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Gender and Ontology Reading Group

ASCA/OSZW Reading Group organized by Alex Thinius

“If the female function is not enough to define woman, and if we also reject the explanation of the ‘eternal feminine’, but if we accept, even temporarily, that there are women on the earth, we then have to ask: what is a woman?” (de Beauvoir 2011 [1949], 4-5)

Gender is troubled and troubling. It is deeply personal, political, and politicized. But what is gender actually? What should we make today of the distinction between sex and gender? How should we understand what sex-gender categories, values, roles, classes, relations, practices, ideals, structures, or labels are and how they relate? What is their relation to how we can lead our lives as concrete people (who in particular?)? Is sex-gender at most about people or should we be able to see it in other phenomena as well, e.g., artifacts, colors, social spheres, or economic distinctions? How does it relate to other elements of a situation, e.g., socio-economic, ableist, or racist inequalities? Can and should an ontology of sex-gender be localized, and how to achieve that? More generally, what does doing justice to sex-gender reveal about the relationship between ontological and normative questions? Is an ontology of sex-gender needed to name, analyze, and undo sex-gender related injustice and oppression, and what would it need to look like? What approach to ontology suggests itself after a critical study of sex-gender? 

The reading group invites people from any relevant background. In the past, it has been particularly interesting for PhD candidates, post-docs, and advanced Master’s students. The idea is to read contemporary and classical texts focussing on the relationship between sex-gender and ontology. The main aim is getting a better idea of different options how to understand sex-gender. In addition to the ontology of gender, we look at the gender of ontology as well.

The concrete program and formate is flexible and up to the interests of the participants.

Topics during the last two years have been or may be things like: de Beauvoir and different readings of her work, constructivist accounts, Marxist feminism, phenomenological approaches, sexual difference approaches, performativity theory, practice theory, dynamic systems theory, queer studies, analytic feminism, (feminist) empiricism, new materialism, Africana feminism, decolonial approaches, black feminism, historical work on 19th century sexology, masculinities studies, pregnancy studies, trans* studies, early- and proto-feminism.

The reading group usually meets on the second-to-last Friday of a month, 16.00-18.00. It is hosted by ASCA/Universiteit van Amsterdam and collaborates in particular with the OZSW study group feminist philosophy. Please email Alex ( at any time to participate, co-organize, or receive more information.

I warmly invite you to Spring 2020 sessions of the Gender & Ontology reading group (now in its third year) with a focus on new work in analytic feminist philosophy. 

After reading Butler ('Psychic life of power') and Khader ('Decolonizing universalism') last term, the upcoming articles discuss the notion of oppressive and critical gender kinds; the impact of facts, norms, and words on what genders are and who should belong to a social group; as well as on what basis and to which end we can hope to take a critical stand after all. 

The sessions always take place on the second to last Friday of the month, from 16.00-18.00. The dates and readings are as follows:

(There is no session in March. The July session will be decided based on people's interests.)

21/2/2020: Dembroff, Robin. Forthcoming. "Real talk on the metaphysics of gender."

17/4/2020: Dembroff, Robin. 2019. "Beyond Binary: Genderqueer as Critical Gender Kind."

22/5/2020: Thomasson, Amie. 2019. "The ontology of social groups."

19/6/2020: Haslanger, Sally. Forthcoming. "Taking a Stand: Second-Order Social Pathologies or First-Order Critique" Or: Bauer, Nancy. 2015. How to do things with pornography.

24/7/2020 TBA

The first two papers by Dembroff consider how dominant gender kinds (men and women) might be oppressive, in how far genderqueer might be a critical gender kind, and why "facts about membership in dominant gender kinds should not settle gender classification practices.". Thomasson's paper suggests that all social groups are based on various forms of normativity.

Haslanger's paper looks at critical theory beyond 'the struggle for recognition'; she asks what a critical standpoint is, given that even first-personal stances can be epistemically distorted, while on the other hand some forms of disciplinary power embedded and enacted in social structures and practices seem to be more valuable than others.

Depending on people's interests, alternatively, we can read a chapter from Bauer's book, which argues that the availability of a new term has ontological impact beyond performative acts.

Please write to Alex Thinius ( to receive the readings and to join the sessions in person or via skype.