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What’s wrong with essentialism?

Phillips, Anne (2010) What’s wrong with essentialism? Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, 11 (1). pp. 47-60. ISSN 1600-910X

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Identification Number: 10.1080/1600910X.2010.9672755


This paper identifies and discusses four distinct meanings of essentialism. The first is the attribution of certain characteristics to everyone subsumed within a particular category: the ‘(all) women are caring and empathetic’, ‘(all) Africans have rhythm’, ‘(all) Asians are community oriented’ syndrome. The second is the attribution of those characteristics to the category, in ways that naturalise or reify what may be socially created or constructed. The third is the invocation of a collectivity as either the subject or object of political action (‘the working class’, ‘women’, ‘Third World women’), in a move that seems to presume a homogenised and unified group. The fourth is the policing of this collective category, the treatment of its supposedly shared characteristics as the defining ones that cannot be questioned or modified without undermining an individual’s claim to belong to that group. Focusing on these four variants enables us to see that the issue is sometimes one of degree rather than a categorical embargo.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2010 University of Aarhus
Divisions: Gender Studies
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Sets: Departments > Gender Institute
Departments > Government
Date Deposited: 16 Dec 2010 15:17
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2021 00:50

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