“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Tuvel’s Hypatia Article

There is a ton of commentary on this controversy, so I won’t try to summarize it.

This wiki page does a decent job, as far as I can tell.

Here is Rebecca Tuvel’s article, “In defense of transracialism.” It may be helpful to read it before weighing in on the controversy.

It is unfortunate that Tuvel failed to engage more deeply with the work of non-white and transgender scholars prior to publishing her article. The editors of Hypatia should have required such engagement. I suppose the peer reviewers chosen did not have the required expertise in the relevant subfields. Peer review, while absolutely essential in all academic disciplines, remains a largely unpaid form of scholarly labor. Established, tenured or tenure-track professors can donate more of their time to it. Scholars who are transgendered, non-white, and/or female must struggle to find a place in the predominantly white male discipline of professional philosophy, so I imagine finding time to accept requests to peer review articles for free is extremely difficult. So there are structural problems here preventing thorough review of such articles.

That said, it is also unfortunate that Tuvel’s critics for the most part appear to have entirely ignored her argument, speculative though it may be. Tuvel does cite the transgender scholar Susan Stryker, whose call is important in the context of the backlash over the article’s publication:

I follow transgender theorist Susan Stryker’s call for those of us thinking through the Jenner–Dolezal comparison to “hold open a space for real intellectual curiosity, for investigations that deepen our understanding of how identity claims and processes function, rather than rushing to offer well-formed opinions based on what we already think we know” (Stryker 2015).

It may very well be the case that Tuvel’s arguments are spurious, that issues surrounding racial and gender identity transitions cannot or should not be so easily compared. But even if she is wrong, I think there are many live philosophical questions here worth exploring. Identity formation is not a simple enough matter to warrant bypassing critical reflection to denounce anyone and everyone who dares to make unpopular arguments. It is interesting to note the gap between what people said in public about Tuvel’s article versus what they told her in private.

[Update: Adding a link to Kelly Oliver’s take on this dust up, which is supportive of Stryker’s call: HERE]







4 responses to “Tuvel’s Hypatia Article”

  1. Sam Mickey Avatar

    I’d be curious to here what you think of Tuvel’s arguments. You say her arguments “may very well be” spurious, and you consider “even if she is wrong….” Are they spurious? Is she wrong? Personally, I agree with Kelly Oliver’s assessment.

    Were you being sarcastic when you said, “It may be helpful to read it before weighing in on the controversy”? It’s necessary to read it if one wants to weigh in with any rational contribution to the discourse. The ethics of reading is a big part of this whole controversy.

    If you read the whole article, I think it’s clear that the peer review process was fine. She makes sound arguments based on relevant sources. Moreover, those sources themselves use other sources, so it’s arbitrary to judge her article by the subject positions of the names listed in her bibliography. Those names aren’t isolated. Sources have sources. Author names are contiguous with chains of names from other authors with different social locations. When people critique your bibliography, it’s often not very different from judging a book by its cover. The sources in Tuvel’s bibliography do not have to form a mirror image of the gender and racial demographics that she is discussing. The peer reviewers were right not to require her to dive more deeply into more sources.

    Hypatia does consistently good work, and this article is no exception. It’s a shame that some members of the editorial board failed to support their author and caved under the pressures of social media outrage and identity politics.

    1. Matthew T. Segall Avatar

      I’ve just added a link to Oliver’s assessment of the outrage machine, thanks for reminding me of it. I think Tuvel’s argument is logically sound, even if I have questions about whether logical consistency is an adequate way to assess what is at stake in the very different domains of gender, sexuality, and race. But Tuvel herself admits as much in her article when she says she is most definitely not arguing that “race and sex are equivalent, or historically constructed in the same way” (note 1). I think her treatment of the issue deserves consideration, though nothing she has argued settles the matter to my mind. As a process-relational thinker, I am reasonably certain that issues of identity will never be settled. In general I see identities as fluid and relationally enacted. The relational part is important, because it puts a check on just how fluid identity can be. There are social and historical limits to self-creation, in other words. I think Tuvel does a decent job acknowledging these limits.

      To be honest, my comments about the citation issue were taking the accusations of Tuvel’s critics at face value. I do not know the subfields in question well enough to look at her bibliography and determine whether she has neglected relevant scholarship by marginalized scholars.

  2. mary9macrina Avatar

    What in the world would The Powers That Be in Academia do with the work of Christopher Bache, who regards the concept of active cosmic reincarnation informing the plurality of identity to be not only transgendered, transracial, but translifespan….and I would add intralifespan concerning the fluidity of identity in the context of this particular kerfluffle. “The soul-process of collecting and accumulating experience takes place over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and reincarnation and what’s being wound around the spool toward the end is some of the most precious stuff in the universe- human experience”. http://www.academia.edu/4093693/The_Universe_Reincarnation_and_the_Transformation_of_Humanity_An_Interview_with_Christopher_Bache

  3. McLuhan on Electronic Media – Footnotes2Plato Avatar

    […] seems to refer to the all too common phenomenon of mob-like social media shaming. E.g., the recent Tuvel Affair, or any number of recent anti-etc. protests where chants of “shame!, shame!, shame!” […]

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