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Women philosophers and the RAE


Women philosophers and the RAEThe Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) is an organization which attempts to reflect and represent the views and interests of women working in all fields and all traditions of philosophical inquiry. It also supports the publication of the Womenʼs Philosophy Review, which provides the only British forum for the systematic review and dissemination of work by women philosophers and feminist philosophy. Two years ago SWIP conducted a survey of the position of its members in the profession of academic philosophy and found that, for a variety of reasons, women continued to feel themselves disadvantaged within the profession. One of the key reasons identified for this was the greater likelihood of women philosophers working in areas of philosophical inquiry which are not regarded as ʻmainstreamʼ by the majority of philosophy departments in UK universities. Such areas include ethical and political philosophy as well as continental philosophy and feminist philosophy. The experience of the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise in philosophy departments appears to have reinforced these concerns. In the light of this, a special open meeting of SWIP was arranged on 25 October 1997 at the University of London during which members could discuss both the problems of women in post and the possibilities of carving out a career as a woman philosopher in the current context of a higher education system dominated by the requirements of the RAE.

The discussion in the afternoon covered three broad areas: (1) the actual experience of the RAE by women philosophers within and outside university philosophy departments; (2) ways in which the accountability, transparency and expertise of the RAE panels could be improved; (3) positive ways in which SWIP members could work within the current RAE system.

In relation to (1), several points emerged from different peopleʼs experience. Perhaps the most significant point was that it was unclear whether the exclusion or devaluing of certain kinds of philosophical work operated at the stage of departmental selection processes for inclusion in RAE or at the level of the panelʼs actual consideration of work submitted. Women philosophers working outside philosophy departments (for instance in politics or cultural studies) reported that they had not experienced prejudice against, for instance, work in feminist philosophy at the departmental level; instead most had found their status and employment prospects enhanced by their philosophical publications. It might therefore be the case that some philosophy heads of department, and some universities, were operating a conservative strategy in their submission because of assumptions about panel preferences. If this was the case it clearly has strong implications for the likelihood of certain kinds of philosophers being employed in current circumstances.

The situation was felt to have been exacerbated by reports that the RAE panel operated with a hierarchy of forms of publication, as opposed to focusing on matters of philosophical substance. Thus articles in refereed journals and single-authored books were apparently preferred to other forms of publication. The number of philosophy journals reflecting the concerns of the mainstream analytic tradition is much larger than for those engaged in other aspects of philosophy. This has led to a greater proportion of published work in continental and feminist philosophy being in the form of edited collections. If refereed journal articles are given a higher status by RAE panels than chapters in edited books, then this discriminates against work in philosophy that does not have so wide a range of journal outlets. Another factor which has also served to heighten the concerns of women working in philosophy departments was the lack of any representation of feminist philosophy among the expertise of RAE panel members, and the lack of an assessor for interdisciplinary work.

In relation to (2), the discussion centred around the issue of how women philosophers could ensure that neither intentional nor non-intentional discrimination against any area of philosophy crept into the RAE procedure. It was agreed that the best way to do this was to ensure that those submitting work for the RAE were as well informed as possible about the procedures and criteria being used in the assessment, and that the panel was as well informed as possible about the range of academic philosophical work and the specific requirements for understanding and judging it. It was suggested that the RAE panel be approached, on an informal basis, and asked how their procedures could be improved so as to prevent departmental chairs and university appointments panels acting as a force for conservatism in the belief that this would reap RAE rewards. In pursuing these goals it was agreed that SWIP would be working jointly with all those who felt that their branch of philosophy had been inadequately recognized by the last round of the Research Assesssment Exercise.

In relation to (3), the most positive way forward was felt to be the development of refereed journals in which non-mainstream philosophical work could be published – one example of this was clearly the Womenʼs Philosophy Review. In addition it was suggested that members should take up all opportunities to be involved in editorial processes, as it was only by participating in existing academic networks that dismissive attitudes to certain kinds of work could be changed. The society needed to be as supportive as possible in making information about grants and bursaries, or publishing opportunities, available to members.

Kimberly hutchings

Address for correspondence: K. Hutchings, Dept of Politics, University of Edinburgh, 31 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9JT. Email: For information on/subscriptions to the Womenʼs Philosophy Review contact Dr Christine Battersby, WPR General Editor, Dept of Philosophy, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL.


Dearing revaluedin the face of its gradual implementation. It is, moreover, a development only possible in Britain because of Dearing and tuition fees. It is what Dearing was always all about. It constituted the silencing of political debate over the abandonment of the Robbins principle of access on the grounds of ability to benefit rather than ability to pay. Those participating in the Dearing charade, and surprised by the outcome, remind one of Boswellʼs verdict on scholarly blockheads: ʻA scholar who is a blockhead must be the worst of all blockheads because he is without excuse.ʼ

That tuition fees will deter aspirants from poor backgrounds is not, however, the sole or even the chief reason why the Dearing exercise and its consequences are radically inegalitarian. It is rather that the disaggregation of the sector that is to come will foreclose the opportunity for a properly higher education for all except perhaps 10 to 12 per cent of the age cohort – that is, less than one-third of those who will be enrolled on degree or other higher-education programmes. This will be the minority whose families are able and willing to pay for coherent programmes of study that provide small seminar discussions with peers, individual personal contact with tutors, time and resources to reflect on and contextualize information and argument, and the other features that characterized ʻDearing Boringʼ? (Roger Harris, ʻDearing Boring: The Massification of Higher Educationʼ, RP 87, pp. 2–5.) The Dearing Report is the penultimate moment in the commodification of higher education in Britain. It foreshadows a final stage, only shortly delayed while the government prepares the ground with denials of such an intent, of competition between quasi-privatized institutions competing in a segmented market for diplomaand degree-level courses. That final stage will involve a further disaggregation of the sector into elite provision, offering threeand four-year developmental degrees, both generalist and vocational; secondtier, modularized, credit-accumulated qualifications; sub-degree, diploma-level awards; and short courses with credit rating. Institutions and their ʻcost centresʼ will compete nationally and internationally on price and quality, however the latter is audited.

This dystopian vision is not futurology. It is now openly advocated by liberals and postmodernists alike: the liberation of consumer preference, and the freeing of the spirits of the plural fragments, respectively. It is the haunting nightmare of those working in the sector, who are anxious about its implications but are too tired, too dissipated, too compromised by their contradictory positions, or too overawed by the ideology of ʻglobalizationʼ to do other than acquiesce

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