Redistributing attention and authority in political philosophy

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 6, 2022

On Tuesday, I discovered that the Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy has 23 chapters (the introduction included), of which 20 have been written by political philosophers based in the USA, 2 by political philosophers then based in the UK who have in the meantime moved to the USA, and 1 chapter by a duo of political philosophers based in Oxford. And while this is a pretty striking case, in many if not most handbooks authors from the USA and the UK are numerically dominating.

I’m not going to argue why this is undesirable. If you think this is not a problem, then you don’t have to read on. I have very little time right now, so I’m going to focus on solutions, rather than trying to convince those who haven’t been part of this conversation before on why this is a problem.

But for those of us who think this is a problem, the question then is what to do.

Most of the time, editors of such overview books are based in the USA or the UK; most of the time, they get asked for those roles. They face many barriers in knowing what political philosophers do who are from/based in countries outside the Anglophone academic centre – the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The philosophers that are not based in that academic centre are less often published in the journals that those editors read. They are less likely to (be able to) attend the conferences that those editors attend. They are less likely to be among the seminar speakers. And, as we can infer from the above pretty striking example, they are less likely to be invited to contribute to standard works in their field.

Edited volumes, conferences, seminar series with only speakers from the academic centre of philosophy transport an image: that ‘good’ philosophy is done in the USA and other Anglophone countries, and that if one wants to be successful, that’s where you have to be. This image, however, narrows and impoverishes philosophy, as it excludes valuable knowledge produced elsewhere – see, for example, Bryan Van Norden or Katrin Flikschuh’s work if you want to read the arguments.

I have my own ideas about what may explain these forms of underrepresentation of scholars who are not based in the Anglophone academic centre. But I’ll follow the strategy of the feminist philosophers who, years ago, launched the Gendered Conference Campaign. I will not try to come up with explanations, but rather focus on the effects of these forms of underrepresentation and ask what we can do.

It’s clear that we’re witnessing a vicious circle here. If editing roles (being instances of academic power) are given to political philosophers based in the academic centre, and if the (writings of) philosophers from outside the academic centre are not known to editors (or more generally to those who have an influence in the distribution of attention and opportunities to gain authority), they are less likely to be invited to contribute to books and conferences, do not have an opportunity to gain that experience and grow in academic status — and off goes the vicious cycle of ignorance and exclusion.

A few months ago, Filippo Contesi pointed out and argued for something very close to what I’m arguing here – but his focus was on those not being native speakers of English. But I think the problem is not primarily with the language, but with the fact that there are, in terms of authority and status, geo-academic inequalities; they overlap to a large extent, but not entirely, with those who speak English. If your mother tongue is, say, German or Hindi, but you moved to a UK or US elite institute, you become part of the academic centre; if you were raised in India in English, but stay in India and do not make frequent visits to the US/UK, having English as a native language won’t help you much; the chances are very big that American political philosophers will not know your work.

What are then solutions to break this cycle of ignorance and exclusion?

We need something like the Gendered Conference Campaign, but then not for women but for scholars who are not based in the Anglophone academic centre, and modified to take into account that inviting people long-distance for physical meetings is expensive and bad for climate reasons. And it seems to me that there are degrees of being at the centre or at the margins, with our colleagues in the global South, who publish often in languages other than English, and who often have the least access to material resources, being most overlooked.

The first thing to do is to read (more often) the works of those who are not working at universities in Anglophone countries. Read their papers and books. Make sure your library has a subscription, e.g. to the South African Journal of Philosophy. Invite political philosophers from outside the academic global centre to give talks at your department. Invite them to be visitors. Attend their conferences (which is now often even possible without travelling). If you’re involved in running a journal, try to free up fonds to help papers originally published in languages other than English to be translated.

I also think we should not be afraid to admit to ourselves and acknowledge that there is much work by political philosophers outside Anglophone countries that we do not know because there are barriers to knowing them, as long as we make steps (whether small or larger) to do something about this. I have friends and colleagues who have strong networks among political philosophers in Asia, Africa and among Indigenous thinkers and they have several times advised me on what to read and whom to invite.

For those of you who do not have such friends, I hereby open the comments sections in which you can give recommendations for the names/writings of political philosophers from outside the Anglophone centre, whose work you think of highly and should be read more widely. I’m writing this post with a nasty deadline staring at me, but will join that conversation over the next days in the comments section.

NB – Thanks to Dorothea Gädeke and Serene Khader for comments on a draft of this post.

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“Geo-Academic Inequalities” in Philosophy | Daily Nous
04.07.22 at 11:40 am



kien 04.07.22 at 1:32 am

Why not engage with non-Western philosophers? As the non-Western world rises (as they surely will in the long run), the Anglo-centric world will diminish.


Ingrid Robeyns 04.07.22 at 5:56 am

I just recalled that there is such a directory. If you go to the APA’s directory of underrepesented philosophers,
and then you click on ‘filter by identity’ and ‘not a citizen of an anglophone country’, then you get names of 219 philosophers.
I’d be curious to what extent such directories are found helpful by those who want to redistribute attention and authority away from the Anglo-center and towards other areas of the world. To be honest, I’ve never used this directory (despite that I now recall that I entered my own information ages ago); I rather try to ask people whom I know are knowledgable about scholars in a certain region. But clearly, that is also method that is not straightforward.


MFB 04.07.22 at 11:14 am

Politics is about power. Power is about money and violence. The Anglosphere has the vast predominance of money and violence. Political philosophers might comment upon this but can do nothing to change it. Claiming otherwise, and pretending that one can confront the reality of the world through holding conferences and setting up listserves, fulfils no purpose apart from spurious self-affirmation.

As a South African I took a brief look at that South African journal. I think the politest thing to say about it is that it is delusional. Anyone talking about “ubuntu” in South Africa is living in a world of sheltered delirium.


Chun-Ping Yen 04.07.22 at 2:09 pm

In “New data on the linguistic diversity of authorship in philosophy journals” (, my colleague and I analyzed 1039 authors of philosophy journals, primarily selected from the 2015 Leiter Report. An interesting finding was that most authors (73.40%) are affiliated with English-speaking universities. Our data suggested that while Anglophones dominate the output of philosophy papers, this unequal distribution cannot be solely attributed to language capacities. Other factors like academic resources may also play significant roles.


Sally Haslanger 04.07.22 at 3:07 pm

I am totally with you, Ingrid! Great idea. I sign on to raising this issue in publications and conferences that I’m involved with. And yes, the UPDirectory is a wonderful resource.


Ingrid Robeyns 04.07.22 at 5:05 pm

MFB @3 – do you care to also give an argument for why “Anyone talking about “ubuntu” in South Africa is living in a world of sheltered delirium” ?


John Quiggin 04.07.22 at 7:57 pm

Economics even worse, I think. Journal status is very hierarchical, and it’s crucial to get published in one of the “Top 5” journals. Of these, one is the society journal of the American Economic Association, and two are house journals of US universities.

Added to that, economics deals a lot with nation-specific issues, so articles on questions that aren’t a problem for the US don’t get published. In some ways, the problem is worse for work on non-US developed countries, since development economics is a recognised field with reasonably high status (eg recent Nobel for Duflo and Banerjee). If you are working on, say, problems of German reunification, or macro analysis using Australian data, there’s just about zero chance of a high-status publication.


Gareth Wilson 04.07.22 at 8:01 pm

The United States of America was actually created by political philosophers, which might explain why it dominates that field.


Filippo Contesi 04.07.22 at 9:28 pm

If the intent is indeed to get exactly the right extension, the UP Directory will not contain all relevant philosophers since citizenship of a country does not seem to be the point and also the UPD says that “Anyone who self-identifies as either a “Man” or “Not a Citizen of an Anglophone Country” must self-identify with at least one other category.”


Bob 04.08.22 at 1:28 am

From the OP: “I will not try to come up with explanations, but rather focus on the effects of these forms of underrepresentation and ask what we can do.”

Ingrid, isn’t it important to try to explain a problem before deciding what do do about it? Or is there a “subtext” to this issue of under-representation that I, as a non-academic, don’t understand?


J-D 04.08.22 at 3:36 am

The United States of America was actually created by political philosophers,

That’s one way of interpreting the history, but when I say that I don’t think it’s the most plausible one I’m confident I don’t speak only for myself; although …

which might explain why it dominates that field.

… there’s plausibility in the less expansively worded version ‘There’s probably some relationship between the prominent role of political philosophy in the establishment of the US and the contemporary prominence of US political philosophers in the field’.


oldster 04.08.22 at 7:21 am

JD, I had thought that Mr. Wilson was making an excellent joke to illustrate Prof. Robeyns’ point.

The extension of “political philosopher,” now as in the 1770s, too often means an upper-class WASP whose wealth is derived from the enslavement and genocidal oppression of brown people, and whose canting about “revolution,” “liberation,” and “equality,” is not an actual threat to the entrenched structures of power, but simply a vain mewling about their temporary exclusion from those structures.
That, I take it, is what Prof. Robeyns would like to change.
And that’s why I thought it was a witty joke!


Ingrid Robeyns 04.08.22 at 7:24 am

@Gareth Wilson/8 – how can that serve as an explanation, even if, for the mere sake of the argument, we grant you that the empirical premise?

@Bob/10: I decided not to first write a blogpost about the explanation because (1) I really have very little time, facing some major deadlines, and (2) because we will then never get to the phase of addressing the problem, because we will never reach agreement about its causes. There are major similarities with the analysis/discussion of the underrepresentation of women in philosophy – while there were plenty of studies demonstrating bias and prejudices, there would nevertheless always be someone who came up with a theoretically valid but empirically very implausible argument for why this wasn’t a problem. In the meantime we lose time and nothing changes. So, a focus on the negative effects of Anglo-bias might make us more willing to address it.
By the way, I do not think if Anglo-bias were solved, it would take away all geo-academic inequalities: there are inequalities in resources and an enormous path-dependency that will make geo-academic inequalities persist for some time even under ideal circumstances. But even a tiny little bit of more self-awareness of one’s own positionally and checking of one’s possible prejudices might be a really good thing.


Gareth Wilson 04.08.22 at 7:54 am

I suppose France was also created by political philosophers, so that can’t explain why Anglophones dominate the field.


Ingrid Robeyns 04.08.22 at 10:46 am

Jokes in blog discussions are tricky, in any case for some of us. The line with trolling is also something flimsy. Let’s move in another direction.

For those of you interested, there has also been some discussion about my post on Daily Nous:


Matt 04.08.22 at 11:40 am

I’ve not used it much, so can’t say how well it would work in practice, but the “find a philosopher” function on PhilPeople might be of use here:

It allows you to search by topic and country or region. As with citizenship in the directory above, that’s not always a perfect fit for what’s desired, but might be useful, if it actually directs people to a good number of philosophers. (I was able to find myself by searching for people interested in philosophy of international law in Australia, for example.) As a plus, the results link to people’s PhilPeople page, so it would be easy to get an idea of what the relevant person works on. The downside is that only people listed in PhilPeople will show up, I guess, and I’d not be surprised if the database is also heavily focused on the Anglophone world. In any case, it seems like a tool worth considering for people interested in/worried about this issue.


Jeroen Bosman 04.08.22 at 1:50 pm

To me this is not surprising at all. I see this as just one example that illustrates the pervasive geographical and cultural inequalities in publishing, information availability and control, at all levels, and even, for that matter, the inequalities in the system of science and scholarship at large. Of course one could argue that the situation is worse of better or at least different in some disciplines compared to others. I think these patterns are quite well documented, just not sufficiently recognised and addressed. Could help with finding the data and literature if that is useful.


Ingrid Robeyns 04.08.22 at 1:57 pm

Thanks Matt @16 – really great suggestions. I will certainly use this tool in the future (as a complement, not a substitute, for asking friends for advice).


SusanC 04.08.22 at 2:57 pm

In scientific fields, the counterbalance to this is that we have lots of foreign grad students, many of whom will go back to their country of origin and get teaching positions.

So researchers in other countries have an entry point into the clique, in that either their supervisor or their supervisor’s supervisor was from one of the countries that dominate the field.


Ingrid Robeyns 04.08.22 at 3:18 pm

A philosopher, who is not based in the Anglo-center, wrote me an email (and allowed me to share the info here) that they recently edited a handbook for a leading academic publisher, and they were told that pretty much everyone had to be from the Anglophone world, and that half (or more) should be from the USA.

Such preferences (or whatever they are) from academic publishers clearly complicate this discussion.


hix 04.09.22 at 4:03 pm

How much of that can be explained by other nations simply ignoring political philosophy as some anglo thing and/or doing a similar thing by another name, then with no anglo-saxon authors?

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