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Fascinating stuff, as always. The story about your Uncle Jack is wonderful.

Thomas Nadelhoffer

Thanks, Professor Overall. As someone from a working class background myself, I often feel disconnected from the profession--where first generation college graduates are not the norm. It leads to a kind of impostor syndrome at times. So, I appreciate the references you provided!

p.s. I second Komarine's comment--the story about your uncle was very illuminating.

Christine Overall

Thank you, Komarine. And thank you, Thomas. I appreciate your feedback.

Thomas, about being from a working class background: I have found that class origins deeply affect one’s integration into academia. I see it in my own children: They grew up middle class with a mother who is an academic, and they have always felt, and been, more at home at the universities they attended than I was. I was the first in my family to go to university, and I lacked some of the relevant knowledge, skills, experiences, and connections possessed by students from middle-class and owning-class families.

At Canadian universities there seems to be little overt awareness of the scholarly and pedagogical significance of socio-economic class distinctions. And students from working-class families sometimes feel they need to conceal their origins and try to fit in with students from more privileged roots. Perhaps this contributes to Impostor Syndrome. (I have written about “feeling fraudulent” [in my book _A Feminist I_], and for many years I led workshops at my institution, primarily for graduate students, about dealing with those feelings.)

However, I have also come to believe that a working-class background provides other strengths (such as resilience, a dislike of pretence, a real love of learning, and little sense of entitlement). I hope you will find those strengths, or others, in your own class background.

best wishes, Christine

Shelley Tremain

Christine, it was such a pleasure to interview you. I'd like to ask you two questions, one concerns how you adapted my work on the naturalization of impairment, the other concerns ageism in philosophy.

First question: In my work on impairment, one of my aims has been to show the cultural specificity and historicity of the category of impairment. One way in which I did so in the article that you mention is by showing the shifting limits of the classification of impairment and how what counts as impairment--that is, what falls under the category--has expanded as an increasing number of more and more finely tuned "disorders" come into being, materializing the category, elaborating its representation, etc. Do you think that the same kind of process takes place with respect to the naturalization of age? Is this naturalization of age, and old age in particular, accomplished through the ongoing association of age with certain traits, capacities, desires, etc.?

Second question: Recently, in a blog-post entitled "Why All 'Diversity in Philosophy' Initiatives Are Forward-Directed: Ageism, Among Other Things," I raised the issue of ageism with respect to the homogeneity of philosophy. The post is here:
I aimed to draw attention to the unacknowledged ubiquity of ageism in philosophy, arguing that ageism is one (but only one) of the reasons why philosophers have not developed initiatives that redress past injustices in philosophy. Given your work on ageism and the naturalization of age, as well as the morally arbitrary factors that these biases impose, do you have any comments about the ageist biases that, in my view, pervade philosophy and likely academia more generally?

Christine Overall

Thanks for these questions, Shelley. I'll respond briefly to each one briefly.

1) This is a wonderful question, and it would take far more space than I have here to answer it. (In April I’m presenting a paper [at the University of Richmond] called “How Old is ‘Old’? Aging, Values, and Ability,” which deals with some of this material.) A short answer to your question would be this: In the west, ideas about all human life stages are gradually changing. (Youth, for example, is now considered to extend well into people’s twenties.) Old age is being redefined as a result of a variety of factors, including increases in life expectancy, changes in the age of retirement, hand-wringing about the supposed burden that old people exert on younger ones, the use of medical technology to prolong life, and the debate about assisted suicide. What remains fairly constant is the stigmatization of old age, and the gendered nature of that stigmatization.

(2) Certainly academia, and philosophy in particular, seems to have a preference for so-called “rising stars.” This preference often takes the form of favoring someone who has very recently completed the PhD. Some ads go so far as to state that the PhD must have been awarded within a handful of years; see, for example Sometimes this preference takes the form of preferring persons who are ABD, especially if the candidate has supporting letters from powerful and influential members of the discipline—despite the fact that such a person may not yet have much, if anything, in the way of a record of teaching or published research. And sometimes the preference for “rising stars” takes the form of preferring individuals who completed their PhD quickly—a criterion that discriminates, of course, against women who become mothers during their degree, against individuals with childcare or other familial responsibilities, and against disabled persons who may be dealing with health issues and/or institutional barriers.

This bias in favor of “rising stars” is often oddly oblivious to the empirical evidence of research and teaching excellence amassed by individuals who graduated longer ago. Age is certainly not a category of diversity that universities are looking for when they hire.

Shelley Tremain

Dear Christine, thanks so much for your insightful remarks. I hope you will consider sending me a copy of the paper you will be giving at U of Richmond. I think your remarks here and indeed your work about how different kinds of "aged" people come into being are very instructive and provocative.

The second link you included in your comment wouldn't work yesterday, so I deleted it. I think it is working now; so, I have copied it below. I have also added links to some other interesting pieces about ageism and age discrimination in academia.

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