Diversity Reading List for Philosophy


A new website sponsored by the School of Philosophy, Religion, and History of Science at the University of Leeds offers philosophers a way to find “high-quality texts in philosophy, written by authors from under-represented groups. Its aim is to promote the work of such authors and facilitate finding and using their texts in teaching.” It’s called Diversity Reading List in Philosophy.

From the “about” page:

Making sure that a solid proportion of the readings in one’s class are by authors from under-represented groups, is not an easy task. Since such texts are likely to be less popular or less immediately available, finding them and assessing their usefulness involves considerable effort, adding to the already busy schedules of teachers and lecturers. The Diversity Reading List is here to help you overcome this difficulty. It offers a quick way of finding texts and evaluating their relevance for your teaching. You can search the list for specific texts, authors or keywords, or browse by topic in an easily navigable structure of categories inspired by PhilPapers. Whenever possible, we included abstracts, author’s keywords, and links to online versions of texts and other resources.

The team behind the site write, in an email:

The List exists largely thanks to the involvement and recommendations of all those who care about making philosophy a discipline of equal opportunity. It is a new and evolving resource, and we would welcome recommendations of texts to be included. We also encourage you to share your experiences of using specific texts in teaching by posting comments to particular list entries. Please use our Contribute page for recommendations and all other comments and suggestions.

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Will Behun
Will Behun
6 years ago

In looking at their list so far, much of it is shorter articles although there does seem to be an attempt to balance continental and analytic approaches. I’m wondering if anyone has any concrete suggestions for diversifying my intro syllabus given that I use a historical approach and rely on primary texts that are generally monograph length. I feel like I do a disservice to the history if I have to pull out Descartes (for example) even to include a thinker as brilliant and important as a Fanon or an Arendt. Are there other ways to include these voices? Am I off base in not wanting to make the trade? Is it hopeless?

Sorry to hijack, though I think it’s directly relevant.Report

Simon Fokt
6 years ago

First of all, thank you for posting this, Justin! We really appreciate your support.

Will – the List is a developing resource. It is currently at the very beginning of its existence and its scope is rather limited. We are looking towards expanding it in the next months, so hopefully we will have something that could be of use for you soon!Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
6 years ago

I have dozens of names I can give you from 6th-11th century India and 13th-19th century Tibet, but somehow I don’t think that’s the right kind of “diversity.”Report

rad
rad
6 years ago

Worthwhile initiative, but the diversity categories are problematic. According to this group an upper middle class woman from Manhattan with a BA from Harvard is disadvantaged/underrepresented, whereas a white Appalachian man with a BA from Nowhere State is privileged. If we want to remove barriers to entry into philosophy, we need to start looking a other forms of disadvantage as well.Report

anon adjunct
anon adjunct
6 years ago

The Diversity Reading List is a great idea, and the categorizations are helpful for those trying to put together a syllabus. I don’t see great value in criticizing an initiative that is seeking to remedy one important diversity problem in philosophy because it doesn’t address all of the ways in which our discipline is exclusionary.

To Will Behun: I hope I am wrong, but I found that when I committed to diversifying my syllabus, I had to give up on the monograph-length historical text approach. I now do an issue- or question-based approach and include excerpts from canonical texts alongside other texts of varying lengths, both historical and contemporary. I have found this approach to be appropriate particularly for introductory level courses with students who do not intend to major in philosophy, because the material is easier to digest and the breadth of perspectives helps students to recognize the relevance of the central questions to the ‘real world.’Report

nono
nono
6 years ago

The objection above is not about addressing all the categories of disadvantage. It’s about the choice of priorities.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
6 years ago

@nono

Right. It’s also about the fact that “diversity” generally refers a specific set of identity-political categories (race, class, gender), but not actually to diversity of thought per se. This is why, as I noted above, I doubt this “diversity” list has room for medieval Indian or Tibetan or Chinese philosophers, although it would doubtless make room for an Indian-American or Chinese-American who said the right social justice-y things about “diversity.”Report

PeterJ
6 years ago

The Onion Man’s comment about Indian and Tibetan texts may be a bit tongue in cheek but it seems a good one. Just how diverse is ‘diversity’ I wonder.Report

anon adjunct
anon adjunct
6 years ago

I think that the reason this group seeks to increase recognition of the philosophical contributions of women and people of color is because it is these groups which are a part of our (the United States’) society and history, but which have been historically excluded from the philosophical canon in the Continental and Analytic traditions that are widely studied in the United States. This might explain why the List doesn’t seem to be focused on including philosophy from other parts of the world. Another diversity initiative might seek to draw the attention to philosophy from other parts of the world and this, too, would be very worthwhile, but I do not see why this undercuts the value of this *particular* set of diversity concerns. I don’t understand why this initiative is perceived as promoting values that compete with anyone else’s, other than those who do not believe that philosophers should have easier access to the work of women and people of color.

Even if it is the case that economic exclusion and exclusion based on pedigree (which, by the way, I agree are important problems) were a more important or serious problem than the history of exclusion of women and people of color, I still don’t see why there would be backlash against this initiative that is dealing with a different issue. That’s like criticizing a person who wants to become healthier for improving her diet, because she continues to smoke.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
6 years ago

anon adjunct,

Are you saying that Chinese people are not part of the history of the United States? That Indians have not been excluded from full participation in Anglo-American societies? Or are you only saying that Asian culture and history isn’t as important or relevant for (“real”?) Americans, as European culture and history is?

I agree that the provincialism of philosophy as an academic discipline is its own problem. That said, I don’t believe it’s nearly as separate from the issue of “diversity” as you seem to.

To be clear, I’m not against this list in and of itself, and I’m sympathetic to the idea of knowledge as situated. But I’m nevertheless critical of the ideology that this list implies, as if “diversity” (in philosophy of all places!) meant diversity with respect to the philosopher’s race, class, and gender–and very little else. On this point I would note, in line with rad’s comment #4 above, that “class” is somewhat underserved. And that your own comment serves nicely to illustrate the problematic ways in which “race” is deployed in discussions about diversity.Report

anon adjunct
anon adjunct
6 years ago

Onion Man,

You are right that I was not thinking of Asian Americans, and that this is problematically exclusionary according to the criteria of “diversity” I was employing. (Coincidentally, I recently took an Implicit Association Test, and I showed a slight implicit association between Asians and foreignness. On a conscious level, I do not think European Americans are more legitimately American than Asian Americans, but I can see that this comment thread was one discussion in which my implicit bias came through). I have to concede, then, the issue of provincialism and racial diversity are more connected than I had realized.

I’m still not fully understanding the argument about the relevance of a class-based critique, unfortunately. I think it is appropriate that the List to focus just on race and gender. I don’t really see how a reading list could be an appropriate way to address philosophy’s classism.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
6 years ago

anon adjunct,

Thank you very much for your polite and considered reply.

I don’t really have a bone to pick about class and the List, except insofar as I see the List as part of a broader identity politics movement that tends to see e.g. poor white Appalachians as first and foremost white, and e.g. rich black Angelinos as first and foremost black. I find this problematic for a variety of reasons.

In any case, I suspect you’re right that a reading list is an inappropriate way to addressing classism. But I also suspect that a reading list is inappropriate for addressing racism and sexism. The way I see it, true “diversity” in philosophy must be about much more than the race or gender (or class) of the authors on the syllabus.Report

Simon Fokt
6 years ago

Thank you all again for your comments!

You make very valid points regarding the limited scope of the list. There are three main reasons why the List currently focuses on race and gender:

1. We have to start somewhere. You will notice that our ‘About’ page mentions that the list will be expanded in the future to include other protected characteristics, and we welcome your suggestions on how to do this. Your comments here are valuable for us as they show that such expansion is needed and expected. Please give us some time to develop and send us your suggestions using the Contribute form on our webpage.

2. The reason why we decided to start here lies in the fact that inequalities related to race and gender are currently best documented and seem to have the largest effect in academic philosophy (you can find some references on our ‘About’ page). Thus we are not denying that other issues exist – but if we have to start somewhere, we thought it would be best to take an evidence-based approach and start by addressing issues which are most pertinent.

3. Finally, we decided to start here because the aim of this list is to influence stereotypes and student perceptions. This cannot be done without ensuring that the students actually realise that the author of the text they read comes from an under-represented group. The easiest way in which the students can ‘get it’ is by looking at the author’s name. The names of people who are not male and not white are likely to betray the author’s group identity and thus ensure that the students get the point. But ability, sexual orientation or class are not encoded in names and thus students likely won’t even notice. While this might seem rather crude, it is once again not a reason to dismiss other under-represented groups – it is merely a pragmatic reason to focus on those groups which are most visible first.

the Onion Man – please do send us suggestions of the texts you mention! I do think that it would be valuable to include such texts in teaching history of philosophy or parts of such texts in more topic-based teaching. We do ask the students to read excerpts from Aristotle when teaching metaphysics, I don’t see why we couldn’t take excerpts from Indian or Tibetan texts. The point of our list is to (1) change the stereotype of philosophers as white men; and (2) encourage the dissemination of ideas produced by people who are non-white or non-male. Using the texts you mention could serve both those aims.Report