I recently had the distinct pleasure of attending an online presentation that Sara Ahmed gave at UC Berkeley. The presentation was motivated by a discussion of the terms polite and polish and their connotations and derivatives.
Anyone who has read Ahmed’s work will know that their analyses often revolve around careful dissection of terms and phrases that have hitherto been taken for granted as unproblematic, innocuous, value neutral, etc. To use Foucault’s terminology, Ahmed problematizes the seemingly innocent to show how it is implicated in relations of social power.
In the Berkeley presentation, Ahmed tied the actions of participating in “polite” culture; presenting oneself as polite; and polishing tables and other objects, on the one hand, to the process of rewriting events; biographies; and colonial histories; on the other–in short, Ahmed aimed to depict how socially privileged groups refurbish (“polish”) the appearance of a troubling past in the present.
That is how I understand the efforts of some philosophers to shape the collective memory of Anita Silvers, especially, but not exclusively, with respect to work on disability. In a post today at Daily Nous about a new prize to honour Silvers, Justin Weinberg described Silvers as “a professor who helped to establish philosophy of disability as an area of scholarship.”
Yet Silvers did not do so. Indeed, Silvers worked against the recognition of philosophy of disability as a distinct subfield, for example, by helping to establish the Society for Philosophy *and* Disability, one action among many that she took to counter my years of unpaid labour and service to develop philosophy *of* disability and create a community of disabled philosophers.
That the Pacific APA recently held an additional session designed to elevate Silvers was another attempt to polish the reputation of someone who inflicted harm upon quite a few of us. Since the reputations of a number of other philosophers are inextricably entwined with the reputation of Silvers, it is imperative for them to do so. Nevertheless, many of us can talk back to this self-serving contrivance.
I have copied below the comment that I wrote on Joe Stramondo’s recent Facebook post in which he gushed about the Pacific APA session and the cultural artifact that he has to show for it:
“I think that many philosophers will remember Anita Silvers as the Secretary Treasurer of the APA and then Local Organizer who organized two separate Pacific APA conferences at the Westin St. Francis hotel in SF when she knew that the hotel workers had called for strike action. APA members were put in the position of either crossing the picket line of a union composed primarily of people of colour or foregoing their sessions (and the professional status associated with them) and the money that they had paid for airfare. The first time it happened Falguni Sheth and Ron Sundstrom organized an alternative Pacific APA where those of us scheduled to present could do so and yet honour the picket line of striking workers.
Many of us, especially feminist philosophers and philosophers of colour, took part in the alternative conference. The hotel union was extremely grateful that this alternative conference was organized. Because this was such a controversy and there was so much anger at what Anita had done, she was voted out of the position of Secretary-Treasurer and a rule was created that prohibited a member from holding the position for as long as she had. Nevertheless, the next time the Pacific APA was in SF, Anita was in the position of local organizer and did the same thing again. Anita also resisted any efforts to make the APA accessible. Please see my “Introducing Feminist Philosophy of Disability” (2013) in which I describe some of the inaccessibility of the APA that Anita worked to preserve, e.g., the lack of a committee of disabled philosophers, the refusal to officially recognize philosophy of disability as a bona fide subfield.”
My article is on PhilPapers here: https://philpapers.org/rec/TREIFP