USF Philosophy Department
Tuesday, February 21, 4:00–6:00 pm
USF Main Campus, McLaren 251
Linda Martín Alcoff, “Social Identities and the Question of Realism”
Social identities — such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or disability — are rarely viewed today as natural phenomena. More often they are viewed as the result of politically motivated discourses and histories of oppression. This paper argues that social identities are more real than some of the anti-naturalist arguments presume, but this does not make them immune to alteration. However, the dream of total elimination, entertained by some cosmopolitanists, is probably unreasonable. And this is because social identity categories that take root, that are given legitimacy by the self-ascriptions of masses of people, largely do so because of their ability to explain important features of one’s material social environment, and because they represent distinctive systems of selective perception and meaning-making through which groups tend to organize both their social and epistemic practices. We need to understand social identities in relation to the formation of subjectivity and not simply in relation to the discourses developed by either colonial or nationalist, imperial or grassroots elements. This will help to make normative plans for the future of identity more realistic.
Linda Martín Alcoff is Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. Her writings have focused on social identity, epistemology and politics, sexual violence, Foucault, Dussel, and Latino issues in philosophy. She has written two books: Visible Identities: Race, Gender and the Self (Oxford 2006), Real Knowing (Cornell 1996); and she has edited nine, including Thinking From the Underside of History co-edited with Eduardo Mendieta (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), Singing in the Fire: Tales of Women in Philosophy (Rowman and Littlefield 2003), Feminist Epistemologies co-edited with Elizabeth Potter (Routledge 1993), Blackwell Guide to Feminist Philosophy, co-edited with Eva Feder Kittay (2006), Identity Politics Reconsidered co-edited with Michael Hames-Garcia, Satya Mohanty and Paula Moya (Palgrave, 2006); and Constructing the Nation: A Race and Nationalism Reader co-edited with Mariana Ortega (SUNY 2009). She is originally from Panama, but lives today happily in Brooklyn.