Symposium on Tuvel’s Transracialism Article


Philosophy Today has just published a special symposium, “Rebecca Tuvel and her Interlocutors,” which includes articles that examine the methodology and arguments in her paper, “In Defense of Transracialism,” that caused such a controversy last year. 

In her introduction to the volume, Philosophy Today editor Peg Birmingham (DePaul) notes about the controversy: “Almost entirely lacking in the maelstrom was any substantial engagement with Tuvel’s article.” The point of the symposium is offer that engagement.

The essays in the volume are:

On Intellectual Generosity: A Response to Rebecca Tuvel’s ‘In Defense of Transracialism’” by Chloë Taylor (Alberta).

Thinking through Rejections and Defenses of Transracialism” by Lewis Gordon (Connecticut)

Transracialism and White Allyship: A Response to Rebecca Tuvel” by Kris Sealey (Fairfield)

(Dis)Engaging with Race Theory: Feminist Philosophy’s Debate on ‘Transracialism’ as a Case Study” by Sabrina Hom (Georgia College)

Race and Method: The Tuvel Affair” by Tina Botts (CSU Fresno)

There is also a reply essay, “Racial Transitions and Controversial Positions,” by Tuvel (Rhodes College).

The whole issue is currently ungated and available here.

Ushio Shinohara, “Magenta from Acacia”

guest
10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sikander
Sikander
3 years ago

It must feel very awkward to have a symposium dedicated to an article of yours that many people attacked you for.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

Oh wait I just saw that Tuvel contributed to this symposium. Well that’s good. Maybe she’s fine with the symposium, I don’t know.Report

Hiding
Hiding
3 years ago

To me, the Tuvel fiasco revealed a major rift between social justice scholars and philosophers of more traditional or mainstream bents (“analytic” philosophers, e.g.): many social justice scholars think that the identities of one’s citations comprise a criterion of good philosophical work. Many others think that, though such an identitarian methodology–as I’ll call it–isn’t exactly right, it deserves to be taken seriously. The traditionalist/mainstreamers reject the identitarian methodology as not worthy of serious consideration. There was a related rift over a scholastic methodology, as I’ll call it, with the social justice scholars insisting on the importance of citing authors from certain schools of thought, most notably, critical race theory. The traditionalist/mainstreamer and social justice scholar types are maybe a bit idealized and less binary than what I’ll say might sometimes suggest, but I think they’ll do for this kind of blog post, at least until more scholars from either side break rank.

Many traditionalists/mainstreamers were frustrated that Tuvel’s critics made non-reductive appeals to identitarian/scholastic methodology; the critics wouldn’t say how Tuvel’s failure to follow these methodologies resulted in what both parties could acknowledge as philosophical failings. More concretely, the traditionalists/mainstreamers couldn’t make sense of the appeals to identitarian/scholastic methodologies without examples of work that (a) Tuvel ignored and (b) reveals an epistemic weakness in her argument.

The Hom article is commendable for, I think trying to address this lacuna. In her critique of Heyes, Hom argues that the empirical adequacy of Heyes’s understanding of passing faces challenges that she ignores, challenges derived from work in some version of social justice scholarship (my terminology). I don’t know whether this is true of Heyes, but I can at least recognize it as a legitimate criticism.

Unfortunately, Hom’s discussions of Overall and Tuvel are much less successful. I’ll just focus on Tuvel, since this comment is already long enough. Hom’s only critique of Tuvel’s argument is that the example of Rachel Dolezal–Tuvel’s chosen example–has been “weaponized” (41) against both trans people and people of color. Hom’s contends that, had Tuvel acquainted herself with examples of passing from Hom’s preferred schools of thought, she would have avoided deploying the Dolezal weapon against these embattled communities.

In the case of Tuvel, Hom just hasn’t offered anything that traditionalists/mainstreamers will recognize as a philosophical critique of Tuvel. Tuvel’s arguments could be sound even if we grant that Dolezal is as dangerous an example as Hom claims.

Maybe Hom didn’t mean to be pointing out a methodological problem with Tuvel’s argument, but rather a moral problem with how Tuvel articulates it. If so, fair enough. (Some clarity on when the concerns are epistemic and when moral would be nice.) But then Hom’s argument doesn’t fill the lacuna I mentioned: it doesn’t help the traditionalists/mainstreamers take Tuvel’s original, methodological social justice critics seriously.

And even on the moral interpretation, the argument is unsupported at its crucial steps. Would engagement with the preferred school of thought have led Tuvel to choose a different example? Does Tuvel’s use of the weapon actually harm anyone? Is Tuvel actually unfamiliar with the literature in question? Hom offers no evidence for her answers to these questions.

There’s an irony here. Starting from their own ship at sea, in media res, the traditionalist/mainstreamer sees social justice scholars engaged in what she regards as fundamentally methodologically unsound pseudo-inquiry. Invocations of identitarian or scholastic methodologies are important cases of this, but they’re not the only ones–failure to provide empirical support when needed is another common failing. And so the traditionalist/mainstreamer cannot rationally follow the social justice scholar’s advice to engage with the latter’s work. The shortcomings of Hom’s objection to Tuvel–and of similar social justice objections–help make it irrational for much of her intended audience to follow her advice and cite more authors from the preferred identity categories or schools of thought. As examples like this pile up, the traditionalist/mainstreamer increasingly thinks, “I’m trying to give this approach a fair hearing, but it’s coming time to render a verdict and move on…”Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Hiding
3 years ago

Very interesting comment.

Perhaps these approaches are fundamentally incompatible because they serve radically different goals. A social justice scholar is just doing something very different than a traditional philosopher. Perhaps it’s akin to a person at a policy thinktank talking to a philosopher of science. The questions they are asking are simply radically different questions, but in the Tuvel case, they look like (but aren’t) similar questions. If the social justice scholar isn’t concerned with the philosophical foundations or global coherence of their inquiry, but with very specific findings and real-world results, then there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for them to engage each other. Social justice scholars seem to traditional philosophers to be concerned with very specific outcomes couched in a very specific ethical theory with no regard to whether that ethical theory is justified or those outcomes are actually good; traditionalists seem to social justice scholars to be callous with regard to certain ethical questions and thereby actively abetting the oppression of others.

Maybe let’s just call the whole thing off?Report

Ben Almassi
Ben Almassi
Reply to  Urstoff
3 years ago

Even if there are different priorities, different interests, different values, and different methodologies at play, are we really justified in construed this as two dichotomous camps? That seems like a sociological claim that doesn’t follow straightforwardly from a recognition of a diversity of considerations that various actors are bringing to the conversation. A person can care about many things, and depending the particular project at hand balance one’s various priorities in different ways.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Ben Almassi
3 years ago

Sure, that’s possible, but l’affaire Tuvel is not particularly encouraging in that regard. Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Hiding
3 years ago

“Hom’s only critique of Tuvel’s argument is that the example of Rachel Dolezal–Tuvel’s chosen example–has been “weaponized” (41) against both trans people and people of color.”

Did Hom address the question of whether any examples of transgender people have been weaponised against women? If not, Hom is presupposing the very ontological and normative commitments Tuvel interrogated. I am yet to read any critiques of Tuvel that don’t, more or less explicitly, beg the very questions Tuvel was addressing. Report

SCM
SCM
3 years ago

It would be interesting to see if this radical idea of responding to philosophers whom ones believes to be mistaken about important social issues with reasoned arguments of one’s own catches on.Report

Chris Surprenant
Chris Surprenant
3 years ago

This seems like another attempt to somehow normalize the despicable and unprofessional behavior of those who attacked her and those who signed the letter. It’s nice to see that she’s going to come out of all of this as the big winner, but I sure wish those who either initiated or signed the letter would come out as big losers as well.Report

Phil PhD
Phil PhD
3 years ago

I was struck by this passage in Botts’ essay:

“In many ways the ideological divide between the analytic and continental traditions on the degree of importance of lived experiences in addressing any philosophical question is an instantiation of the age old divide between East and West, between art and the humanities on the one hand and science on the other.”

In what appears to be a rather gobsmacking bit of orientalism, Botts associates the ‘East’ with ‘art and the humanities’ and the ‘West’ with ‘science.’ I have no doubt that interested parties will vocally condemn Botts’ statement, though I genuinely wish they will not treat Botts as cruelly as they did Tuvel.Report