Reading this chapter, I am inclined again to call into question the ultimate political effectiveness of Haslanger’s discussion of gender and race. I understand that Haslanger’s political aim is to reduce the oppression endured by subordinated groups, but I’m still failing to see how exactly that political aim gets done.
Haslanger explains her goal rather straightforwardly: “I’m suggesting that we should work to undermine those forces that make being a man, a woman, or a member of a racialized group possible;…But it is also politics: I’m asking us to understand ourselves and those around us as deeply molded by injustice and to draw the appropriate prescriptive inference” (242). In order to “draw the appropriate prescriptive inference” and “understand ourselves” correctly (in other words, in order to obtain our political goals), Haslanger suggests that we “work to undermine those forces.” However, what exactly are these “forces?” My inability to see the political effectiveness of Haslanger’s theorizing stems from this ambiguous call to combat these “forces,” which Leo commented on previously.
Secondly, I’m not sure if I understand the role of the possibility of “alternate” genders in Haslanger’s discussion of gender. In my understanding, she seems to think that by extracting gender from the normative classifications of “man” and “woman,” thus creating a hierarchical picture of gender, we open the door for the opposite — a non-hierarchical picture of gender. I’m not quite sure how she makes this claim or how each moves leads to the other.
“If we were to remove hierarchy from the definitions, then there would be two other benefits: first, by providing a place in our model for cultural representations of the body besides those that contribute to maintaining subordination and privilege, we could better acknowledge that there are positive aspects to having a gender and a race. And second, the accounts would provide a framework for envisioning the sorts of constructive changes needed to create a more just world.” (243)
Haslanger offers an analytical framework that can allow for both hierarchical and non-hierarchical definitions of gender and race. Furthermore, she acknowledges the potential benefits of adopting non-hierarchical definitions. Alternatively, what advantages might we get from using the hierarchical definitions of gender and race?
Like Jingyi, I was immediately struck by the similarities between Haslanger’s discussion of significant and relevant truths and Mikkola’s argument for the inherent normativity of metaphysical theory selection.
As Haslanger argues:
“Good theories are systematic bodies of knowledge that select from the mass of truths those that address our broader cognitive and practical demands.”
In her conclusion, she writes that she is very open to the idea that her conceptualization of race/gender may not be the most useful one for all theoretical ends, even for other feminist/anti-racist projects.
As she says:
“it is our responsibility to define gender and race for our theoretical purposes. The world itself can’t tell us what gender is. The same is true for race.”
On Haslanger’s account, gender and race have no single ontology. Ultimately, we must decide what “we want them to be.”
I think it is important to note that she is not granting carte blanche to the social ontologist, our definitions must still capture truths… we just get to decide which truths are the worthwhile ones to bundle together into our theories.
Haslanger’s project in this chapter is to merely show how metaphysics may be used to further feminist and anti-racist critical theory.
However, I wonder whether there is more that can be said by metaphysicians on the subject of significant truths.
On Haslanger’s account, metaphysics seems to be relegated to the role of a tool of inquiry. The end of metaphysics, truth, is no longer the desired end of inquiry. Rather, metaphysical truths are only useful so far as they further the elimination of oppression.
Is this an unfair casting of metaphysics?
It seems that a feminist metaphysician could argue that if metaphysical truth is recognized to be inherently normative (i.e. normative values (feminist politics) are legitimated as part of the structure of metaphysical inquiry) then a plethora of “truths” about race and gender would only result from a misapplication of feminist metaphysics. IN other words, TRUTH is singular, not multiple and may only be arrived at through proper metaphysics (which incorporates feminist normativity).
ON this account, if different Feminist Metaphysicians come to different conclusions about the ontology of race and gender, can they have the same political aims?
Are heterogenous political aims admissible in feminism? Or is that dangerous? Who draws the line around what counts as “good” politics and “bad” politics (as they inform inquiry)? (This is especially salient in light of the conflict between “White Feminism” and Queer Theorists, Crit Race Theorists.. etc.).
I was struck by many of the same issues as Jeremy. To me it seems dangerously close to allowing people to choose to define their terms and choose their theories arbitrarily, since there is never going to be a case when everything is equal except for the suitability of a definition or theory to an anti-racist, etc. project. The greatest problem for me here is that social ontological debates almost always end in people talking past each other because their definitions of what, for example, constitutes “racism” don’t line up. It’s hard to make a determination about which theory is better when they are mutually unintelligible–at least it’s hard to do so without assuming a priori that one’s opponent is arguing in bad faith (i.e., they are some sort of crypto-racist). What are steps that we can take to avoid this?
Second, is this actually metaphysics? It’s definitely a theoretical account of race and gender, but I am less and less convinced that the label “metaphysics” is apt. It seems overly reductive to say “We’re talking about the existence or non-existence of certain entities, therefore it’s metaphysics.” Is it metaphysics to argue with a drunk redneck about whether or not he saw sasquatch?
I would like to question Haslanger’s claim that we “might extend this strategy to race” (236) when discussing materialist feminism. Indeed I wonder whether the two concepts since they are merely both social constructs can therefore be seen as analogous..
Further, the claim “to ask what I should be called is to ask what norms I should be judged by.” (242) Is the language, the classification of groups that important? And if it is within one’s control what to be called.. then wouldn’t everyone look to avoid identifying with oppressed identity groups? Is the nomenclature a cause to the oppressive dynamics or a byproduct of this?
Haslanger writes on page 225, “[I]f our goal is to identify a concept that serves our broader purposes, then the question of terminology is primarily a pragmatic and sometimes a political one: should we employ the terms of ordinary discourse to refer to our theoretical categories, or instead make up new terms?”
As I take it, Haslanger’s “analytical” inquiry seems to be the same as a pragmatist view of social categories. The operative question, she writes, is what do we need these categories (e.g. race, gender) for? It seems to me that such a pragmatic approach demands the kind of tactics that Haraway or Richard Rorty would offer. If the purpose of our categories is not to track reality, “mirror” nature or “carve nature at the joints (as I believe is the case), then we ought to do away with them entirely if they are having oppressive or otherwise undesirable consequences.
As Leo mentioned, Haslanger does not characterize the prepetuation of racialization and its negative impacts as being orchestrated by one mind. I’m a big fan of this idea but it does make things a lot more complex. If race and oppression operate in incredibly complex and perhaps profoundly misunderstood ways, then would we mistaken to look for illuminating parallels between the construction of race and gender and other social constructions? I am wondering specifically about what we might be able to learn from comparing my self identification as a latino man to my self identification as a chelsea fc fan. Might some harmless sources of identity provide us with a model for how we should engage with our race and gender or are race and gender too different from the rest of our social constructions?
On page 231, Haslanger writes that oppressive structures “are not designed and policed by those in power.” Rather, “oppression refers to the vast and deep injustices some groups suffer as a consequence of often unconscious assumptions and reactions of well-meaning people in ordinary interactions… ” (Young)
How does one fight a type of oppression that is enforced by no one and perpetrated by everyone? On page 242, Haslanger suggests “that we should work to undermine those forces that make being a man, a woman, or a member of racialized group possible; we should refuse to be gendered man or woman, refuse to be raced.” This process of resistance and refusal “involves an active political commitment to live one’s life differently.” Is Haslanger saying that we must refuse to engage in ordinary interactions with well-meaning people who nonetheless make gender and racial oppression possible?
“Given time and inclination, I could tell you many truths— some trivial, some interesting, many boring—about my physical surroundings. But a random collection of facts does not make a theory; they are a disorganized jumble. In the context of theorizing, some truths are more significant than others because they are relevant to answering the question that guides the inquiry ” (226)
Is she also arguing for a feminist revision to metaphysics here also? It seems like Haslanger here is argument for a normative force in metaphysics, like Mikkola does. Then, is there any proposals like “grounding” that Haslanger talks about in her revision to metaphysics?
I’m interested in how Haslanger’s claims about the reality of race in the previous chapter interact with her claim about the racialization of groups. If race should be acknowledged as real for the purposes of fighting racism, then why are only some groups racialized? Additionally if race is important to combat racism, then why should we refuse to be racialized?
Given some of the discussion in the second chapter of how ethnicity has been/can be racialized, I’m wondering how Haslanger’s (admittedly idealized) use of ethnicity can work. At first, it seems like we can remove oppressive hierarchies and still have, perhaps even encourage, the proliferation of ethnicities (perhaps parallel to sex). She gives a possible conception of ethnicity as “for those groups that are like races as I’ve defined them except that they do not experience systematic subordination or privilege in the context in question” (238). When there are hierarchies “this means that the group has gone beyond simply being an ethnic group and function in that context as a race” (238). As I understood this, it seemed like she wanted to point to certain geographical/cultural/social groups that are not involved in oppression, and can maybe be positive in some ways. Yet, as much as I disagree with what Outlaw says later on, his mention of aesthetics as inherent in culture seems to create a problem for Haslanger’s view of ethnicity. Can there be a culture without (human) aesthetics, and can aesthetics exist without creating oppressive hierarchies? I’m not sure they can. Can you have ethnicity without this? Is Haslanger’s idea of ethnicity possible in a way that keeps it distinct from race?
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