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Discrimination in philosophy

Discriminating Well: On Excellence in Philosophy and Ways of Seeing Disciplinary Space

Fiona Jenkins
p. 103-117


The current discourse on gender equity in universities most often situates itself in relation to eliminating bias and thus ensuring objectivity in rankings of excellence. With a focus on the discipline of philosophy, the article asks whether we thereby miss what it is important to contest but also cultivate in social worlds organized by their ever-partial and imperfect forms of discrimination in judgment? An approach based in efforts to engage in socio-political regulation of discrimination is proposed as advantageous.

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Parole chiave :

discriminazione, genere, parità
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  • 1 Goddard 2008.

1What does discrimination against women in philosophy look like and where does it show up? At first it may seem easy to say, and indeed there is large consensus that a problem is documented by a plethora of reports that show women’s under-representation in the discipline. My own interest in this topic began in reading a report that painted a vivid picture of the status of women in the profession in Australia1 and allowed me to view with some degree of objectivity experiences that until then I had lived largely unconsciously. It revealed that gendered employment patterns had changed little in the discipline of philosophy in Australia over the last twenty-five years or so. Despite increases in female undergraduate enrollments (45 percent) and postgraduate completions (40 percent), the total numbers of women in continuing appointments had remained static since the mid-1990’s, a slight increase in percentage reflecting overall attrition in the profession rather than growing numbers of women. In Australia in 2015, over 70 percent of all positions are held by men, this rising close to 90 percent at professorial levels, whereas many other humanities and social science disciplines – history and sociology, for example – are very close to gender parity.

2This sort of picture is far from unique to Australia, of course, chiming closely with experience in other Anglophone countries where reporting on this issue has generally been extensive (Bishop 2013). Some further figures bring in other aspects of the situation. At the top-ranked universities in Australia, as in the USA (Haslanger 2008), women are even less well represented in the philosophy discipline. Indeed, wherever “excellence” in philosophy is discerned, be it in top-ranked journals or departments, it is men’s work that seems overwhelmingly recognized as such (Haslanger 2008). The effects of introducing research evaluation exercises, using journal quality as an indicator, may be to entrench inequities. Using journal quality as an indicator in New Zealand, has been argued to have effectively resulted in near cessation of the hiring of women in philosophy departments (Rini 2013). In philosophy, it is not only the case that the vast majority of senior positions are held by men; in addition, the vast majority of the top-ranked journals publish articles by women at a rate that is considerably lower than the proportion of women working in philosophy at elite universities. “Excellence” as an ideology that is all too often taken for something that can be documented and formalized systemically, would seem to be part of the problem we face, as I explore further in what follows.

  • 2 “Gender and Citation in Four General-Interest Philosophy Journals”, 25th February 2015, https://kie (...)

3Further deepening the picture of women’s marginalization, Kieran Healy has done some innovative work mapping co-citation patterns in four of the “top” generalist journals of analytic philosophy – Philosophy Review, Journal of Philosophy, Mind and Nous2exactly the kinds of journals that shape hiring and promotion decisions in academic worlds that are now governed by formalized research evaluation. The network map he generates of the most cited articles in these journals gives a detailed picture of the concentrations of topics and discussion emerging around key nodal points of influence and impact, and a sense of what others in the field deem most important to reference and engage. Healy gives these districts of the map “fanciful” and rather amusing names, but the depiction effectively gives a highly recognizable form to the Anglo-American discipline for anyone who belongs to it, for instance “Pluralitania” centered on David Lewis’ work on possible worlds, or “Zombie Empire” centered on David Chalmer’s provocative framing of the problem of consciousness.

  • 3 Ibidem. For more details on the method and labeling please refer to the original publication. This (...)

4The names invented by Healy in addition give more than a hint that this way of mapping is precisely attentive to empire building and sovereignty. The kinds of influence that enter into assessments of “excellence” by measuring impact factors such as citation rates, may also embody relations of power, and the constitution of territories, with their memberships and allegiances. From the elite of these territories, women are largely absent. Healy’s startling finding was that in the network of 520 most-cited items only 19 (represented on the map by red dots) were by women, with large areas of this map of intensive mutual influence proving entirely homo-social. The influence exerted by certain key articles, all by men, massively outweigh the influence of any women, so that as Healy summarizes «some quite large components of the graph (including, for example, the part I think of as Epistemic island) had no women authors at all. Within the network, the most-cited author – David Lewis – had twice as many items on the graph as all the women combined»3.

Figure 1. Co-citation network of top 500 most cited items over 20 years. Main topical locations fancifully labeled; items authored by women marked with red dots (as can be seen in the original online version).

Figure 1. Co-citation network of top 500 most cited items over 20 years. Main topical locations fancifully labeled; items authored by women marked with red dots (as can be seen in the original online version).

5What lessons does this hold, beside some endorsement of the claim that taking these journals or citation-rates within them as proxies for judging excellence are likely to enhance men’s careers over women’s? Further breakdown of the data reveals that the generally low rates of publication by women in these journals provide partial explanation of these results:

  • 4 Ibidem.

87.5 percent of the published articles are by men, and 12.5 percent are by women. If we add up the total citations held by those articles, we find that articles written by men have 88 percent of the citations, and those by women have 12 percent of the citations. So at this level of resolution, things are proportional in the sense that the share of citations to articles by women lines up with the overall share of articles by women. On the average, articles by women are not cited less often than articles by men. It’s the very low base-rate of articles by women that’s driving things4.

6So is there a problem? This finding corresponds with other data showing the very low representation of women in top-ranked philosophy journals, relatively lower than percentage of representation in relevant fields (Haslanger 2008: 220). This might be taken as indicating the plausibility of a range of possible explanations, favored by different partisans in the debate: that there is bias against women’s work affecting editors and reviewers judgment; that women don’t choose to send their work to these journals or to engage in these particular debates; or that women simply don’t “cut it” at the top end of the game – a view that all too readily combines with the previous options, as we shall shortly turn to consider. What is starkly revealed by Healy’s data is that according to this admittedly selective modeling of influence in professional philosophy, there is more than simple under-representation at stake, since women never appear in these “generalist” journals as agenda-setters. There are no women in the top 1 percent of most-cited articles, those that define fields of research, nor in the top 5 percent. The picture we get from Healey shows how far “top” philosophy, narrowly defined as it is here in terms of the ratings of journals by members of a male-dominated profession, is a highly gender-segregated and gender-hierarchical field. Things would look very different if other journals had been included perhaps, and it would be very interesting to perform the same analysis on journals in areas where women are disproportionately highly represented, which so far is really only in feminist philosophy, though things are better in ethics and political philosophy than elsewhere (Schwitgebel and Jennings 2016). For now, however, I wish only to note an issue that Healy sees as arising here, and whose significance relates to the question of the productive implications of occupying a relatively central place on such a map. If overall, citations are proportional, given the low base-rate of women in the field, which we might take as evidence that there is no direct bias going on at this level at least, Healy proposes that a major problem nonetheless lies in the patterns of influence we might read off the skewed citation rates at the upper end of professional influence. As he puts the point,

  • 5 Ibidem.

In many cases we don’t care a great deal about life at the very top of a distribution. Should we in this case? I think so, in part for the reasons that the original co-citation data brought out. The key question is, who gets to be a focal point for discussion? Successful, highly-cited articles don’t simply accrue status rewards in the abstract …They also become centers of gravity that define what a field is about. Newcomers must orient themselves to those articles and the debates they have begun. So, success in an academic field isn’t just skewed in the way that a winner-take-all market or a tournament setting is skewed. Success means you structure the substance of the field. It’s like an Olympic event where the path taken by the winners also sets the shape of the track for future competitors5.

7The images Healy uses capture the self-organization of a discipline around intensities of power, these emerging through practices of debate and discussion among disciplinary participants, to create the shape of an uneven field. Here an ideal parity is displaced by the force-fields of “centers of gravity” or by carving a path along which others are then required to run. Many questions are raised by Healy’s mapping to which I will return throughout this article – and parity or peer-recognition and its role in gender inequity will emerge as critical. For now, however, I want to bring out what is perhaps for me most helpful in this approach by contrasting it with another way of taking up and representing the form taken by women’s under-representation. The alternative described below, which is rhetorical rather than data driven, both proposes a different image of the “field” and a much more straightforward approach to the task of ranking excellence.

8A review penned by an eminent Emeritus Professor, David Papineau, of an edited book documenting and discussing the problems faced by women in philosophy, Women in Philosophy: What Needs to Change?, was recently featured on the front cover of the Times Literary Supplement, accompanied by an image of a sprawling snooker table, its red and white balls clearly awaiting a master of the art to propel them all at once, through a brilliant feat of exceptional skill, into the awaiting pockets. The central conceit of Papineau’s review (2015) in responding to the wide range of arguments the book comprises, is that philosophy might well be understood by analogy with snooker, where the top one hundred players are all men. Should this bother us – of snooker or of philosophy? Not unduly, he proposes, providing the cause is not bias. In particular, there is no problem if we suppose that philosophy is simply unattractive to women, who, sensibly enough, are uninterested in its formalities and technicalities, just as they are in the pointless, but nonetheless demanding task of driving balls into small holes in order to rise through competition to the peak of the professional game. Making no small generalizations about the innate or acquired preferences of men and women (whether for masculine competitiveness, narrowing to what risks becoming a dangerously sterile perfectionism, or feminine avoidance of these elevated but risky goals), Papineau uses this figuration of the discipline to address a series of questions also pursued in the book: Are women discriminated against in the profession or do they simply choose to put their energies elsewhere? Does it matter for philosophy if women are absent from its discussions? Does it raise any issues of justice or epistemic authority if women are under-represented in philosophy?

  • 6 Room (2011) argues that much public policy thinking is seriously misled by its assumption that the (...)

9Snooker is of course played on a paradigmatically level surface, and has often stood for the perfect causal relationships of a Newtonian world. What role is it playing as an image here? The question Papineau insists upon as being determinative – “How far philosophy’s gender imbalance is bad depends upon its causes” – is of course important, but so too is the problem of how to represent the disciplinary space. The role Healy highlights as being played by “centers of gravity” in shaping what can be discussed and taken seriously, creating “lumpy”6 rather than smooth terrain for achieving recognition, is seriously underestimated against the backdrop of bright green baize that comprises the very icon of the level playing field. In what follows, I shall continue to explore the combination of modes of imagining, representing and accounting for the disciplinary and inter-disciplinary space within which women’s under-representation and under-achievement against prevailing criteria of excellence takes place, as being critical in the context of establishing the depth of mutual entanglement of disciplinary and gendered forms. Very typically the “level playing field” occludes such entanglement, but so too can rhetorical use of a dialectical relationship that unstably relates the charge of “bias” (which all agree should be eliminated) and the confidence that “excellence” can be reliably assessed and ranked. We also see this equivocally playing out in Papineau’s review article.

10The analogy and argument offered by Papineau, asserts that philosophy is more like a game than it is like a social form with serious meaning. In brief, on Papineau’s view, it is not greatly important if women are under-represented in philosophy, because philosophy has no socially representative function, unlike politics or law. If women are not there because they are discriminated against, through conscious or unconscious bias, then this is indeed a bad thing and should be addressed, primarily because it is a distortion of merit based processes for selection and promotion. Yet it is just as likely that we will discover it to be the case, as an empirical matter, that women simply “opt-out” of the rigors of philosophy (just as they apparently do from the equally “competitive” field of professional snooker); and it has no implications for the discipline if it turns out that men are both more drawn to it and happen to excel at it as compared to women. Casting about for the grand sweep that will, in a single bold dart of the cue, clear the green baize table of its diverse balls, Papineau here seeks to elegantly simplify the problem of discrimination in philosophy. In doing so he trades off an important dimension of the contemporary understanding of inequity as the failure to correctly track “excellence” or “merit”.

  • 7 [link non raggiungibile: 06/07/2017].

11This brings me to the key issue of this article. “Discrimination” signals, on the one hand, the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex; and on the other hand, the recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another, as in telling right from wrong, or having the ability to judge what is of high quality, thus showing good judgement or taste7. These two senses, which we might think of respectively as negative and positive, co-exist powerfully in contemporary academic life, where we often must be on the look out for discrimination that perpetuates bad judgment, in the interests of better securing correct judgment regarding excellence. They in fact work together in this exemplary way for Papineau’s account, even though many would say he thoroughly underplays the role of bias.

12In certain contexts, however, this pleasing synergy between senses of discrimination might better be rendered as a tension; whereby the determination of appropriate judgment regarding excellence on terms that seek to eliminate all prejudice, eclipses the nuances, politics and general messiness of practices of discrimination as these tend toward the weaker terrain of taste, preference and the form of educated discernment that is inevitably bound to the ultimately ungrounded life of a culture. If the current discourse on gender equity in universities most often situates itself in the strong ethical and epistemic space of coexistence between two valences of discrimination, discerning and condemning prejudice by seeking the greater justice and objectivity of valid rankings of excellence, do we perhaps miss what it is important to register, contest and also cultivate in social worlds organized by their ever-partial and imperfect forms of discernment? The neat pairing of discerning bias or prejudice and ascertaining excellence, within a strong sense that objectivity in ascertaining merit, if not always achieved, is at least the ideal goal, perhaps downplays the politics of discrimination, with its concomitant modes of community and sensibility formation.

13That at least is the hypothesis I shall explore in the remainder of this article. Healy’s co-citation network is arguably one illustration of a space that cannot be comprehended simply in terms of bias or of real evidence of excellence, but must rather be referred in much greater detail to the social forms and academic protocols that have enabled its formation and supported its ongoing effects. The aim of casting problems of gender inequality within a “strong” ethical and epistemic space is no doubt to garner unequivocal recognition and support, and partly so within a neo-liberal “audit culture” (Strathern 2000) that is itself highly organized around the synergies between removing bias and securing objectively ascertainable orderings of merit. Yet one central question running through the following discussion will be whether this way of casting the lot of gender inequality in with an understanding of discrimination that finds so firm a purchase in neoliberalism, is a project that at some level misfires. A “weak” space of interaction based in practices of discrimination that are neither quite bias nor objective discernment, demands more attention, I shall argue here, both as an irreducible aspect of academic life and as in need of constant reflexivity, moderation and discussion.

14Offering an ethnographic approach to understanding audit culture, Marilyn Strathern insists upon its parasitic nature, its ways of inserting itself into, then colonizing an ethico-political space that we might align with discrimination in its “weak” sense of a practice organized around robust yet fallible virtues. Thus drawing on values that academics take to be integral to good practice such as openness, criticism and responsibility, audit culture renders the interpretative and contestable practices of forming opinion and judgment, into the relatively rigid schemas deemed suitable for ensuring the fair distribution of honors and resources within rankings of excellence. An accumulative process of “agreeing to the data” builds up a picture to which everyone is required to assent (Strathern 2000: 7). The subtlety of this colonization and the crudeness of its results play in complex ways into discourses of equality. Besides obsessive ranking practices, it is characteristic of audit culture that an element of mistrust in assessments of merit based in traditional hierarchies and the qualitative assessments of privileged participants, gives way to what is often an equally problematic consolidation of trust in the processes and practices of measurement. As an instrument of accountability, audit culture at once promises a global, progressive, rational consensus, and paradoxically, sets terms that are designed to be almost impossible to criticize.

15In pursuit of understanding why it is that women today remain on the margins of academia in so many respects, it is perhaps unsurprising that contemporary disciplinary spaces have been represented through models and metaphors that incorporate forms of data that the audit culture of our times collects and makes readily available. Yet this acceptance of ways of measuring within audit culture can produce findings and strategies that are remarkably double-edged, as we see Papineau illustrating, potentially confirming as well as contesting women’s subordinate situation in the academy. In what follows, I lay out some considerations on how to approach things with rather different emphases, by seeking first to excavate another aspect of the texture of academic discrimination, as it forms disciplinary and inter-disciplinary spaces that, following Strathern’s suggestion of “colonization” by audit culture, remain active and essential, if overlaid with further significance in ways that reify and obscure their functioning as social forms. “Excellence” emerges both within and as social forms, and these are shaped by complex systems of gravity, the effects of selective resourcing and many other vectors. The language of bias, just like the language of excellence, does not do enough to register this “lumpy” terrain. Indeed it seems rather designed to smooth it out, inviting policy interventions whose very linearity may be a major weakness. Yet in practice, academic life is replete with contexts in which negotiation over such terms is actively taking place, and a greater reflexive awareness of how these function as socio-political, and not simply ethico-epistemic spaces might usefully enlarge our understanding of the kinds of engagement and practice necessary to enrich and strengthen interventions in the tangled entwinement of gendered hierarchies and disciplinary forms. Again I turn here to ethnographic work, which seeks both to observe and to unfold the self-understandings of participants in processes integral to forming perceptions of excellence.

16In a large research project, Michèle Lamont observed interactions and conducted one-on-one interviews at various stages of the decision–making and debate, that were engaged in by panel members who were tasked with selecting on merit applications for research fellowship funding from several different, all highly prestigious, sources in North America. Her study, How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment, examines how «diversely situated epistemic agents» engage in the process of ranking excellence in research proposals. These participants are diverse in the sense that they come from different academic disciplines and are selected both for this sort of range as well as their gender, race, and the status of their home institutions. Considerations of diversity are indeed at front and center of the panel’s work, and regularly appear in the self-reported processes of deliberation. However, they are embedded in very wide-ranging differences in understanding the process of evaluation itself.

  • 8 Lamont 2009: 61.
  • 9 Ivi: 62.
  • 10 Ivi: 171-172.

17A perhaps unsurprising first finding of the research is that the epistemic commitments of typical participants, based simply on their disciplinary background, vary widely, and with relevance for their understanding of the process itself. Thus whereas those with more humanistic backgrounds are inclined to recognize “taste” as irreducible in their judgments, alongside other subjective elements, those from positivist social science fields such as economics are typically strongly committed to the idea that there are clear criteria by which the reality of excellence can be objectively assessed8. Theoretical commitments are seen in some quarters as necessarily shaped by social location, identity and political orientation, but this is anathema to others who see the virtues of research as following the creation of formal models and hypothesis testing9. Specifications of the terms on which originality and significance, for example, are understood, again vary quite widely across disciplines10. More subtly again, these diverse sensibilities were seen as more or less advantageous to the fortunes of research funding applications, where various strategies to evidence the strength of one’s claims to excellence occurred against the background of relative capacity for consensus on quality within disciplines. It was widely perceived that some disciplines’ own “legitimation crises” posed stark disadvantages. As Lamont summarizes the conceptualizations that participants offered of the internal coherence or unanimity of their own disciplinary spaces:

  • 11 Ivi: 4.

In philosophy, members claim a monopoly on the assessment of their disciplinary knowledge. In history, a relatively strong consensus is based on a shared sense of craftsmanship. Anthropologists are preoccupied with defining and maintaining the boundaries of their discipline. English literary scholars experience their field as undergoing a “legitimation crisis,” while political scientists experience theirs as divided. In contrast, economists view their own field as consensual and unified by mathematical formalism11.

  • 12 Ivi: 66.
  • 13 Ivi: 64.
  • 14 Ibidem.

18This is obviously a simplifying summary, and unduly crude, but its basic gestures are borne out with more detailed analyses in the longer study. Further comments on philosophy pepper the book. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, philosophers appear to be particularly forceful critics of one another’s work, but also of the work of other disciplines, with the self-conception as a “second-order discipline” able to adjudicate all other claims proving irritating to other panel participants12. Philosophy is also described as a “problem case” among the disciplinary backgrounds of candidates, with academics from other backgrounds finding philosophy proposals difficult to evaluate, or indeed minimally13, to see the point of. The “snooker-like” game that Papineau proposes philosophy may have come to be, is recognized as a significant problem by other panelists, who see it as detached from the real world and frequently trivial14. Lamont describes philosophers as responding to this by reaffirming disciplinary sovereignty, and indeed the propriety of proving unintelligible to other disciplinary scholars because of the very special analytical and logical skills that philosophy involves, and that other humanities and social sciences are alleged to lack; a point that, as one might perhaps anticipate, does not go over too well.

19Disciplinary sovereignty emerges as a key feature of deliberation in this space, but tempered by the necessity of not appearing to favor one’s own special interests. That is to say, panelists are deemed to have greater authority in areas with which they are, if not deeply familiar, at least more knowledgeable by virtue of their disciplinary status than are others on the panel, but they must not appear to push advantages for their own area. What is very clear from this description is that although this is an irreducibly political space, it is one that is powerfully regulated by the need to conform to perceived rules of fair engagement, rules that are enforced through the production of impressions of credibility amongst the peer-reviewers. Only a reviewer who seems fair will be able to garner influence. Lamont’s working hypothesis is that:

  • 15 Ivi: 6.

as social actors, we are guided primarily by pragmatic, problem-solving sorts of concerns. Accordingly, […] analysis shows that panelists adopt a pragmatic approach to evaluation. They need to reach a consensus about proposals by a predetermined time, a practical concern that shapes what they do as well as how they understand the fairness of the process. They develop a sense of shared criteria as the deliberations proceed and they self-correct in dialogue with one another, as they “learn by monitoring”15.

  • 16 Ivi: 120.

20On Lamont’s account of how this works, the public description of how decisions have been reached, showing they have been made in terms that are in conformity with accepted rules of fairness, is as important as any content to the deliberations – thus close attention to articulating fair terms of judgment governs the public discourse in justifying decisions. However, there are many elements in the actual processes of decision-making that might be said to both lack the kinds of universality claimed, and to incorporate irreducibly subjective elements. For instance, connoisseurship and expertise equivocally both qualify a judge and are indexed to what remain, despite the effects of disciplinary sovereignty, elements that are potentially regarded as merely personal preferences and experiences by others. Thus although the avowal of such dimensions often need to be seriously downplayed in the actual committee deliberations, these are aspects of discernment that come out strongly in the interviews Lamont conducts, where there is a break with the frame of public justification. Importantly, when forced to engage with various forms of incommensurability, and a range of criteria, the language of excellence is guiding the general rationale as a regulative principle rather than bearing substantive capacity to “fit” the results of the process. Any neat hierarchy in the ranking of quality is more or less overlaid later, as an interpretation of results reached by diverse means. Despite horse-trading over proposals, strategic voting and alliance-formation, the conviction that all proposals have an equal chance of being funded, that consistent and universalistic standards are maintained and that the “cream” naturally rises to the top, both informs and is reinforced by the collegial relations established within the committee16. Lamont clearly delineates the processes needed to maintain what she frequently refers to as the “sacred and legitimate” aura of peer-review. Indeed a “good” committee might almost be defined as one that succeeds in maintaining a shared faith in the proprieties of the process, while a “bad” committee allows tensions between panelists to undermine the capacity to reach consensus regarding the relative quality of work.

  • 17 Ivi: 8.
  • 18 Ivi: 9.

21Lamont’s study gives a powerful sense of how shared social spaces are constituted in academic life that, while containing and allowing the exercise of multiple resources of critical thinking, are oriented by their own need for authority. The tension between the need to negotiate across diverse academic sensibilities and priorities and to produce a clear and unequivocal ranking of applications, exercises a range of deliberative virtues but also a game-playing strategizing. The virtuous pressure of “publicity” in reason-giving has always-mutable forms, available to function as allegiance-building and authority-enhancing gestures. If we are to locate a concern for gender equity within such a space, what will it look like? Lamont notes the express commitment of the majority of participants to diversity, which is an established principle of committee-member selection and a rule of its practice. However, she also emphasizes a strong tendency toward homophily – defining excellence as “like me”17. Can we be as sanguine as she is about the countering force of another pattern, such that «when scholars are called on to act as judges, they are encouraged to step out of their normal milieus to assess quality as defined through absolute and decontextualized standards»18? Or does belief in the discourse of fairness governing the practice of decision embed an implicit acceptance of authority, suppressing dissent that is in fact more fractured, arbitrary and contentious than it is made to seem by the neatly ordered outcomes? If the process demands that conflict is necessarily suppressed so that consensus can be reached, this receives a positive interpretation within a deliberative model of the process; but a less satisfying account might come from foregrounding aspects of the pattern of results that reveal ideological differences as the basis for distribution and that disadvantage disciplinary approaches that are, for instance, undergoing a “legitimation crisis”. On the other hand, the process clearly embeds resources that participants can mobilize to disrupt pre-established understandings of “excellence” and to strategically build alliances that enable the support of diverse agendas.

22Out of this this complex account of one kind of deliberative space within which “excellence” is determined, we also might see the potential to articulate somewhat more nuanced criteria for interpreting and remedying aspects of our institutional spaces, criteria other than those that arise from speaking in the broader, if stronger terms of “bias”. Although the appearance of bias is clearly something participants must avoid in enacting their committee roles, its inevitable surfacing (as personal preference, homophily, disciplinary training, commitment, and forms of self-understanding) is anticipated, utilized and offset within the structure of the committee. The point here is not, in an ethico-epistemological sense, to transcend bias, but in a socio-political sense to moderate and limit its power, forcing negotiation with and attentiveness to the perspectives of others, presumed to be of equal validity for the purposes of enacting deliberative process.

23How would thinking in such terms inform engagement with the pictures that we earlier considered Papineau or Healy to provide of disciplinary space? Contra Papineau and the “game” model of philosophy, which is used to argue that it does not matter in principle who practices it, it does seem that it matters to think about the social identity of participants, and particularly so as “publicity” and practices of equality in establishing peer relationships become key elements of the framework for justification. Lamont’s account of inter-disciplinary negotiations might be taken to show that wherever we have pluralism in judgment, we also have forms of authority that have a degree of representative basis and significance. This is because we are forced to assume that “insiders” of disciplinary spaces have a unique capacity to “discriminate” concerning quality, but this right is conceded as a form of qualified sovereignty over that space only on the grounds that the person forming judgment is representative of participants, which in turn presupposes peer-relationships. Presupposing social spaces of allegiance, ones that are in fact inseparable from the expertise or connoisseurship required to discriminate well, this version of accounting for the significance of the representative function follows from acknowledging pluralism and avowing equality. The idea of a snooker-like game that ranks players unequivocally directly depends upon denying the salience of pluralistic forms and standards. Indeed, the self-understanding of philosophers, pointedly labeled a “problem case” by Lamont, may be an indication that deliberative standards related to pluralism have a lesser purchase in this disciplinary space than in some others. Perhaps this pluralism can be understood as a regulative principle of the kind of open-ended deliberation over “excellence” that has the best chance of both incorporating and moderating creative forms of discrimination, and thus of channeling the capacity to incorporate active commitments to diversity into the texture of good practice.

24This set of considerations must also be applied to intra-disciplinary spaces. They reveal an aspect of the picture Healy’s co-citation network gives us, where we might worry less about “bias” keeping women out, at the level where articles are assessed for their merit, or at the level where men’s work is seen as more authoritative and “citable” than women’s. To be clear, there is extensive evidence that both these forms of bias are active, based in experimental data on the relative quality and status accorded to identical work attributed to male and female authors (Saul 2013). My point, however, is that insofar as bias is taken to affect individual acts of selection or acknowledgement, this is not all that we should worry about in the socio-political image of disciplinary power, with its centers of gravity and well-carved paths, that Healy’s mapping makes visible. If philosophy looks like this – philosophy judged to be excellent by virtue of appearing in the “top” journals, and with the highest citation levels, but with women palpably absent from any significant role or influence – then the work of mutual understanding and deliberative communication that aims at establishing peer-relationships across difference seems to have been neglected. When Papineau attributes women’s absence from these spaces to their “preferences” we might hear the gesture of disqualifying capacities for discrimination by referring them to a subjective source (thereby refusing a peer-relationship in plural space) rather than the “empirical” question he claims this opens up. Moreover, if philosophy looks like this, it becomes highly problematic to endorse the disciplinary “representative” as capable of speaking in a forum premised on the practice of “discrimination” within pluralistic space, as required by the inter-disciplinary negotiations over “excellence” that Lamont describes. The pluralism that Lamont has charted across different disciplinary spaces occurs all over disciplinary philosophy, where rival commitments abound. Perhaps the task of weeding out discrimination against women in philosophy has as much to do with work in the socio-political space of generating valid peer-relations as it lies in the ethico-epistemological space of removing bias.

25This approach has many affinities with critical standpoint theory. Alison Wylie writes:

the ratification of empirical and theoretical results, as knowledge claims we can trust, must be informed by a systematic assessment of how well the epistemic resources of diverse situated epistemic agents have been incorporated into their adjudication; social-cognitive norms of community practice must bring a critical standpoint perspective to bear on the processes of knowledge production if they are to be epistemically credible (2011: 67).

26Here I am seeking to extend that point to consider how this also bears on the capacity to participate in recognisable peer-based processes of exercising “discrimination” in the positive sense of active and responsible judgement, performed in public with others. To the exercise of that role, the relative good-order of disciplinary background is of crucial importance in establishing not only epistemic credibility, but also socio-political responsibility for good judgment formation. Whereas Papineau refers to “bias” and uses gender-stereotyping to account for the signs of this being absent, I am suggesting that we might articulate gender inequity indices that also indict the disciplinary space on which this arises. The binary of prejudice on the one hand, versus the untainted integrity of «pure» academic judgment on the other, needs to be to a significant extent surpassed when peer-relationships across plural spaces of difference are invoked to negotiate the terrain of what I have called “weak discrimination” comprising taste, preference and allegiance as irreducible components.

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– 2015, Gender and citation in four general-interest philosophy journals, 25th February 2015,

Hutchison, K. and Jenkins, F. (eds)
– 2013,
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Lamont, M.
– 2009, How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment, Cambridge (MA) and London, Harvard University Press.

Papineau, D.
– 2015, Snookered, “Times Literary Supplement”, 15th July 2015,

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– 2013, Models and values: Why did New Zealand philosophy departments stop hiring women philosophers?, in K. Hutchison and F. Jenkins (eds), Women in Philosophy: What needs to change?, Oxford, Oxford University Press: 127-142.

Room, G.
– 2011, Complexity, institutions and public policy, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar.

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– 2016, Women in philosophy: Quantitative analyses of specialization, prevalence, visibility, and generational change,

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– 2000, Introduction: New accountabilities, in M. Strathern (ed.), Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics and the Academy, London - New York, Routledge.

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1 Goddard 2008.

2 “Gender and Citation in Four General-Interest Philosophy Journals”, 25th February 2015,

3 Ibidem. For more details on the method and labeling please refer to the original publication. This is an interactive map and should ideally be viewed online where the details of the articles can be seen as we; as various dynamic aspects of the mapping enabled.

4 Ibidem.

5 Ibidem.

6 Room (2011) argues that much public policy thinking is seriously misled by its assumption that the terrain of policy-making and implementation is like the smooth putting green, displaying predictable, controllable and linear relations, whereas it is, as he puts it more like crazy golf, a pitch where every intervention creates new “lumpiness” to throw off a shot.

7 [link non raggiungibile: 06/07/2017].

8 Lamont 2009: 61.

9 Ivi: 62.

10 Ivi: 171-172.

11 Ivi: 4.

12 Ivi: 66.

13 Ivi: 64.

14 Ibidem.

15 Ivi: 6.

16 Ivi: 120.

17 Ivi: 8.

18 Ivi: 9.

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Indice delle illustrazioni

Titolo Figure 1. Co-citation network of top 500 most cited items over 20 years. Main topical locations fancifully labeled; items authored by women marked with red dots (as can be seen in the original online version).
File image/jpeg, 1,5M
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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Fiona Jenkins, « Discriminating Well: On Excellence in Philosophy and Ways of Seeing Disciplinary Space », Rivista di estetica, 64 | 2017, 103-117.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Fiona Jenkins, « Discriminating Well: On Excellence in Philosophy and Ways of Seeing Disciplinary Space », Rivista di estetica [Online], 64 | 2017, online dal 01 aprile 2017, consultato il 19 agosto 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/estetica.2069

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Rivista di Estetica è distribuita con Licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 4.0 Internazionale.

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