Doing Fieldwork

Last weekend I was at the APSA (American Political Science Association) in Washington D.C. I am currently working on philosophy of science issues in political science and so I was doing “fieldwork”. Actually, the quotes probably don’t belong there as it really was fieldwork including interviews and participant observation! My primary goal was to talk to political scientists about methodology, particularly about varieties of qualitative methodology and the use of case studies. The trip was very worthwhile on that front. Those working on such issues were very open to talking about philosophical aspects of the questions and I made some great contacts.

But there was a very interesting and unexpected aspect to my experience. I attended four sessions, two of which were Theme Panels on Qualitative and Multi-method research. What was interesting about these theme panels is that political scientist who work in the qualitative tradition clearly feel marginalized. They have concerns about getting their work published, getting tenure, being looked down upon, and so on. In other words, they have many of the same concerns that feminist philosophers have. On one panel, statistics on publication in journals were discussed and it was noted how few publications in the top journals were qualitative. The editor of APSR reported that they had only received 8 submissions that were qualitative and so it was not so much a problem of the reviewers screening out qualitative work as it was submitters self-screening. Three years ago, I sat on a panel at the APA where a nearly identical discussion took place about publications by women – with a very similar conclusion – that there were very few submissions by women to the top journals in philosophy. Another startling similarity was the advice given to graduate students who wanted to incorporate more qualitative methodologies into their work: wait until you have tenure. Again, I have heard senior women given this similar advice to junior feminist philosophers – wait until you have tenure before you reveal that you are a feminist.

So what does this interesting similarity reveal? I suppose the obvious – that the experiences of marginalized academic researchers are quite similar. But it also reveals the way in which the dominate views in each generation slow progress and discourage alternate views. I suppose that there is something inherently conservation about academic research in that we make demands on ourselves to meet certain standards and while some of the restriction that the standards impose may be necessary for the integrity of the discipline, they also will inevitably exclude alternative approaches, some of which may be quite valuable. In witnessing these sorts of discussions in both professions, I also see a strong belief that over time the good ideas will manage to survive in spite of these constraints and ultimately the standards will shift as well. But I think that observing this dynamic should remind us that our own standards will indeed limit the alternative hypotheses that are available (in the sense of being considered legitimate sorts of hypotheses) at any moment in time. Another reason to be cautious and perhaps, humble, about our knowledge claims.
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Some useful tips from Feminist Philosophers

Here are some concrete suggestions for taking steps to promote, support, and increase women in philosophy! Thanks to Jenny Saul at Feminist Philosophers!

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Society for Analytical Feminism at the APA in NYC

If you are in New York for the Eastern APA please join the Society for Analytical Feminism for the following session:

Monday, Dec. 28, 9:00-11:00 AM
Chair, Sharon Crasnow
Feminism and Contemporary Popular Culture
Laurie Shrage, “XX Radio – Adding Feminist Voices to the FM Dial”
Nancy Bauer, “Hang-ups about Hook-ups: Feminist Philosophy and the New Generation Gap”
Naomi Zack, “White-Privilege Appropriations of Feminism: Carrie Bradshaw, Bella Swan, and Sarah Palin”
Kelly Oliver, “Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Recent Hollywood Films”

Posted in APA, SAF | 1 Comment

Budget cuts hit broad swath of Cal State —

Budget cuts hit broad swath of Cal State —

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Scroll down in the article and you will see that among the departments mentioned for possible cuts at Cal Poly Pomona is philosophy. Something to think about.

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This fall the APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy contains my article, Women in the Profession: The Persistance of Absence. One of the main themes of the article is that philosophers need to recognize that the absence of women in the profession is a danger to the profession as a whole. I focus specifically on the absence of women at the undergraduate level as providing one of the most disturbing signs for the profession. In this I am following the lead of the work that Evelyn Brister has done on this topic and blogged about at Knowledge and Experience. She has a number of excellent and thoughtful posts on women in philosophy and so I haven’t linked a specific post.

Today I find another article which I think supports the idea that we ought to be worried about philosophy seemingly not having a larger appeal. Though the report is about British universities, we should certainly take notice. Thanks to Jacob Hale for his Facebook news feed link to “Being philosophical may be limited to ‘leisured’ classes”.

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Feminism, Science, and Values
June 25-28, 2010
The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

In June 2010, the International Association of Women Philosophers
( ) will be meeting at The University of
Western Ontario. This will be the organization’s first meeting in
Canada and only its second meeting in North America. Co-hosted by the
Rotman Institute for Science and Values and the Department of
Philosophy, the conference is scheduled to take place just before the
international conference on science and values organized by the Rotman

The members of the conference organizing committee are: Gillian Barker,
Ariella Binik, Samantha Brennan, Helen Fielding, Katy Fulfer-Smith,
Elisa Hurley, Tracy Isaacs, Carolyn McLeod, Karen Nielsen, Kathleen
Okruhlik, and Angelique Petropanagos.

The organizing committee invites papers from all areas in philosophy,
though we especially welcome papers related to the theme of the
conference, Feminism, Science, and Values. We also welcome papers from
graduate students. Abstracts should be submitted in English, French, or
Spanish. Spanish abstracts will be refereed by the IAPH executive
instead of the conference program committee.

There are many possible topics, the following being just a small sample:

  • Questions about the content of science; the evaluation of hypotheses;the uses of science; the idea of “value-free science”; the regulation and control of science; the funding of science; science as oppressor of the disadvantaged; science as a liberator of the disadvantaged; science for the people; science and democracy; the “collapse” of the is/ought distinction; the relationship between ethical and epistemic norms; the role of ethics in deciding what sorts of science to pursue; the role of science in the resolution of ethical questions.
  • Questions about concepts of sex/gender, race, intelligence,sexuality, sociobiology, health and disease, normalcy, etc., possibly discussed via specific examples and case studies.
  • Feminist work on questions in value theory, in either the field of ethics or aesthetics
  • Historical studies of the relationship between science and feminist thought.
  • Discussions of philosophy’s role in supporting modes of thought that perpetuate bad practices and discussions of philosophy’s emancipatory potential for women and others.

Submissions of long abstracts (750-1000 words) are invited (for
eventual presentation of papers that are no more than 3000 words and 20
minutes maximum reading time). We also welcome proposals for panel
presentations. For panel proposals, please send a title, a one
paragraph description of the panel, names and contact
information for all participants, and abstracts for each of the papers on the panel.

Please email all materials as double-spaced Word or RTF attachments,
prepared for anonymous review, which requires that you remove all
identifying-author tags from your document content and file properties.
Send the e-mail to and include within it (not the
abstract) your full contact information.

More information will be available about the conference on our website, (coming soon).

*Deadline: Midnight Eastern time August 15, 2009.*

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Warning! This post has very little (perhaps nothing) to do with philosophy.

The summer of 1969 was my summer between high school and college. I had been accepted to the American Dance Festival program at Connecticut College for Women in New London. My mother had purchased a new car and so I was loaned her 1965 Corvair convertible for the summer – pale yellow with a black ragtop – perfect for a young woman who fancied herself independent – a free spirit as so many of us did in 1969.
The American Dance Festival was fantastic and New London was far enough from home that I felt on my own. Twyla Tharp and Yvonne Rainer were in residence for the first half of the summer followed by members of the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey Companies for the second half. Tharp had been commissioned to do a large-scale work that was to be performed across the broad lawns of the college (Medley). Rainer was also doing a large-scale work – Chair Pillow, which was part of a project called Continuous Project – Altered Daily. I was in the group learning Chair Pillow and at the time was disappointed because dancing with Tharp seemed more challenging. Rainer was explicit that she wanted both professional dancers and non-dancers in her piece. You can see a performance of the piece below, though the version that I remember is more like the one found here.


Though there were so many things that happened that summer, the one with historical links that I remember most clearly is the moonwalk. I frequently went home on the weekends because there were no classes and I felt lonely in the dorm. I felt lonely at home also but it was a more familiar loneliness and I supposed that is why I opted to go home. I had intended to stay in New London that weekend but that afternoon the lunar module (the Eagle) landed on the moon. It wasn’t till that evening when it was already dark and the timing of the moonwalk looked like it would be late that night that I realized that I wanted to get home to watch the moonwalk on television. It was an hour and a half drive, down the New England Thruway and then through the countryside – dark winding roads – to my family’s home. I threw some things together, hoped I had enough gas, and hit the road. I had very little money that summer – a small allowance that I was to use for occasional food off campus and for gas. Meals were provided, but I remember that I was often scrounging up coins from the bottom of my purse or somewhere in the car so that I could buy ice cream, gas, or pay the tolls in Branford when I drove home on the weekend. That night I think I had about a quarter in my wallet, not enough for the toll and certainly not for gas. This was before credit cards. I was following the moon landing on the radio, not sure that I would make it in time and staring at the fuel gauge willing it to stay around a quarter of a tank. I ran the toll using a technique that had worked before. I followed really closely behind the car in front of mine so that I wouldn’t ring the warning bell which signaled that a car hadn’t paid. There were no barriers that came down between cars in those days.

I made it. No one was home and I don’t remember why. It was quite unusual for my parents to be out at all, let alone out late. It was just me and the television and no one to whom to say, “Can you believe it?”

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