fact has real problems that respondents didn't know about or weren't willing to admit to. The potential damage to departments listed as problematic is obvious, and we just can't tell how strong the evidence for that listing was. There's also what I think is a serious and unfair risk to departments that may have a really good climate for women, and may be struggling very hard to attract female grad students, that get left off the list altogether just because the respondents didn't happen to have the kind of personal relationships it takes to know what's going on there.
To give just one example: My institution (Georgetown) isn't mentioned at all on this list, as either good or bad. In fact, I have been in several departments during my career and I am amazed at how wonderful the climate is for women here. We have 8 women on the faculty, 7 of whom are tenured senior faculty. We have a thriving community of female grad students, and regular course offerings on feminist and feminist-friendly topics. We have regular workshops and working groups on gender issues in philosophy - and many men in the department voluntarily make it a priority to participate in and even organize those. Collaborative work - often across traditional subdisciplinary boundaries - is exceptionally common in the department, and routinely includes women. The department is remarkably harmonious, supportive, and friendly. Our retention rate is good, faculty-student interaction is high, mentoring is taken seriously both formally and informally, and people are just generally happy.
But we are not on the list, and I suspect this is just because, quite understandably, none of the people who happened to be asked to rate departments were in any position to know what life is like on the ground here. And why should they? No Georgetown people were asked to give their opinion. On the other hand, I know of plenty of examples of women who have found the climate challenging at various departments on the 'recommended' list.
In sum, I think this list is not only untrustworthy but potentially damaging. I hope that people will subject it to critical scrutiny and not just let it earn some sort of status as official information.
Shelley Tremain has provided this as an introductory bibliography to Disability Studies. It's not a comprehensive bibliography, nor is it directly solely to philosophers. Please use it as an invitation to contribute other suggestions in comments.
We're adding "Disability Studies" to our category list, and welcome suggestions for posts, conference announcements, CFPs, and so on. We also welcome suggestions for the Count Me In campaign, which also has a category now.
Lennard Davis, ed. 2010. The Disability Studies Reader (3rd edition). Routledge. The three editions of this multi-disciplinary reader are somewhat different from each other, but each contains a good selection of some of the most important articles and book chapters in the field of Disability Studies internationally.
Rosemarie Garland Thomson. 1996. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Disability in American Culture and Literature. Columbia University Press. Garland Thomson is one of the leading figures in American disability studies. The book explains some of the ideas foundational to American disability studies and considers how disability has been represented and socially constituted.
Michael Oliver. 1990. The Politics of Disablement. McMillan Educational Press. This book, written by a social scientist, is regarded as one of the foundational texts of Disability Studies in the U.K. especially. The book explains and defends the earliest versions of the British “social model of disability” which is grounded in historical materialism.
Tobin Siebers. 2008. Disability Theory. University of Michigan Press. Written by a prominent American disability theorist, this book demonstrates that a disability studies perspective is relevant to, yet usually left out of, academic accounts of a range of issues and topics including sexuality, identity, the body, social justice, feminism, architectural design, literature, etc.
Henri Stiker. 1999. A History of Disability. University of Michigan Press. This book, originally written in French, offers an historical account of how disability has been represented in literature, philosophical texts, religious doctrines, popular discourse, and so on.
Shelley Tremain, ed. 2005. Foucault and the Government of Disability. University of Michigan Press.This multi-disciplinary collection is comprised of chapters that assess the usefulness of Foucault’s analyses and techniques for work in disability studies and disability activism.
I am now working on a paper on the role of manipulating notations in mathematical reasoning, which reminded me of an issue that interested me a few years ago: how do blind mathematicians do their work, given that the usual manipulation of notations (which obviously appeals crucially to vision) is not an option to them?
I then sent a query on this topic to the FOM list, and got some very interesting replies. In particular, many people mentioned this fascinating notice published by the American Mathematical Association on blind mathematicians, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in how mathematics 'comes about'. An excerpt:
A sighted mathematician generally works by sitting around scribbling on paper: According to one legend, the maid of a famous mathematician, when asked what her employer did all day, reported that he wrote on pieces of paper, crumpled them up, and threw them into the wastebasket. So how do blind mathematicians work?
Shelley Tremain has offered this proposal for discussion:
Over the last year, and the last few months in particular, there has been a growing recognition that professional philosophy is remarkably homogeneous with respect to race, disability, gender, and sexuality, that is, a recognition that various groups are underrepresented in the discipline, some severely, and an understanding that action, in the form of concerted efforts, is urgently needed to rectify this unacceptable state of affairs. Most philosophy departments remain predominantly populated by non-disabled white male faculty. The percentage of philosophers of colour and disabled philosophers employed in full-time positions in philosophy departments does not even remotely resemble the percentages of these groups in the population at large. Nor are the contents of edited collections and symposia and conference line-ups representative in this way. The “Count Me In” conference campaign aims to change the unseemly current composition of professional philosophy by challenging organizers and co-ordinators of conferences, summer institutes, symposia, speaker series, not to mention the editors of collections, journals, and anthologies to increase the diversity of their projects. Justice, equality, and fairness demand it, and only by engaging in these efforts can professional philosophy put into practice what it professes in theory.
Discussion has already begun on another thread, but we wanted to move it to its own post.
Catarina Dutilh Novaes writes:
"Count me in" campaign is a great name!
I just have a couple of questions as to what practical measures could be taken. When it comes to gender, the vast majority of people self-identify as male or female (there are, of course, cases of people who reject the binary), and it is typically common knowledge whether a person is male or female (often by their first names, but otherwise other public elements, such as the use of personal pronouns 'he' or 'she'). So it is rather straightforward to make a list of women in a given area (as I've done for philosophy of logic and philosophical logic) so as to increase the visibility of these women.
But I am not sure it would be as obvious to make a list of other minority groups (just to mention lists an example of a practical measure). Let me mention race, for example; it is clearly a concept relative to a given social context. I always say that half of the people who self-identify as white in Brazil would be considered black by US standards ('dividing line' is somewhere else). As for disabilities, it is often not public knowledge whether a given person (philosopher) has a disability. That is, I wonder how an attempt to increase diversity in philosophy would deal with the essentially epistemic problem of identifying who falls under the category of an under-represented group in the case of race and disabilities, if not through personal acquaintance or testimony. In other words, I wonder whether such lists would be feasible and desirable in these cases as well (I really don't know, it's a genuine question here).
Shelley Tremain responds:
I'm glad you like the suggested name. Some of the considerations you've pointed out were suggested by my own remarks, @6 especially. I think the place to start might be identifying the purposes, aims, and goals of efforts such as a Count Me In campaign would be. These might themselves provide ways to circumvent or by-pass some of the epistemic and other difficulties you mention. For instance, suppose one of the aims we identified is that representing diversity with respect to colour/race works toward achieving the the goal of subverting white supremacy and privilege wherein whiteness circulates as a universal norm. It seems to me that the appearance on the program of a conference to be held in the US of someone who in the context of the US is deemed to "be black" (though at home in Brazil she is considered, and considers herself, white)serves that aim and works in the service of achieving that goal. Suppose another aim we identified is that such a campaign should aim to provide role models in philosophy to members of currently underrepresented groups. In this case, it seems to me that we would want to come up with names of philosophers who are candid about their identities as "disabled philosophers," in other words, self-identify publicly, and do not comply with the messages constantly bombarding them, according to which they should adopt a medicalized understanding of this identity and in turn make efforts to conceal it, or at least regard it as a "private" matter. In the case of providing role models for disabled students, an obvious place to start would be identifying disabled philosophers who work in the areas of philosophy of disability and disability theory/studies.
I hope this conversation is just getting started ...
Please spread the link to this post and invite comments as we shift the discussion to this post.