Second Annual Social Justice and Oppression Workshop

Friday, March 1

9:50 – Opening remarks
10:00-11:20 – Céline Leboeuf, Florida International University (Keynote)
11:30-12:30 – Brynn Welch, University of Alabama at Birmingham

2:00-3:00 – Cheryl Frazier, Auburn University
3:10-4:10 – Andrew Morgan, Birmingham-Southern College
4:20-5:40 – Sally Haslanger, MIT (Keynote)

Saturday, March 2

9:20-10:20 – Holly Kantin, University of Alabama
10:30-11:30 – John Harfouch, University of Alabama in Huntsville
11:40-1:00 – Erin Beeghly, University of Utah (Keynote)

Location: Woods Hall 115, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

Registration: If you plan on attending, please register by Thursday, February 22 by sending an email to Rekha Nath ( Registration is free, but it will be helpful to have a sense of how many attendees there will be. For non-UA attendees, I’ll provide instructions for free campus parking when you register.


Erin Beeghly, “Radical pluralism: a new theory of what’s wrong with stereotyping”

This talk is a meditation on stereotyping’s complexity and its implications for theory building. It begins with an observation: when stereotyping is wrong, it can be wrong in diverse ways and for a variety of reasons. This generates a philosophical puzzle for theorists of stereotyping, including those interested in testimonial injustice, ontic injustice, and other varieties of stereotype-fueled injustice. When seeking to identify and explain what’s wrong with stereotyping for the purposes of critique, one is apt to find philosophical models that presume a single wrong-making property shared across all cases; or those that reduce to wrongs of stereotyping to a modest number such as two or three. To create a theory that recognizes stereotyping’s true normative complexity, I turn first to Wittgenstein then to cluster theory, a kind of theory often used to model complexity in the natural world. I argue that a cluster theory of what’s morally wrong with stereotyping works surprisingly well. Sketching the theory’s contours, I emphasize its explanatory virtues as well as its ability to amplify marginalized voices and its collaborative, democratic spirit. What emerges is a new, radically pluralistic theory of what’s wrong with stereotyping capable of recognizing both normative complexity and the ways in which unjust social environments give rise to—and sustain—wrongful stereotyping.

Cheryl Frazier, “Fat Vanity Projects as a Model for Reimagining Beauty”

Feminist scholars, Fat Studies scholars, and fat activists alike have long argued that beauty is problematic. They often worry that beauty is treated as an ideal one either meets or falls short of. This standard (usually understood as white, thin, cisgender, able-bodied, and relatively wealthy) both replicates and reinforces various systems of oppression. Although projects like the body positivity movement aim to expand limited beauty standards, Stefanie Snider worries that this (at best) only broadens the boundaries of beauty, still leaving many people to be seen as and penalized for being ugly in contrast. This leads figures like Snider and Mia Mingus to advocate that we should instead embrace ugliness1, and leads Kate Manne to insist “Fuck beauty culture… Burn it down. Raze it.”2

While these worries are well-founded, they all center on a limited understanding of beauty tied to conventional standards of attractiveness, ones which are necessarily reflective of others’ perceptions of our bodies. But this need not be the only way to understand beauty, and in this project I argue that fat communities offer us a viable alternative. To do this, I examine Fat Vanity projects, a fat community effort to foster appreciation of and autonomy over one’s own body through beauty. What is unique about Fat Vanity is that it challenges a dominant narrative that fat people ought not celebrate their own bodies, instead carving out space for fat people to find positive aesthetic value in themselves that does not rely on others’ approval or recognition. I will argue that Fat Vanity is a needed survival tool in an anti-fat world, and that it offers us a promising path for reimagining beauty while simultaneously challenging anti-fat oppression and other, related oppressive systems.

1 Stefanie Snider, “On the Limitations of the Rhetoric of Beauty: Embracing Ugliness in Contemporary Fat Visual Representations,” in On the Politics of Ugliness, 2018, 338. Mia Mingus, “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability,” Leaving Evidence (blog), August 22, 2011.
2 Kate Manne, Unshrinking: How to Face Fatphobia (New York: Crown, 2024), 206-7.

John Harfouch,On the Relationships Between Racism and Colonialism”

A common understanding of the relationship between racism and colonialism focuses on the racist dehumanization of the colonized. However, certain colonial projects have depended on racist offenses against the colonizer. In this talk I will explore this aspect of colonialism and what it means for both the academic study of colonialism and the practical anti-colonial struggles currently being waged on campuses today.

Sally Haslanger, “Critical Social Theory: Combining Theory and Practice”

What is the project of critical social theory and what methods are apt?  I will lay out my own approach to critical social theory and provide a sketch of how I have responded to some of the pressing questions about the nature of social structures and social change, with an emphasis on praxis, i.e.,  the role of action in theorizing.

Holly Kantin, “Not a Choice!” “Born This Way!” Does it Matter?: Clarifying the Role and Relevance of Etiological Claims in the Context of Gay Advocacy

Proponents of gay rights have long emphasized the ideas that being gay is “not a choice” and that gay people are “born this way.” The idea that these etiological claims are not only true, but that their truth is of moral, social, and political significance, has often been taken for granted in both mainstream gay advocacy and popular culture. Nonetheless, it is unclear why either of these etiological claims is supposed to matter or what role they are supposed play in supporting the goals of gay advocacy. In fact, and as numerous commentators have discussed, it seems doubtful that support for the social justice goals of gay advocacy (which include, but are not limited to, the case for legal rights) could hinge on the truth-value of an empirical claim about how or why people come to be gay. In light of this, it may seem reasonable to conclude that the popular idea that these etiological claims matter in gay advocacy is simply confused.

However, I claim that this conclusion is too quick, at least when it comes to “not a choice.” In this talk I defend a conciliatory explanation of the apparent conflict between the popular idea that it matters that being gay is not a choice and the plausible reasons for thinking that nothing of significance in gay advocacy rides on whether being gay is a choice. I argue that the two ideas are in fact compatible, and that the appearance of conflict can be explained by distinguishing two ways of understanding the question, “does it matter whether being gay is a choice?” After defending a negative answer to one reading of the question and a positive answer to the other, I argue it is the latter question that is of primary relevance when we are trying to understand what is behind the popular emphasis on “not a choice.” Finally (and if there is time), I will reflect on why it is easy to overlook the reading of the question that I claim is of primary relevance and what, if anything, can be learned from this.

Céline Leboeuf, “Race, Bodily Alienation, and the Politics of Self-Care”

In this talk, I show that bodily alienation is an important aspect of the lived experience of racial oppression and offer a model for undoing this phenomenon. To begin, I contend that double-consciousness (that is, seeing oneself through the eyes of a dominant other) lies at the root of bodily alienation. I illustrate these claims via the works of W.E.B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, and Patricia Williams. I then chart the relationship between self-care and questions of social justice. On the one hand, the purported inability to care for oneself has been used to justify racist practices, including slavery. On the other hand, when racial minorities reclaim self-care, this can constitute, as Audre Lorde famously put it, an “act of political warfare.” I conclude by describing how self-care can counter double-consciousness and bodily alienation and sound a warning about the dangers inherent in the commodification and cooption of self-care today.

Andrew Morgan, “Pejorative Algorithms: Derogatory Expression without Communicative Intentions” (co-authored with Ralph DiFranco, University of South Dakota)

Large scale patterns of behavior can feel derogatory from the perspective of targeted groups, despite lacking expressive intentionality at the level of individual acts. Let’s call this emergent derogation. In this paper, we focus on two cases: disability selective abortion and shadowbanning. We describe how emergent derogation is not fully explained by existing theories of group expression or oppressive things. We then draw from recent work in philosophy of language on the notion of “organic meaning” to pave a way forward. Patterns of behavior can be designed to express by processes of cultural evolution, regardless of whether they involve overt intentionality.

Brynn Welch, “What Children’s Literature Can Teach Us about Responsibly Transforming the Philosophy Classroom” 

In 1965, Nancy Larrick wrote, “Although his light skin makes him one of the world’s minorities, the white child learns from his books that he is the kingfish. There seems little chance of developing the humility so urgently needed for world cooperation, instead of world conflict, as long as our children are brought up on gentle doses of racism through their books.” Not the first and certainly not the last person to call attention to the problem in children’s literature, Larrick’s comment from 1965 might apply well to much of what we consider to be standard philosophy classes in 2024—not only because of whose names are on the syllabus, but also because of how we teach those works and even how we define what it means to do philosophy.  In this talk, I will explore the lessons from the conversation about children’s literature (and media more broadly) and what we might learn from them as we work to transform our classes and even the discipline.

This event is sponsored by the College of Arts & Sciences and the Department of Philosophy