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Olberding, Amy. Looking Philosophical: Stuff, Stereotypes, and Self‐Presentation
2015, Hypatia 30 (4):692-707
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Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas

Self‐presentation is a complex phenomenon through which individuals present themselves in performance of social roles. The success of such performances rests not just on how well a performer fulfills expectations regarding the role she would play, but on whether observers find her convincing. I focus on how self‐presentation entails making use of material environment and objects: One may “dress for the part” and employ props that suit a desired role. However, regardless of dress or props, one can nonetheless fail to “look the part” owing to expectations informed by biases patterned along commonplace social stereotypes. Using the social role of philosopher as my example, I analyze how the stereotype attached to this role carries implications for how demographically under‐represented philosophers may self‐present, specifically with regard to dress and decoration. I look, in particular, to the alienation from one's material environment that may follow on the frustration of self‐presentation through bias. One pernicious effect of bias, I argue, is the power it has to deform and distort its target's relation to her physical setting and objects. Where comfort and ease in one's material environment can be a significant ethico‐aesthetic good, bias can inhibit access to, and enjoyment of, this good.

Comment: In this essay, Olberding explores the ways in which a person's material and aesthetic identity will shape their experience of themselves as well as others' perception of their identity. Further, she applies this ethico-aesthetic analysis to the case of the stereotypical aesthetic norms of the philosopher and the broader community of academic philosophy. In particular, she is interested in investigating (and in some ways, challenging) standard philosophical aesthetic norms, and the way these intersect with marginalisation and bias towards members of the philosophical community who do not fit the traditional image of the old, white bearded man philosopher. Olberding's discussion bears obvious relevance to topic areas such as philosophy of aesthetics and themes in feminist philosophy, but her arguments also apply more broadly to questions about self-identity, human relationship to the material, and economic/political/social justice. Since personal aesthetic choices are always influenced by a broad range of factors beyond simply personal preference - such as socio-economic access, ethnic and social culture, political affiliation, etc. - the text would have a wide range of interesting applications in social and political philosophy beyond the subject matter it directly addresses.

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