Notes from Two Conferences

05 September 2018

Conferences are largely social events. You meet people, hear about recent approaches, give ritualised talks, and enjoy the general gossip. The two conferences I attended during the last few weeks also had the social as their central topic, a fact which clever speakers exploited for jokes. The 2018 Social Ontology conference in Boston was in all likelihood the largest of its kind. Brian Epstein’s approach to social has given the conference his ambitious signature. Just as his theory aims at encompassing all of social ontology, the conference tried to show the field in all its variety. Seven parallel tracks of talks had something to offer for everyone, at least the feeling of being overwhelmed. For me, a major purpose of attending such conferences is to find out where the community is heading. This year I believe to have noticed an uptick in research about gender and race. Perhaps Sally Haslanger serving as a keynote speaker contributed to that development. Joint action and the whole Searle-type approach to social ontology received much less attention than they used to. This trend has been going on for a while and is the reason why the conference formerly known as “collective intentionality” has been renamed “social ontology”. Of course, the name change might also have led other researchers to apply.

This year the European Network for Philosophy of the Social Sciences and its US-counterpart, the roundtable, had their conference together in Hannover. Philosophy of the social sciences isn’t as fashionable a topic as social ontology, although the latter could profit from more engagement with the social sciences. On the plus side, the smaller conference size let to a more relaxed atmosphere. There were more breaks and the participants even went to the Herrenhaeuser Gaerten, which Leibniz himself used to frequent. I could not detect much change in the topics of the talks. Maybe this year sociology took a more prominent place.

To end on a personal note, my talks went down well and I received helpful feedback. However, I have a resolution for next time: I want to write even more ambitious papers. Some ideas are already sprouting in my mind. Maybe you’ll hear them next year at the ENPOSS or the European Network for Social Ontology conference.