Research

My research interests lie primarily in the ethical and political dimensions of epistemology, cognitive science, and language. A key focus of mine that unites these areas is the philosophy of salience. For me, salience is not about (mental, linguistic, etc.,) content, but rather the structuring and presentation of content, so that some is more prominent than others. I analyse the normative dimensions of salience. For instance, can one harm or wrong an individual or social group by making the wrong property of theirs salient in one’s attention? Can one mislead someone about a topic by making the wrong thing salient in language? What drives my research is a curiosity regarding the subtlest ways our cognition, language, and social structures can ‘go wrong’, politically, ethically, and epistemically.

Another core research interest is the philosophy of work. I am particularly interested in the topic of ‘invisible labour’. Questions I examine include: which of our activities don’t get counted or valued as ‘work’?; which ideological narratives function to obscure how those activities count as ‘labour”?; do certain of these narratives affect particular social groups more than others?

The philosophy of biology represents another research interest. I analyse sex/gender science, and ways of moving beyond the nature/nurture dichotomy.

Publications

Consider a terrible situation that too many women find themselves in: 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales alone every year. Many of these women do not bring their case to trial. There are multiple reasons that they might not want to testify in the courts. The incredibly low conviction rate is one. Another reason, however, might be that these women do not want the fact that they were raped to become the most salient thing about them. More specifically, they do not want it to be the thing that others attend to the most—that others find most noticeable and memorable. In this paper, I introduce the notion of ‘harmful salience perspectives’ to help to explain this and related phenomena. This refers either to attention on things that should not be salient, or not enough attention on things that deserve to be made salient. Following ideas within the feminist literature on objectification, I argue that we can be harmed when aspects of our identity that do not reflect our personhood – our agency, rationality, personality, and so on – are more prominent in the minds of others than aspects that do reflect our personhood. Crucially, these ways of attending do not need to implicate false beliefs and harmful ideologies to be harmful, but can be harmful in their own right. 

We argue that using a calendar-tracker to capture invisible labour in the academy comes with conceptual and ethical limitations, which might affect how successfully our tracker can provide academics with conceptual resources to understand their invisible work as work.

  • Book Review of J. Tabery’s ‘Beyond Versus: The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture, published in International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 2015, 29(3).

PhD

My PhD, completed at the University of Cambridge, developed the concept of a ‘salience perspective’. This refers to the structure and/or presentation of some (linguistic or mental) contents, to make some contents more prominent than others. For instance, we might structure some linguistic contents by talking about one content before another. We might structure some mental contents by better noticing and remembering certain contents over others. I argued that certain patterns of salience can both cause and constitute harm. For instance, a woman’s appearance might be made more salient than her talents: I argue that this salience pattern might causally activate harmful sexually objectifying beliefs about women, but also constitute a subtle and insidious form of objectification.

Work Under Review and in Progress

  • A paper introducing a new type of attentional harm, capturing subtle cases of improper identity recognition (title redacted, as currently under review)

    A common theme in complaints from those with marginalised social identities is that they are seen primarily in terms of that social identity. Some Black artists, for instance, complain about being seen as Black first, and artists second. I argue that complaints like this can be understood as referring to a particularly subtle form of harmful attention. Offering a taxonomy of harmful attention, I suggest that these individuals can be understood as objecting to a ‘relative attentional surplus on the wrong property’. This taxonomy helps to clarify how this attentional surplus can coexist with another type of harmful attention routinely suffered by those from marginalised groups, including attentional deficits. I suggest that the marginalised individuals and groups themselves are routinely insufficiently attended to in virtue of the surplus attention given to their social identity properties.

  • A paper exploring a subtle form of linguistic bias, constituted by the order in which we communicate the contents of an utterance (title redacted, as currently under review)

    Whenever we communicate, we inevitably have to say one thing before another. This means introducing particularly subtle patterns of salience into our language. In this paper, I introduce ‘order-based salience patterns’, referring to the ordering of syntactic contents where that ordering, pretheoretically, does not appear to be of consequence. For instance, if one is to describe a colourful scarf, it wouldn’t seem to matter if one were to say it is ‘orange and blue’ or ‘blue and orange’. Despite their apparent triviality, I argue that order-based salience patterns tend to make the content positioned first more salient – in the sense of attention-grabbing – in a way that can have significant normative implications. Giving relative salience to gender differences over similarities, for instance, can result in the activation of cognitively accessible beliefs about gender differences. Where those beliefs are epistemically and/or ethically flawed, we can critique the salience pattern that led to them, providing an instrumental way of evaluating those patterns. I suggest that order-based salience patterns can also be evaluated on non-instrumental grounds; talking about gender differences before similarities might constitute a subtle form of bias. Finally, I reflect on how the apparent triviality of order-based salience patterns in language gives them an insidious strength..
  • A paper bringing precision to the idea that we can objectify people simply in virtue of how we attend to them (title redacted, as currently under review)

    This paper clarifies a pervasive but under-theorised way in which objectification can occur: through attentional patterns alone. Further, it introduces and motivates particularly subtle forms of this attention-based objectification. These capture cases where aspects of one’s personhood are not ignored, nor are one’s object-like features fixated upon. Instead, the attentional pattern’s problems are revealed in its comparative nature. For instance, a person might listen to a trans woman’s conversational contributions, and so not ignore something meaningful about her, and yet find her figure comparatively more noticeable. Alternatively, a person might not fixate on the bodies of black men, and yet find their bodies comparatively more salient than the bodies of white men. Recognising these particularly elusive forms of objectification requires acknowledging that, in contrast with influential interpretations of objectification, one needn’t be reduced to a body or appearance, or to have one’s autonomy and subjectivity denied, to count as being objectified. One can be treated like an object in less extreme ways. While less extreme, these forms of objectification are not trivial. Their subtlety grants them an insidious immunity from criticism, which results in distinctive harms for the victim.

  • Attentional Bias and Lived Experience (Invited contribution for Philosophical Psychology special issue on ‘Understanding Bias’, more info here)

    Abstract TBC.
  • Harmful attention as a microaggression (work in progress)
  • Ideological distortions of work as ‘work’ (work in progress)