Philosophical Gentrification

That the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy recently added five entries on Latin American philosophy is one indication of growing recognition of the area, writes Axel Arturo Barceló Aspeitia (National Autonomous University of Mexico) in a post at PhilPercs entitled “Against Latin American Philosophy Going Mainstream.” But, he asks, is that increased attention an unalloyed good? He thinks there is some reason for concern:

My main worry is that the mainstreamization of Latin American philosophy, if it ever happens, will not result in the substantial inclusion of Latin Americans into the American philosophical mainstream, but will result instead in the substantial inclusion of mainstream American philosophers (that is, mostly white and mostly male philosophers from American research universities) into the field of Latin American philosophy. Think of it as the gentrification of Latin American philosophy: As Latin American philosophy becomes more and more fashionable, American mainstream philosophers will be more attracted to it and will use their structural power to occupy prominent spaces therein, and displace actual Latin Americans. In the end, instead of more Latin American philosophers being recognised as part of canonical mainstream philosophy, we will have more American philosophers being recognised as part of canonical mainstream Latin American philosophy. 

I take it that this concern about “gentrification” may apply, mutatis mutandis, to some other areas of philosophy, particularly areas of philosophy based (in some sense) on geographic, cultural, ethnic, religious, sexual, or other social groupings. For the purposes of this post we can call these areas of “group philosophy.”

Aspeitia’s concerns about gentrification are based in part on an empirical claim, namely, that as a type of group philosophy becomes more popular with “mainstream American philosophers”, the philosophers who are part of the relevant group who work on that type of group philosophy get “displaced.” That’s one possibility, but not the only one. From the armchair, it seems just as plausible that as mainstream American philosophers gain interest in a type of group philosophy, the professional status of philosophers who are part of the relevant group who work on that type of group philosophy is elevated.

Which empirical hypothesis (if either) is more accurate, I don’t know. We can ask experts in those areas: if we look at the increased interest from mainstream American philosophers in not just Latin American philosophy, but also other areas of group philosophy—for example, African philosophy, African-American philosophy, Arabic philosophy, Asian philosophy, philosophy of disability, feminist philosophy—does it seem like the professional status of philosophers who work on those areas and are members of the relevant groups is improved or worsened? (Aspeitia’s example of the demographic make-up of the contributors to A Companion to Latin American Philosophy is not clear evidence for it being worsened. That about two-thirds of the volume’s contributors are based in the U.S. is compatible with either hypothesis.)

Aspeitia’s post also appears to contain the judgment that if there is a tradeoff between increased attention to Latin American philosophy and increased attention to current Latin American philosophers, the latter is preferable. As I’ve said, I’m not sure there is that tradeoff, but supposing there is, I would be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on it—not just for Latin American philosophy, but other types of “group philosophy,” too.

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