My research interests lie in the intersection of ethics and social philosophy (primarily as it relates to 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? Ultimately, I am driven to understand the distinctively subtle ways in which our cognition, language, and social structures can ‘go wrong’, epistemically and ethically.
In addition to this, I also research in the philosophy of biology, and the philosophy of work (particularly the topic of invisible labour).
- Harmful Salience Perspectives, in S. Archer, ed., 2022, Salience: A Philosophical Inquiry, Routledge, Ch. 11.
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.
- ‘Clocking Invisible Labour in Academia: The Politics of Working with Time‘, co-authored with Paulina Sliwa, Tyler Denmead, and Arathi Sriprakash. In: K. Facer, J. Seibers, & B. Smith, eds., 2022, Working with Time in Qualitative Research Case Studies, Theory and Practice, Routledge, Ch. 10.
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).
My PhD, undertaken 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 in Progress
- A woman first and a philosopher second: Minimal attentional surplus on the wrong property (currently being revised)
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 minimal form of harmful attention. Offering a taxonomy of harmful attention, I suggest that these individuals can be understood as objecting to a ‘minimal 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.
- The epistemic and ethical implications of salience in language: under review.
Whenever we communicate, we inevitably have to say one thing before another. This means introducing patterns of salience into our language. I introduce the concept of a ‘linguistic salience structure’, to capture these patterns. These structures organise contents by giving some relative salience over others, such as by mentioning x before y. Linguistic salience structures can have significant and surprising implications, I argue. 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 structure that led to them, providing an instrumental way of evaluating those structures. I suggest that linguistic salience structures 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 salience patterns in language gives them an insidious strength.
- Attentional sexual objectification (work in progress)
- Harmful attention as a microaggression (work in progress)
- Ideological distortions of work as ‘work’ (work in progress)