Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women's & Gender Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
I was born in Connecticut, but moved to Shreveport, Louisiana in 1963 when I was eight years old. I went to boarding school at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas and then to Reed College in 1972. I had several majors in college and spent time living in France and India. I graduated from Reed in 1977 with a combined philosophy-religion major and went to the University of Virginia for an MA in philosophy. In 1979, I transferred to the University of California, Berkelely for my Ph.D. and studied with George Myro, Paul Grice, and Alan Code, finishing in 1985. My first job was at the University of California-Irvine. Since then I have also been a member of the philosophy faculty at the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and since 1998, MIT. In the Spring 2015 I was honored to be the Spinoza Chair at the University of Amsterdam.
My philosophical interests are broad. I began my philosophical life specializing in analytic metaphysics and epistemology, and in ancient philosophy (especially Aristotle). Over time I have been able to develop my interests in social and political philosophy, feminist theory and critical race theory. I have published on the problem of persistence through change, pragmatic paradox, and Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory of substance. In feminist theory I have written on the objectivity and objectification, and Catharine MacKinnon’s theory of gender. For many years I was devoted to making metaphysical sense of the notion of social construction. My book Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique (Oxford 2012), collects papers published over the course of twenty years that link work in contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language with social and political issues concerning gender, race, and the family. It was awarded the 2014 Joseph B. Gittler Prize for “outstanding scholarly contribution in the field of the philosophy of one or more of the social sciences.”
More recently I have been working on social practices, social structure, structural explanation, and topics in feminist epistemology. In 2012, I gave the Carus Lectures at the Pacific Division meetings (see MIT SHASS news), titled “Doing Justice to the Social.” In 2015, as the Spinoza Professor at the University of Amsterdam, I gave a series of lectures, workshops, and seminars on “Critical Theory and Practice.” In 2017, I gave the Gaos Lectures at UNAM – the National Autonomous University of Mexico – entitled “Structures of Injustice.” I am concerned in my current work to elucidate the notion of ideology in a way that links it with contemporary work in epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind, and to do justice to the materiality of social practices and social structures.
I regularly teach courses in social/political philosophy, feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, and history of philosophy. In 2019, I began to co-teach Gender and Development with Libby McDonald in MIT’s D-Lab. The D-Lab methodology is based on participatory design and creative capacity building. Students partner with organizations in vulnerable communities to exchange knowledge and design interventions that alleviate poverty, contribute to well-being, and promote social justice. You can read more about one of the Fall 2019 projects to design reusable sanitary pads with the Society Empowerment Project in Kenya.
For over a decade I co-edited the Symposia on Gender, Race and Philosophy and convened and the Women in Philosophy Task Force (WPHTF). In 2000, Ásta, Ishani Maitra, Nancy Bauer, and I beganthe Workshop on Gender and Philosophy (WOGAP), and it continues to thrive. I served as Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at MIT from 2009-2013. I have been an Associate Editor of Ethics since September 2016. In 2017, I started New England Public Philosophers.
In 2010, I received the honor of being named the Distinguished Woman Philosopher of the year by SWIP. In 2011, I was selected for the YWCA Cambridge Women of Distinction Award. I served as the President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in 2013-14. In 2014, I received MIT’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award; in 2015 the “Faculty Ambassador Award” from MIT’s Office of Multicultural Programs; and in 2017 the Multicultural Programs ICEO (Institute Community and Equity) Award as a member of the Day of Action organizing team. The Day of Action team also won the Rossi Award for Creative and Responsive Leadership from Cambridge Community Television (CCTV). I was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015. In 1995-6, I was a fellow at the National Humanities Center; in 2001-2, I held a fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and in 2018 was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
For further information about my research, teaching, and other activities please see the pages linked on the menu bar above. You can also get a sense of the kind of work I do by reading an interview prepared for the MIT SHASS website.