Groups: Challenges for Contemporary Political Philosophy


Challenges for Contemporary Political Philosophy

University of Rennes 1, November 19-21, 2014 

Call for Papers

Groups matter in political philosophy, most would now agree – but precisely how they matter is contentious. Group-related issues emerge in various contexts of debate: the redressing of past or current injustices suffered by ethnic or cultural minorities; the nature and scope of group rights; the appropriate treatment of a certain specific identity/cultural/ethnic group. Less prominent, though, is a comprehensive analysis of groups as both agents and objects of social policies.  This is the aim of our conference.

What challenges are posed to social, moral, or political philosophy when addressing a collection of individuals who act or are treated in a collective way?  Answering this involves consideration about how institutions should treat groups, but also of the normative implications of taking groups as possible social agents, when acting either in vertical relations with the state or in horizontal relations with other groups (or individuals). This conference aims to bring together scholars from a large range of disciplinary backgrounds, from social ontology to sociology and anthropology, through ethics and normative philosophy, in order to explore these questions from both theoretical and practical perspectives. We hope to combine questions about the nature of groups, and their social and political impacts, with attention to the particular, pressing normative questions to which the negotiation of group-related issues gives rise.

Invited speakers: Lawrence Blum (Boston University), Catherine Colliot-Thélène (Université de Rennes 1), Vincent Descombes (EHESS), Tariq Modood (University of Bristol).

We invite paper proposals along the following lines:

Methodological and Ontological issues

  • What specific questions, if any, does the existence of groups pose to a theory of justice, or a theory of recognition, or a theory of democracy?
  • Why should groups matter in moral, social, or political, philosophy– and if they do, what kinds of group?
  • Should we consider groups as significant units of analysis of the social world, or should we operate with more dynamic concepts of group formation?
  • How and why are groups constructed entities, but nevertheless normatively relevant ones?

Normative and Political issues

  • What kinds of theory, principles or norms might political thinkers propose in order to tackle the particular questions which groups pose?
  • How is the specific moral status of groups staked out: for instance, (how) can they be attributed with moral responsibility?
  • Should we strongly differentiate between different types of group — on the ground that it entitles them to variable claims for differential treatment, or differentiated group rights?
  • Do recent proposals for renewing theoretical frames in political philosophy, such as participative democracy or cosmopolitanism, offer new paths for appreciating the role and function of groups in political theory?

Paper proposals of max. 1000 words should be sent by April 21, 2014, to

Notification of acceptance will be sent by the end of May.

Proposals may be sent in English or in French.  However, the working language of the conference will be English.

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