Science Visions, Vol. 2, No. 3
The Newsletter of the PSA Women's Caucus
Published: 28 July 2020
Welcome to Science Visions, Vol. 2, No. 3. Hope you are all doing well!
- Caucus Announcements: Thanks to Karen Zwier and Seeking New Webmistress
- Highlighted Philosop-Her of Science: Olimpia Lombardi
- Feature: A Lesson for the Academy from Nathan Stoltzfus’s Resistance of the Heart
- The PSA Women’s Caucus would like to thank Karen Zwier, our webmistress and listserv manager, for her hard work and dedication over the years!
- We need a new webmistress! If you are interested in the position or have any questions, please email Sarah Roe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you have an announcement or information that you think might be helpful to the members of the PSA Women’s Caucus, please email Sarah Roe at email@example.com.
Highlighted Philosop-Her of Science: Olimpia Lombardi
We are currently looking for nominees for HPH! All nominations are welcome, but we especially encourage nominations that promote diversity and early career scholars. To nominate, please contact Maria at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or use the nomination form.
Dr. Olimpia Lombardi is a Superior Researcher at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina, and a former Professor of Philosophy of Science at the School of Sciences, University of Buenos Aires, specializing in philosophy of physics and chemistry.
She leads the Argentine Group of Philosophy of Sciences and holds international positions: Research Associate at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science (LSE), Charter Honorary Fellow at John Bell Institute for the Foundations of Physics, member of the Academie Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences in Brussels, and one of the relatively few female members of the Foundational Questions Institute.
After completing a degree in electronic engineering at the University of Buenos Aires, and aiming to pursue a career in philosophy of science, she graduated from a BA+MA program in philosophy and subsequently obtained her PhD with a dissertation on determinism and indeterminism in physics at the same university.
Olimpia’s contributions to the field are noteworthy. As concerns production, she has published more than 120 papers in some of the most prestigious philosophy of science journals, in addition to more than 60 chapters for edited volumes with important publishers, and several authored and edited books. Having supervised more than two dozen MA and PhD thesis, her contributions to the community as a trainer are, too, acknowledged in the Spanish-speaking America.
Among the various topics that have drawn Olimpia’s attention over the course of her career, she identifies three as her main lines of research. Firstly, she has worked extensively on philosophical and foundational issues in quantum mechanics. Notably, she has developed a novel approach to decoherence and elaborated an alternative modal interpretation of quantum mechanics, namely the Modal-Hamiltonian. Secondly, she has analyzed the problem of the arrow of time in physics and defended a global-geometric approach in a general relativistic context. Thirdly, her work explores the relationship between physics and chemistry from an ontological pluralist point, and advocates for the autonomy of the chemical world.
She considers herself a self-made philosopHer who, in the beginning of her career, did not have access to an academic community nor benefited from the mentorship of a leading scholar in the field. She is always aware of the especial difficulties of being South American in addition to a woman philosopher of science. Yet an encouraging message can be read off from her career: it might be harder, but it can be done. In this sense, she takes most pride in having founded a research group for the philosophy of physics and chemistry in Buenos Aires that is now recognized internationally.
Feature: A Lesson for the Academy from Nathan Stoltzfus’s Resistance of the Heart
Janella Baxter and Alison McConwell
Toward the end of WWII, some of the remaining free Jews in Germany lived in Berlin. There was a reason why these individuals had not yet been expelled from their homes. They were either spouses of German Berliners or children of intermarried couples. Crucial to Nazi ideology were the socially constructed, but rigidly enforced Jewish and German racial categories. German women – especially women whose appearances instantiated the ideals of Aryan beauty – occupied a very special role in the Nazi regime. German women, in their capacity as mothers, represented the continuation of Aryan racial purity. As caregivers of the young and old, German women helped promote social conformity with Nazi policies. Importantly, during WWII German women were a vital source of labor in factories that produced war front goods. Berlin – a city significant to Hitler for its symbolic meaning as the country’s capital – was a major industrial city where many war front supplies were produced. It was also a city where Nazi leaders felt support for the regime was much more reserved than in other cities. Hitler and his top officials feared social unrest among German citizens so much that they outlawed large public gatherings (R.A.C. Parker Struggle for Survival: The History of the Second World War). Social unrest and political disaffection threatened to slow Hitler’s war machine by halting industrial production and by lessening Nazi support among citizens.
Although the Nazi conception of German femininity played an indispensable role in maintaining the status quo, it also created challenges for the regime when it came to intermarried couples and their children. In Berlin, the wives of many free Jews were both Aryan women and laborers. After years of increasingly draconian policies to pressure intermarried couples to divorce, in the spring of 1943 the regime decided it was time to deport the remaining free Jewish people in Germany. In just the first few days of March, the Jewish spouses of German Berliners and the children of intermarried couples were collected and corralled in a barrack-like structure that had previously served as a social services center for the Jewish community on Rosenstrae. Here, the husbands of German women and their children were held for several days, awaiting deportation to concentration camps. What happened next is an inspiring story from human history. The wives and mothers of Jewish prisoners (along with some men, but Nathan Stoltzfus emphasizes the action of women) took to the streets – or rather, one particular street. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the barricaded building demanding the return of their loved ones. Interrupted by Allied bombing of the city and faced with threats of violence from the Gestapo, the protest lasted for nearly six continuous days. Remarkably, on March 6th, 1943, Joseph Goebbels gave the order to have the Jewish spouses and children of intermarried couples released. Even the few that had been deported to concentration camps were returned to their homes and families in Berlin.
It’s always risky to extrapolate meaning from the historical context of an event and apply it to contemporary issues, but this story teaches a profound lesson that is quite general in scope. Historians of this time period have many fascinating things to say about the conditions that gave rise to this event, which includes Nathan Stoltzfus’s book Resistance of the Heart (1996), but collective action on the part of the women is an indispensable component of any analysis. To us, this story vividly illustrates how contingent features of the social world can be leveraged to empower social movements to achieve things that may appear at the time impossible. The unique cultural and economic role German women played in Berlin toward the end of the Nazi regime gave women a surprising form of social, political, and economic power – the power to resist a violent and pervasive regime in pursuit of what they loved most.
In this feature, we’re interested in exploring how such a lesson from history can be harnessed as we face an uncertain future with distinct obstacles. Here we restate the lesson for generality and clarity:
Contingent features of the social world can be leveraged to empower social movements to achieve goals that may appear at the time impossible.
This lesson’s role in the narrative of the historical moment described above is powerful for many reasons, but there are at least three situational factors that frame its profundity. First, when there are competing attempts for rapid change under constraints, conflict and strife frame new ways forward while also closing off other possibilities. Second, the successful outcome is known to abide by our general principle only in hindsight. There likely was and always will be exceptions to our rule, which means that applicability of this principle is not always guaranteed. And finally, in an evaluative sense, the optimism embodied by the lesson is hardwon: It demonstrates the strength of those who enter a fraught social arena with goals that can be captured under the principle’s scope. That strength is at least partially characterized by risk: it takes some serious courage to make oneself vulnerable to the consequences of failure. While contingent features of the social world can be leveraged to empower social movements, that opportunity does not insulate those doing the leveraging from risk. Perhaps that is why the narratives like those provided by Stoltzfus are so compelling: they tell us why such actions mattered and what was at stake.
To be clear, we acknowledge that there are important dissimilarities concerning today’s social movements and health crises when contrasted against the crisis of Nazism in WWII. We also recognize the distance at which our present focus lies from these past and current social movements, while also cautiously and respectfully acknowledging the intersections thereof. Our present focus is an inspection of our discipline and its prospective relationship with the principle stated above.
One important moral of the story supporting our principle of action is that certain social locations bring with them power that can be leveraged for change. This particular character of social positioning is something many philosophers, especially those engaged with feminist philosophy, know very well. If we are looking to achieve structural change, particularly under times of distress, one consequence is that this must be done through collective rather than individual action. In other words, looking for individual solutions to structural problems is a recipe for failure even though we are so often encouraged to see problems and their solutions in this way. We have waffled on what it means to mobilize the specific positioning of one group (e.g. tenured faculty versus contingent employees) compared to a broader source of collective action (e.g. tenured faculty and contingent employees and graduate students, etc.). There is a common argument that tenured faculty alone need to fight for the sorts of changes we discuss below, and that it can’t just be contingent workers themselves, i.e. lecturers, postdocs, adjuncts, etc. However, that argument rests on the assumption that contingent workers don’t have any power associated with their position in their philosophical and academic communities (many thanks to Megan Delehanty for bringing this to our attention). It can certainly feel that way sometimes. However, insofar as contingently employed philosophers and academics are aiming to retain spaces in the future of the academy, we represent the continuation of philosophy. Our voices matter. Our ideals matter for what the future of philosophy will look like. Many of us reside in professional networks where allegiances can be fostered. There is no doubt that the institutional experience of tenured faculty and their expertise in navigating academic institutions is an invaluable source of action. We depart from our historical narrative only slightly by emphasizing the reciprocal nature of a collective network of a variety of social positions, which in our case contains both positions of idealism and experience. Certainly some features of contingent employment contribute to the status quo, however, many of us have a strong vision for what we want philosophy to be.
Echoing the Philosophy of Science Association’s commitment to antiracism, diversity, and inclusion, we recognize that our own philosophical communities are far from being as inclusive as they ought to be (see the PSA’s website). And arguably, many philosophy departments are facing a state of crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic has added pressure to an already overburdened system. In addition to ushering forth what seems like an overnight transformation to the structure of teaching and researching, faculty, postdocs, and graduate students were asked to restructure their classes from in-person to online formats. In many places these changes took place with little to no technical support. Soon to follow were campus closures, wage and funding cuts, hiring freezes, layoffs, smaller incoming graduate cohorts, drops in enrollment and more. Add all of this to the increasing global instability concerning politics, economics, and climate, which has fueled the continual disempowerment of higher education for some time, we find ourselves (i.e. our disciplinary selves) in a precarious situation indeed. Many aspects of academia have been radically transformed to accommodate the immediate threat of the pandemic with no clear end in sight. What’s particularly worrisome is a lack of guarantee concerning the aspects of university life that we love. Community events, conferences, in-person engagement with colleagues and students are not guaranteed to be reinstated after the pandemic. We worry that policymakers and administrations may take the pandemic as a bureaucratic opportunity to further disempower institutions of higher learning. We could even reach a point where things we have taken for granted – like in-person teaching – are things we struggle to get back. We fear that some kind of disciplinary ruin is a possible worst case outcome.
We presume two situational factors for philosophy given the above considerations. First, the financial fall-out of the pandemic will land heavily on the humanities, and therefore, land heavily on philosophy. And second, the current civil movements will brighten the much-needed spotlight on inequalities and injustices that foundationally shape the history of our very own discipline. Ditto for the academy more generally. And so, we pose the following question: If philosophy (and the academy) endures such a state of crisis, what will the outcome be like? Can we too fall under the scope of our principle to harness contingent features in a way that empowers our own social movements in the discipline? As scholars in contingent positions, it’s tough not to feel discouraged by the immensity of the problems faced by our profession. What power do we have to initiate the changes we feel are needed? Changes that many have already been working towards, such as increasing equity and inclusivity in philosophy? We think this is where some lessons from the Rosenstrae protests apply. Institutions (and political parties) benefit when persons think of themselves as individuals operating alone. Radical change is unlikely when we operate as individuals. However, when we operate together as a collective movement the process of change can move faster. In our view, if we have an opportunity to struggle for a vision of academia as it ought to be, then we should take it. Of course the question then becomes: What image of philosophy in the academy do we want to achieve? And how do we want to achieve it? This is no doubt a tall order with tough questions, which may seem more than difficult. Impossible even, particularly under stringent conditions of financial and social stress. There are risks in defining what counts as philosophy and there are absolutely risks in defining the worth of our discipline. However, the threat of ruin always carries with it the potential for reform. As novelist Elizabeth Gilbert puts it, ruin can be a road to transformation. And so, if indeed we’re approaching a precarious and uncertain future, then we must take this moment to consider our collective goals. In our view, we should not simply aim for a return of the status quo.
We anticipate (at least) three norms of academia, and of course of philosophy as a discipline, to consider for reform. We do not pretend to have all of the answers nor to have identified all the significant challenges to our profession. Our list is brief and is an invitation for dialogue at best.
Defining Real Philosophy. We are concerned that the above situational factors may result in defining what counts as philosophy in a restrictive and traditional fashion. As philosophy departments face decreased funding, hiring cuts, and higher demands to justify their place in the university, one way to respond is to adopt an increasingly narrow conception of what counts as real philosophy. This may not be intentional, but is in some sense protective of the philosophical canon. Our concern is that in making such decisions, departments will entrench areas of research that disproportionately represent privileged perspectives. To us, this would be extremely disappointing. At a time of crisis, we have an opportunity to redefine our discipline so that it better represents a plurality of views, methods, topics, and skills. We must resist the temptation to re-centralize around a fraught tradition of exclusion built on a narrow subset of voices.
Doing More for Less. As tenure track positions become fewer and fewer, the teaching, administrative, and research responsibilities of every academic grow. Significantly more is demanded of academics in exchange for less. This has had a devastating trickle-down effect across the profession. Tenured and tenure track faculty are increasingly overburdened, sometimes forcing them to compromise the amount of attention and effort they put into extremely valuable duties like teaching and research. For scholars on the job market, particularly for those occupying positions of contingent employment and uncertainty, pressure to produce high volumes of publications while maintaining an impressive teaching record can be a source of extreme anxiety and depression. We think this sort of high demand structure has a number of concerning consequences for our profession, some of which concern the way such an environment might exacerbate existing inequalities within the academy. How might this cultural norm of doing more for less disproportionately disadvantaged scholars who struggle with mental illness, scholars with familial responsibilities, scholars from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation scholars? Might this culture discourage scholars who identify with under-represented groups from making the effort to pursue philosophy? We are concerned that the do more for less culture will continue to be embraced by many academics as natural, normal, and inevitable. We think the current crisis is an opportunity for academics to rethink and transform this attitude.
Contingent Employment. Living the contract life is tough. That statement was true before this all began and will continue to be increasingly relevant as we move forward. Contractual employment such as sessional teaching, postdoctoral appointments, and adjunct work often involve, for example, working hard to integrate into new departmental communities on a regular basis, funding your own expenses to relocate for work, and tackling administrative and international barriers like visa rules, spousal work permits, and changes to immigration rules. The pandemic will not make such tasks easier, so how can we systematically mitigate those challenges in an inclusive and caring way? We also must acknowledge how the uncertainty of contractual employment intersects with social issues concerning international status, identity, race, gender, class, etc. Our concern is that the leaky pipe metaphor for underrepresentation in philosophy could be further exacerbated towards a major blowout reversing some of the progress already made. We do, however, have the opportunity to be creative about strategies to protect our contractual workers by setting up networks of safety. This could include resources for contract employees that go beyond the typical institutional associations. For example, while of course research expenses are important, moving expenses should also be considered when negotiating contracts. We could add platforms that facilitate individual mentorship, and create resources that make the unwritten rules of the academy more explicit and therefore easier to navigate.
We began with a profound historical narrative that brings with it a principle of action. That principle embodies both hope and idealism applicable to moments of social stress. It encourages us to get clear on what we’re fighting for, and on our aims for reform. Like the protesters at Rosenstrae, philosophers occupy a unique social position that can be leveraged to advocate not just for how things were before the pandemic, but for how things ought to be. We’ve been trained to conduct thorough and meaningful research, to formulate compelling arguments, to critically and charitably scrutinize ideas, and to clarify difficult conceptual issues. Philosophers have played crucial roles in forming public policy, formulating foundational principles of democracy, resolving scientific controversies, clarifying misconceptions, and holding powerful entities accountable. What we do has value beyond our profession. Universities, the public, and other academic disciplines benefit from our work. We believe that philosophers can be a formidable force for institutional change, especially when we act collectively to protect our profession and all members of our community.
In closing, we’d like to propose a few suggestions on how to put our ideals into action. The most remarkable and powerful aspect of the Rosenstrae protests was the solidarity among the women. We think solidarity is the first step toward our own social movement in academia. To us, solidarity means supporting the interests and needs of all members of the philosophical profession across universities, the academics in other departments, and teachers more generally. Currently philosophy departments are under threat of being dissolved by administrations. Solidarity requires the philosophical community to come to the aid of these departments. We also propose that the community begin deliberating about how academia ought to be and how we can best achieve these aims. Philosophical associations like the APA or Philosophy of Science are viable platforms for community dialogue where philosophers can hold such discussions and share their successes and failures with collective resistance against administrations. Philosophers might consider holding teaching strikes – as a labor movement striking is something we should countenance since that’s often how labor movements have their power. We should discuss when we think this would be most apt, how to make it most effective, and share stories of success from others. What other positive steps might our community take toward fighting for an academia that truly embodies the ideals of higher learning? What do we want philosophy to be? And how will we get there? Let’s get the discussion going.
*In the originally published version of this newsletter, Nathan Stoltzfus is misspelled as Nathan Stolzfus. Special thanks to one of our dear readers for pointing this out to us! Corrections have been made above.