How to Change a Social Structure
Sally Haslanger (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

May 5, 2021, 9:00am - 10:30am

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Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

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Societies are complex systems that reproduce themselves: their hierarchies, their culture, their practices, and their structures.  Most, if not all, societies reproduce profound injustice.  How can the process of social reproduction be effectively disrupted and replaced so that better systems emerge?  In order to answer this question, I will begin by considering how agents are embedded in social systems and participate in their reproduction.  I will argue that once we see how both cognition and agency are shaped for the purposes of coordination, the philosophical strategy of promoting justice through argument and deliberation, i.e., the non-coercive appeal to reason, is not as promising as it might initially seem.  Is legal activism a better option?  Law is a means for coercing people, or "incentivizing" them, to do things differently in a way that is presumed legitimate. But law functions as a means of social reproduction as much (or more) as it disrupts it.  Legislation depends on elites who, for the most part, have been disciplined to perform their "proper" social function and have an interest in maintaining the system.  Moreover, legal activism, even if justified, tends to be ineffective unless there is a corresponding cultural change, over which law has limited control.  I will argue that the dichotomy between voluntary and imposed or coerced change is misguided.  Societies and their systems evolve in response to multiple factors.  Although social movements need allies in the state, effective and legitimate social change requires that we employ tools of both disruptive and everyday activism to change the material and cultural conditions of agency.  Practices change when we do things differently, together.  Nothing is ever promised by such activism, but it is morally wrong to hold out for promises.

Event Time: May 5th 9 am, Hong Kong (convert to your time zone: 

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