Disrupting Ideology: Social Meaning and Social Movements

Lecture Annual David Hume Lecture on Human Nature

Sally Haslanger

Sally Haslanger, Ph.D.

Racism, sexism and other forms of injustice are more than just bad attitudes — after all, such injustice also involves unfair distributions of goods and resources. But attitudes play a role. How central is that role? Tommie Shelby argues that racism is an ideology that consists in false beliefs that arise out of and serve pernicious social conditions. In this lecture Haslanger agrees that racism is an ideology, but in her view, ideology is deeply rooted in social practices. Social practices are patterns of interaction that distribute things of value, guided by cultural meanings. Unjust practices rely on social meanings that are internalized as habits of mind that distort, obscure and occlude important facts and result in a failure to recognize the interests of subordinated groups. How do we disrupt such practices to achieve greater justice? Haslanger argues that this is sometimes, but not always, best achieved by argument or challenging false beliefs, so social movements legitimately seek other means.


Sally Haslanger is Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women's and Gender Studies at MIT. She has published in metaphysics, epistemology, feminist theory and critical race theory. Broadly speaking, her work links issues of social justice with contemporary work in epistemology, philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. Her book Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique (Oxford 2012) won the Joseph B. Gittler award for work in philosophy of the social sciences. Recently she has been working on structural explanation with an emphasis on the materiality of social practices and the role of ideology. In 2015, she was the Spinoza Professor at the University of Amsterdam and gave a series of lectures, workshops and seminars on Critical Theory and Practice. In 2013-14, she served as the president of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division and in 2015 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


5:30 PM
Ketchum Library, St. Francis Room

Biddeford Campus

Free and open to the public