Open Questions in Social Ontology

Hsiang-Yun Chen and Sally Haslanger have just edited an special issue on Social Meaning and Reality for the EurAmerica Journal and it features an article by yours truly. This is how they summarize it on their introduction to the special issue:

Just as there is a large variety of social categories that an individual can inhabit, there is a wide range of explanations of why one belongs to a particular social category. In “Open Questions in the Metaphysics of Habitable Categories,” Axel Barcelo divides the competing views into three general approaches, i.e. what he calls the common sense theories, socio-historical accounts, and performative theories. In addition to delineating their respective strengths and limitations, Barcelo argues that for someone not perfectly situated in a specific category, a scenario that in present days occurs more often than we originally think, the differences between these approaches have critical consequences. With this in mind, he suggests a pluralist account of category membership.

You can download the paper in open access here:

And here is the full abstract:

My purpose in this text is to offer a general roadmap for navigating most current debates in the metaphysics of social categories regarding what sort of fact it is for a person to inhabit one social category or another—for
example, what makes a person Mexican, or gay, or rich. With this goal in mind, I propose classifying the debating positions into three broad camps: common sense theories, socio-historical accounts, and performative theories. I characterise their main differences, identifying the main challenges and achievements of each. I show that for persons well integrated into their categories, the differences between these three broad camps are minuscule, yet become crucial when we try to account for people not so well integrated. Then, I sketch a pluralist proposal that reconciles the three camps I have identified, while doing justice to the challenges presented by interstitial phenomena such as mestizaje, transition, passing, migration, etc.

You can access the whole issue, with contributions also by Ron Mallon, Dan Zeman and Robin Zheng:

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