The Metaphysis of Gender. Not Simply a Woman (or a Man).

Is a metaphysically sound objectivist account of sexed identity possible? Do gender categories exist because we recognize real distinctions in the world or because we agree to use gender terms while according to them categorical force? In this paper, I defend a non-realistic view of gender categories vis-à-vis Sally Haslanger’s recent attempt to argue in favor of a “thin” metaphysical realism of gender categories.

The presentation is divided in two parts. In the first, I present Haslanger’s view, as characterized by the two following theses: (i) there is an objective basis for gender distinction; and (ii) this basis is not the product of discursive effect. In my analysis, particular attention is given to her critique of anti-objectivism in relation to sexual categories and to the so-called “ubiquity of mediation thesis”, i. e., that all of our access to reality is mediated by language and knowledge. In the second part, I show why Haslanger’s approach is inadequate, by showing that sexed entities are neither natural kinds (i.e. common essences which a group may share), nor “objective types” (i.e. unities without an underlying essence). Here is a more detailed layout of my argument.

There is a genuinely metaphysical disagreement about whether our gender classifications capture a natural kind or a social kind. According to the genuine nominalist, the world by itself can’t tell us what gender is and humans create categories of sexual preference and behavior: a person is regarded as a “woman” or “man” because they are induced to believe that humans are either “woman” or “man”. Realists hold that this is not the case: humans are differentiated sexually as the woman/man dichotomy exists in reality. Haslanger is critical of both approaches: according to her, gender is an “objective type” (a group of things that have a certain unity) and a social kind of unity (not discursively constructed). On her approach, there is some non-random or non-arbitrary basis for the gender unity and this unity is not a matter of sharing properties. Haslanger’s idea is that gender as a concept is discursively constructed, but gender by itself is independent of us.

Unfortunaly, Haslanger’s defense of objectivism is given without specifying what precisely is objective about sexual difference, and a conflict – I will suggest – emerges between her realistic view and her social constructionist accounts of gender. More specifically, Haslanger’s account falls short of two defects. It does not adequately capture the fact that each person’s gender identity is unique. Furthermore, it disconnects gender from the fact that criteria for distinguishing sexes differ across times and places. These defects, I argue, may be resolved by thinking of gender as referring to tropes, that is particularized property manifestation can only exist in one location at one time. Womanness, for example, is neither the special way a woman participates in a universal, nor a peculiar quality of a woman, but simply something that a particular person – and that person alone – has. Such a way of thinking about gender allows us to see a woman without identifying common attributes that all women have, or without implying that all women have a common – natural or social – identity and to explain what it is for two tokens (individual instances) to be of the same type in terms of resemblance. As result, I conclude, one’s gender may not be entirely stable and there is no feature of identity or unity itself that all women share.


The Structure and Dynamics of Migrant Smuggling from Libya to Italy

Migration and, in particular, irregular migration from North Africa and the Middle East represents one of the most relevant and demanding challenges that the European Union (EU) has to address in our age. In the last two decades, the Mediterranean Sea has become  the  most  porous  border  between Europe and its neighbours. Furthermore, it has become the  most  dangerous  border  in  the  world  between countries  that  are  not  at  war  with  each  other (Fargues & Bonfanti, 2014). In this context, over the past decade, Libya has emerged as a critical transit country for irregular migration toward the EU. Furthermore, the “Central Mediterranean route” that connects Libya to Italy is the single most dangerous migratory route in the world. The illegal transport of these migrants is in the hands of various criminal groups. In the literature on irregular migration from Africa toward Europe, contrasting claims regarding the nature, the activities and the social organisation of migrant smuggling can be found. Furthermore, many of these works are not based on solid empirical evidence. In fact, migrant smuggling is notoriously an illegal clandestine phenomenon which has been difficult to research. On the one hand, this field of study presents conceptual confusion and partial explanations; on the other hand, there is fundamental lack of hard evidence. The aim of this seminar is to explore the structure and dynamics of migrant smuggling from Libya to Italy, from a social science perspective, with a particular interest in the “criminal” dimension of the phenomenon. In particular, the presentation focuses on the evolution of migratory flows in the Central Mediterranean in the twenty-first century, the modus operandi and internal structure of smuggling networks, the role of the States in the area, and the (terrible) conditions of smuggled migrants.


Rethinking large-scale development projects in Belgrade and Zagreb

There is one general question that motivated this research: To what extent global economic restructuring and neoliberalization influence urban planning processes in transitional cities? The main aim of this research is to look into the process of urban transformation in two different institutional contexts in order to deepen our understanding of how decision-making processes in the post-socialist Balkan countries have shifted from control-oriented regulation to planning approaches more open to speculative development. In order to observe and define transformative processes the research looks into two similar typologies of transition: the post socialist Serbia and Croatia. The main unit of analysis is the city and to be more specific, the large-scale projects in Belgrade and Zagreb, ‘Belgrade on Water’ and ‘Zagreb on Sava’, in order to analyze different urban transition processes in reaction to the general neoliberal trends. This research focuses on large-scale projects in order to understand the inner-relations between diverse public and private sector actors, and views large scale urban development projects as representative of neoliberal manifestations and interactions of diverse actors in the cities across the globe. The cases ‘Belgrade on Water’ and “Zagreb on Water’ in many ways exemplify new flexible urban development approaches.  While the ‘mega’ development project in Zagreb plans to incorporate different land uses (taking on a more ecological approach, which seems to be completely missing from the case in Belgrade) and involves different actors, both projects are similar in that they represent ambiguous and controversial waterfront development projects that continue to raise questions about flexible governance approaches, ownership, social inclusion, environmental risks, etc. The research uses qualitative research methods, mainly following a hermeneutic approach. The data was gathered through semi-structured interviews and documentary material collection – scholarly research, video footage, and local newspaper media. By using urban transition as the main focus of analysis, the research aims to implement a new methodology of analyzing transition by using path-analysis approach in these two cities.


Unmapping Islam in Eastern Europe: Periodization and Muslim Subjectivities in the Balkans

This article challenges the fixed spatial and temporal disconguities of the borders between East/West and Europe/Islam that contribute to the physical and discursive partition of Balkan Muslims from the larger Muslim world. It examines the works of twentieth century Islamic scholars and activists, particularly women and underprivileged minorities, such as Melika Salihbegović, Hidajeta Mirojević, Safija Šiljak, Sheikh Haxhi Qamili, Muhammad Nasir-ud-Din al-Albani, Vehbi Sulejman Gavoçi, and Abdul-Kader Aranauti, whose intellectual labor has traversed the East/West, Ottoman/post-Ottoman, and Communist/post-Communist discontiguities. Examining Muslim histories in Eastern Europe beyond the confines of these spatiotemporalites, opens up multiple perspectives on past and present political struggles of Muslims in Eastern Europe, allowing us to explore histories and subjectivities of Muslims who saw their lived experiences not in relation to Europe but as constitutive part of the Muslim world. Their perspectives and insistence on an Islamic way of life provide an alternative reading of the history of Muslims in the Balkans, not isolated by their immediate surroundings, but as members of a transnational struggle against colonialism throughout the twentieth century. Through an analysis of their work, this article contests research on Islam in Eastern Europe that, relying on post-ottoman and post-socialist forward-moving temporalities, suggest that following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and during the socialist period, Muslims in Eastern Europe were isolated from the rest of the Ummah and attached to European geotemporalities. The choice for personalities on the fringes of their own communities allows us to deconstruct anti-colonial and post-socialist nationalist narratives that have been dominated by privileged men.