Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The "Languaged" Conference Campaign

Okay, I know---'Languaged' is not a word in English, but so what? :-) I think we should start a campaign to highlight the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in the line-ups of many (supposedly international) conferences and edited volumes. The campaign is, of course, modelled on the (very effective and much needed!) Gendered Conference Campaign promoted by the Feminist Philosophers blog. And, like that campaign, this campaign is not about blame; nor is it about identifying the causes of the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in analytic philosophy. It only aims at raising awareness of this systematic phenomenon (especially among philosophers who are native English speakers who seem to be mostly oblivious to it). Analytic philosophy aspires to be universal in its scope and yet it is surprisingly provincial and insular when it comes to including people whose native languages are not English. As I have argued elsewhere, I think that this phenomenon hurts not only EFL philosophers, but analytic philosophy in general. I hope that the LCC will start raising awareness about this issue.

Please feel free to e-mail me at g 'dot' contessa 'at' gmail 'dot' com to bring any conferences/volumes with an all-native-English-speaker line-up. I will post these on this blog (and keep the source of the "tip" anonymous). Please note that, since it's not always easy to verify whether or not a certain philosopher is a native English speaker, sometimes conferences/volumes will be incorrectly flagged. In those cases, please contact me at the above address and I will run a correction and retract the post. Again, the purpose of the campaign is not to point fingers or to "name and shame"---it's to highlight a systematic problem.

PS Note that the LCC campaign does not advocate for the inclusion of philosophers who are non-native English speakers at the expense of philosophers who are members of other groups that have been historically underrepresented in analytic philosophy. To the contrary, the campaign is animated by the idea that the more diverse and inclusive analytic philosophy is, the better it is for everyone. Also, it is quite possible that the bias due to language is not nearly as strong as the biases due to gender, race, or ability. I am not interested in playing the Oppression Olympics. First of all, professional philosophers tend to be more privileged than the overall population (as usually they are highly educated and solidly middle-class (even if with the increasing number of adjuncts this is quickly changing)). Second, the sort of linguistic bias targeted by the LCC is closely associated with but is not identical to racial/ethnic biases experienced by underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities, so it is difficult sometimes to distinguish between the two and to determine the individual contributions each bias makes. (Also see my disclaimer here)


  1. A related issue which should matter in light of analytic philosophy's problem-solving orientation: "Diversity trumps ability", as the slogan goes. "When selecting a problem-solving team from a diverse population of intelligent agents, a team of randomly selected agents outperforms a team comprised of the best-performing agents." There's a (non-uncontroversial) formal proof for that. More details here: http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2014/10/diversity-trumps-ability.html

    1. Thanks, Enzo. That's a really interesting piece!

    2. This article is pseudo-science.


    3. (needless to say, nothing hangs on that theorem here)

  2. Here is the comment I've already written on the Feminist Philosophers blog, where I first read about the Campaign. Sorry for the lenghty comment - it shows how far away from the concise English style I am.

    I’m a non-native English speaking, female philosophy grad student too, though not studying in a English speaking country.
    I appreciate that the issue of native language has been raised, but, as regards the campaign, I’m unsure whether it’s a useful move or not. One important step forward would be to have more awareness and discussion of the
    issue among the philosophical community. This alone may well have an impact on the way a non-native speaker is treated, understood and, if necessary, supported in their effort to master the common language through which their theories can be discussed out of their native country. Knowing that your interlocutor is dealing with an extra difficulty can be a precious background awareness at conferences, during common projects, in professional interactions more generally.

    On the other hand, publication of written papers may need to be addressed differently. I personally think that writing in English and struggling to achieve proficiency at least in scientific English has been good for me. It actually helped me clarify my theses and aim at more concise and well-structured arguments. I dare say language doesn’t come alone: there is a style associated with English – arguably, a style that is useful if not necessary to incorporate in your papers if you want them to get published in good journals. Some may find it even more difficult to write in English beacuse the academic style associated with their native language is quite different. Now, when I say that my experience with gradually changing my writing style has been positive, I am not suggesting that we should all be happy to conform to what I perceive to be an “English style”, over and above writing in comprehensible English. I understand not everyone will recognise themselves in this style. Also, I can be wrong in believing there is a general style associated with academic or philosophical English: this has merely been my experience in my area.

    A point we may bear in mind in this discussion about written non-native language. Let’s not forget that even if you write correctly, there will probably be expressions or ways of formulating certain phrases that will be recognised by native speakers as unusual or bizarre. By experience, there will also be more or less confident ways of stating one’s thesis, more or less sharp ways of conveying your central point, more or less brillant and more or less boring writing syles. While we cannot accept incomprehensible and grammatically incorrect papers, we may avoid easy dismissal and be more patient and charitable with clearly non-native English written styles.