Structures & Agency. Metaphysics & Explanations
The present work is an attempt to take part in the current debate in philosophy between individualistic, or should we better say psychological, and structural approaches to social injustice. I focus on two dimensions, agency and structure. There is a common intuition according to which structural approaches threaten agency. This intuition is part of a long-standing confrontation in the social sciences between agency and structures. I identify two ideas composing this intuition. On the one hand, what we can call the Agency/Structure Dilemma (ASD): either structures or agents have causal power, but not both; on the other, what I call the priority of the psychological (PoP), according to which psychological approaches meet an important desideratum for a (at least not obviously flawed) view of social phenomena, and that is to guarantee a picture of society with agents. Here I argue for three claims. First, that this intuitive view of structural approaches is unwarranted, and that ASD is plagued with misleading assumptions. In order to pave the way to my argument, I examine the individualistic vs structural debate in detail, and reveal an important confusion between metaphysical and explanatory considerations that sustains ASD. Second, I argue that a closer look at current psychological approaches to social injustice, in particular those that emphasize the role of implicit bias, problematizes PoP. Finally, I call attention to two questions that make psychological explanations of social injustice problematic. Hopefully my considerations put the structural approach on a better light, and more important, help move the broader debate on social injustice further.
Structural Explanations & Speech Injustice (expanded version)
Implicit bias has recently gained much attention in scholarly attempts to understand and explain different forms of social injustice by identifying causally relevant mental states in individual’ minds. Here we question the explanatory power of implicit bias in a particular type of injustice, testimonial injustice, and more generally in what we call speech injustice. Testimonial injustice occurs when the audience deflates a speaker’s credibility due to the speaker’s perceived social identity (Fricker, 2007). We identify two drawbacks of a widely accepted explanation attributing testimonial injustice to prejudices (e.g. implicit bias) in the mind of the hearer, and argue that further understanding of this phenomenon can be gained from a structural explanation that appeals to discursive conventions and interlocutors’ positions in the communicative exchange.
The Need For Explanation
Why are some things, and not others, in need of an explanation? In virtue of what something needs an explanation? In contrast with existent accounts, in particular Grimm (2008) and more recently Wong & Yudell (2015), I introduce a view that acknowledges and capitalizes the role that values play, in both everyday life and scientific inquiry, in the determination of what stands in need of an explanation. I propose that the need for explanation depends not only on the adequacy between facts and maps or theories, but also on the appropriateness of the choice of contrast space, and the choice of the map/theory. In measuring this appropriateness, not only the epistemic values traditionally acknowledged as part of the scientific process play a role (e.g. predictive capacity, simplicity) but also, and importantly, other types of values, like social and moral.
Outing Foreigners: Accent & National Origin in Conversations
This paper argues that certain conversational contributions addressing foreigners are problematic in ways that are relevant to the philosophy of language and social epistemology. With foreigners I refer to people living or temporarily staying in a country different from the one they were born and/or raised. I focus on two kinds of conversational contributions: asking “where are you from?”, and commenting on someone’s (e.g. foreign) accent (accent-triggered comments from now on). I address two questions: First, what do these contributions do to the conversation? Second, what do they do to the addressee? In order to explore the first question I elaborate on the work of Mary Kate McGowan (2004; 2009) and Rae Langton (2014), and draw a parallelism between instances of accent-triggered comments and speech acts that have the potential to discriminate in virtue of how they change the course of the conversation. I argue that accent-triggered comments spoil the conversation by changing the conversational score and enacting what is permissible to do in that conversation thereafter. In particular, they make interlocutor’s foreignness salient and make it permissible to treat that person as an outsider in that conversation thereafter. The second question will lead us to the notions of epistemic injustice (Collins, 2000; Fricker 2003), testimonial quieting (Dotson 2014), linguistic profiling (Lippi-Green 1997; Baugh 2016), and stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson 1995). I argue that accent-triggered comments have high epistemic costs for both the addressee and the speaker.
Invited Speaker at San Raffaele Spring School of Philosophy, “Unpacking Political Agency”, Milan June 5-7, 2018.
Speaker at PIKSI-Boston Philosophy in an inclusive key summer institute, MIT, Cambridge June 19-26, 2018.
Three Symposia talks at the 2018 APA Central Division meeting in Chicago:
“The Art of Doing Philosophy in English”,
“Gender Hallucinations and Metaphysical Disaster: Notes on Non-binary Gender Identities”, and
“The Norms of Philosophy”
"Structures & Agency", SWIPshop, CUNY, April 2017
"Speech Affordances", U. Granada, June 2017, with comments by Manuel Heras Escribano.
"Responsibility for Silence", GRSeminar, Barcelona, July 2017
"Outing Foreigners", Joint Session, Edinburg, July 2017
"Explaining & Intervening", Bias in Context, U. Utah, October 2017
Foreigners & Inclusion in Academia
This paper discusses the category of foreigner in the context of academia. In the first part I explore this category and its philosophical significance. This category has been neglected in the existing analyses of privilege and disadvantage. Foreignness has peculiarities that demarcate it from other categories of identity, and it intersects with them in complicated ways. Devoting more attention to it will help address commonly unnoticed issues affecting foreigners in academia. In the second part I argue that current efforts to turn academia into a more inclusive environment should tackle the disadvantages faced by many foreign academics. I focus on two senses of foreigner: working and living in a country that is not your country of origin, and being a non-native speaker of the language in which you produce your work. Adopting Verena Erlenbusch’s taxonomy (Erlenbusch forthcoming), I use material foreigner to refer to the former sense, and linguistic foreigner for the latter.
Foreigners in Philosophy
Here is a presentation for the Foreigners in Philosophy workshop I organized at U.C. Berkeley:
Why conceptual change? Well, why not?
Ameliorative projects face the need of justification. Why putting forward an enterprise as big as a change in our concepts. I describe some demands of justifications addressed at ameliorative projects and argue that they are not legitimate, unless we are willing to demand similar justification of descriptive projects, and of the very ways in which we advance our knowledge. I build my argument drawing upon the dynamics of science, where conceptual change and unintuitive moves are common and critical for progress. I take Haslanger’s ameliorative project on race and gender (Haslanger, 2000) as an example of the type of conceptual change that Thagard calls tree switching (Thagard, 1992), and argue that her proposal can be seen as a step forward in the historical development of the concepts of race and gender.