Thursday, May 24, 2007


I spent last Saturday at the annual Southern California SWIP. As frequently happens when I go to this spring meeting, I found myself thinking back to the first SWIP meeting I attended. It was at Ann Garry’s house in Pacific Palisades and it must have been an early one, though in the blur of graduate school memories, I am not really sure. It was probably 1976 or 1977. I remember that Nancy Cartwright was there and someone presented a paper on make-up. My friend from graduate school, Joanne Waugh, and I were the only women not dressed in denim and we felt very out of place. I think we were out of place pretty much everywhere in those days.

This weekend. what really struck me as I remembered that meeting was how SWIP had turned out to be an unexpected anchor in my life, even though it was 15 years before I went to another meeting. I thought that feminism and philosophy really had nothing to do with each other and I did not really understand what the point of the meeting was. I wasn’t going to do “feminist” philosophy just because I was a woman! I mean, I was a feminist in the sense that every sensible woman who came of age in the 60s was. But it took me those intervening 15 years to begin to understand the ways in which gender had played a role in my life as a philosopher and was absolutely relevant to my philosophical work. So that first meeting serves as a benchmark and gives me some insight into the ways in which we can be blind to the forces that shape our own lives.

This particular meeting was great though small. Sandra Harding hosted at UCLA and Libby Potter, Helen Longino, and Alison Wylie each presented papers on gender and science in the afternoon. Libby is working on practice theory and the idea that epistemic practices and moral practices could be “overlapping” practices might give us some insight into the dual role of the epistemic and moral in the sciences. Helen’s paper reviewed her idea that there might be feminist epistemic/pragmatic virtues that differed from the “standard” list (sometimes attributed to Kuhn, but mentioned by many). This was an illuminating update of this idea, which was spelled out in her 1995 “Gender, Politics, and the Theoretical Virtues” Synthese 104: 383-397. One of the most interesting aspects of her presentation was the focus on the ways in which each of these lists, the alternative feminist and the traditional virtues, are pragmatic, but at the same time epistemic virtues. Alison looked at the way interests in gender issues had emerged in archaeology in the 1980s and how, though not explicitly feminist in origins, interest in gender seems to have led to a more explicitly feminist archaeology. The developments in this particular discipline provide a case study for further investigating the role of standpoint in the sciences.

All in all, the meeting was a welcome respite from the madness of end of semester grading and a chance to talk with friends. Thanks to SWIP for providing one means through which the much-needed intellectual nurturing of women philosophers takes place.

Update: I just thought it would be nice to add pictures from the prior year P-SWIP. Also check on the P-SWIP webpages.

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