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Junior Scholars Workshop Helps Support Emerging Talent

May 17 2021
Diana Aguilera

Throughout the years, Anne Newman has witnessed firsthand the vibrant intellectual community of political theorists and philosophers at Stanford. Newman, the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society’s Research Director, along with Faculty Director Rob Reich, had a strong desire to expand this community beyond the walls of the university. And in 2018, the Junior Scholars Workshop came to fruition.

The workshop recognizes and supports early-career scholars who reflect a diversity of perspectives, life experiences, and backgrounds while advancing the Center’s mission of bringing ethical reflection to bear on pressing social problems. Papers selected for the workshop are pre-circulated and read in advance by all participants.

“We hope to support the best work of young, untenured scholars anywhere we find them and to connect them to our existing community of faculty and postdoctoral fellows,” Reich says.

The Junior Scholars Workshop features the work of scholars in political philosophy, political theory, and moral philosophy. It is open to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and untenured junior faculty without a Stanford affiliation. The goal, according to Reich, is to “support the work of exceptional talent outside of the Stanford community, and in the process, expand the scope of our reach.”

Rising Scholars

Every year, the Center selects up to eight scholars from around the country and the world. Larisa Svirsky, a member of the 2018 inaugural cohort, describes the experience as a rare opportunity to extend philosophical conversations. Svirsky, at the time a Ph.D. candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill, presented her paper titled, “Responsibility and the Problem of So-Called Marginal Agents.” Her work examined an account of responsibility motivated by how we hold so-called “marginal agents,” such as children and addicts, responsible in ordinary life. Svirsky, now a postdoctoral scholar at Ohio State University, says the workshop’s pre-read format is extremely helpful.

“You're able to spend your time focusing on answering questions and clarifying your view rather than making sure that everybody has the basic idea of what you’re doing,” she says. “It gives you an opportunity to get high-quality feedback on the way the paper is written as well as the idea.” 

Amy Berg, a member of the current cohort, experienced the workshop in a virtual format due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Originally scheduled for June 2020, the workshop was postponed and rather than gather for two consecutive days, individual sessions were held throughout the 2020-21 academic year. Berg, an assistant professor of Philosophy at Oberlin College, presented her paper, “Is There a Duty to Read the News?” Her work questions why it seems that we’re doing something wrong when we refuse to pay attention to what’s going on in the world. Berg credits the workshop for elevating the quality of her paper.

“It made me feel confident about sending it out to journals as soon as I incorporate the feedback from everyone,” she says. “Especially for somebody who is early in her career and especially right now with fewer opportunities to go to conferences because of the pandemic, it’s great to have so much feedback from really smart and talented philosophers and political theorists.”

Since its inception, the Junior Scholars Workshop has aimed to cultivate a sense of community beyond the sessions themselves. “Our workshop gives participants a chance to get feedback on their work in progress from the Center community and from each other. We also hope that it may be the beginning of meaningful professional ties for the participants,” Newman says.

Matthew Adams, a former postdoctoral fellow and current philosophy professor at the University of Indiana Bloomington, agrees with Newman. Adams says it’s an excellent opportunity for participants to build a network. “Participants can start creating bonds and connections with people. Your professional network can be expanded significantly.”

Interdisciplinary Ethics

When selecting participants, the Center encourages submissions that bring relevant empirically-oriented scholarship to bear on normative questions and analysis. Normative scholarship focused on issues like immigration, basic income, climate change, global poverty, and the governance of new technologies, such as AI and gene editing, benefit greatly from engagement with the social sciences, law, engineering, and life sciences. However, all submissions from political philosophers, political theorists, and moral philosophers that address any normative issue are welcomed, whatever the methodological approach or topic.

Each selected paper is assigned one discussant. Selected submissions are unpublished papers not under review at the time of the workshop. Throughout the workshop, participants meet with the Center’s community of faculty and postdoctoral fellows and hone their ability to clearly communicate their arguments.

Past participants have hailed from various institutions, including Ohio State University, University College London, Virginia Tech, the University of Genova, and UNC-Chapel Hill. Prior papers examined topics such as the normative and legal implications of medical decision-making, the relationship between historical injustice and structural injustice, the meaning and moral significance of gender-based violence, financial ethics, and distributive justice.

This year via Zoom, participants’ scholarship focused on a wide range of themes spanning from morally justified guilt-tripping and spatial justice to the democratic authorization of police power and the value of spontaneity.

“While meeting over Zoom is not ideal, I’ve been really heartened by the deep engagement with the presenters’ work by Stanford participants and by the other junior scholars,” Newman says. “It feels like a community is building that can continue past the paper sessions to support the work being done by this amazing group of scholars whose work is tackling foundational philosophical issues and pressing matters of public policy.” 

More information about future Junior Scholars Workshops will be posted here. Please check back.

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