Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Haslam article on essentialism

Finally have some time to get back to this. I've found a good article by Nick Haslam on essentialism. It is a good overview of the essentialist/antiessentialist debate outside of a purely philosophical context and warns against its hasty polarisation.

This is his conclusion:

Throughout this paper I have argued that essentialism poses less of a threat than is commonly imagined, and that antiessentialist critique is therefore often misplaced and unproductive. Essentialism is neither a unified syndrome within social-scientific explanation, nor is it entailed whenever natural-kind concepts or biological underpinnings of human diversity are invoked. Accordingly, it is wrong to set up essentialism as a straw man whose demolition implies that human kinds should be given social constructionist (conventionalist or nominalist) explanations. Realist accounts of at least some human kinds can be developed that avoid essentialism but accommodate natural scientific and social constructionist elements where appropriate. Essentialism is equally differentiated at the level of laypeople's intuitive understandings of human kinds, and it is a mistake to treat it as a monolithic and purely pathological or ideology-driven phenomenon. Essentialist thinking appears to be grounded in basic cognitive principles and adapted to serve the process of social learning, and has distinct components with different implications for stigma and prejudice. In short, the binary opposition of essentialism and antiessentialism is one that social inquiry should aim to go beyond.

The full article can be read here