This class will serve as an introduction to the basics of social ontology and social roles theories, focusing in particular on two basic case studies, namely gender and race.
Social ontology is the study of the nature, composition and conceptualisation of social groups and roles. Relevant questions in social ontology include: what are social groups and social categories? What properties can we attribute to them? How does the formation and constitution of social groups happen, and what are the relevant factors in it? What is the role of language? What is the role of individual psychology? Related to these questions, issues about the conceptual tools used to talk about social roles and groups arise: what kind of concepts allow us to best capture social groups, and what kind of concept is most suitable for sociological and eventually activism purposes?
This class will give an overview of some of the most pressing themes in social ontology by focusing on two fundamental themes that are at the center of the debate: gender and race.
Gender has been at the center of the debate for both sociology and feminist theory for a few decades. While the distinction between sex as biological and gender as socially constructed is often taken for granted (albeit with some exceptions), many questions remain open with respect to how to define gender, which conceptual tools allow us to correctly characterise it, and what kind of notion is the most theoretically useful. Part of this class will be dedicated to the study of these issues.
While the concept of race as biological category has been debunked and rejected, the concept of race as a social construct is still largely employed in the literature, with the aim of identifying and subsequently counteracting the elements that keep racist practices and thought in place. A series of questions in social ontology and social theory include how to define the concept of race, how to avoid essentialism, how to account for the several cultural and social constructs involved in the concept of race and, ultimately, what is the notion of race that allows us to best defeat racism. Part of this class will focus on this debate.
Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique. Oxford University Press, 2012.
What is Race? Four Philosophical Views, by Joshua Glasgow, Sally Haslanger, Chike Jeffers, and Quayshawn Spencer. Oxford University Press, 2019.
A more detailed syllabus will be uploaded in due time.
Code of conduct: Discussion and debate are fundamental to philosophical inquiry and therefore encouraged during this class. However, I do not tolerate any form of discrimination or violence (physical or verbal) in my class. My aim is to carry on my teaching duties in a respectful, safe environment for both me and my students, and I expect students to share this objective. If I observe or hear a person in my class attacking, harrassing or ridiculing someone else because of their outer appearance, language, age, origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, abilities, or because of physical or mental impairments or disabilities, I will take action to stop this kind of behavior. Basic respect and decency towards others are not a matter of debate.
Accessibility and how to get in touch: If you have any specific need for special accommodation, due to physical or mental disabilities, please feel free to contact me in private. In general, any student who wishes to discuss specific problems and issues related to the class is very welcome to get in contact with meat firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Teacher: Leda Berio