Stereotype threat, epistemic agency, and self-identity
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Stereotype threat is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when individuals become aware that their behavior could potentially confirm a negative stereotype. Though stereotype threat is a widely studied phenomenon in social psychology, there has been relatively little scholarship on it in philosophy, despite its relevance to issues such as implicit cognition, epistemic injustice, and diversity in philosophy. However, most psychological research on stereotype threat discusses the phenomenon by using an overly narrow picture of it, which focuses on one of its effects: the ability to hinder performance. As a result, almost all philosophical work on stereotype threat is solely focused on issues of performance too. Social psychologists know that stereotype threat has additional effects, such as negatively impacting individuals’ motivation, interests, long-term health, and even their sense of self, but these other effects are often downplayed, or even forgotten about. Therefore, the “standard picture” of stereotype threat needs to be expanded, in order to better understand the theoretical aspects of the phenomenon, and to develop broader, more effective interventions. This dissertation develops such an “expanded picture” of stereotype threat, which emphasizes how the phenomenon can negatively impact both self-identity and epistemic agency. In doing so, I explore the nature of stereotypes more generally and argue that they undermine groups’ moral status and contribute to what is called “ontic injustice.” I also show how stereotype threat harms members of socially subordinated groups by way of coercing their self-identity and undermining their epistemic agency, which I argue is a form of epistemic injustice. Lastly, I analyze the expanded picture’s implications for addressing the low proportion of women in professional philosophy. I critically engage recent arguments that these low numbers simply reflect different interests women have, which if innate or benign, would require no intervention. My expanded picture shows the mistakes in this sort of reasoning, which is also present in discussions on the underrepresentation of women in science. The expanded picture of stereotype threat that this dissertation develops is not only practically important, but also advances key philosophical debates in social epistemology, applied ethics, and social metaphysics.