Suki Finn: Essential without essence: Strategic social kinds

Tuesday November 7 2023 @12:00 (CEST)
Sala B, Edificio de Humanidades, UNED & online

In this talk I shall outline a position of social kinds such as gender and race that take them to be real. I will argue for this position by applying a Quinean indispensability argument for their reality as such: For as long as there is gender-based and race-based oppression then we have an indispensable need for gender-based and race-based concepts in order to (descriptively) understand and (normatively) eliminate the oppression. This is, in many ways, an ameliorative project, most similar to that of Sally Haslanger (2012 Resisting Reality OUP). But it is also inspired by Gayatri Spivak’s ‘strategic essentialism’ (1988) applied at a somewhat meta-level, where social kinds such as gender and race are essential for strategic political purposes, even if they are not essentially defined. I call this (2nd order) essentialism without (1st order) essencialism. Rather than having essences, I take gender and race to be ontoformative and dynamic, so their reality and indispensability could eventually ‘wither away’. This position, whilst realist, accommodates for the contingency and context sensitivity of social kinds, compatible with future aims of abolitionism whilst responding to the urgent needs of today. 

Dr Suki Finn is a Lecturer in Philosophy at Royal Holloway University of London.  Her areas of research span the philosophy of logic, metaphysics, philosophy of science, feminism, and epistemology.