Monday, May 12, 2014

Gender Composition of 2014 WPSA Political Theory Panels

At this year's WPSA conference in Seattle, 27 political theory panels exclusively featured presentations by men. That is almost one quarter (24%) of the 114 panels sponsored by political theory sections. Of these 27 panels, women served as discussant on only two, leaving 25 panels that involved only men in any substantive role. 19 panels did not even involve a woman as chair, seating only men at the table.

No commensurate space of participation emerged for female-dominated panels. Only 6 panels (5% of 114) exclusively featured presentations by women. Men served as discussant on two of these panels, leaving four panels that involved only women in substantive roles. Three panels were exclusively female, less than one-sixth the number of exclusively male panels.

The sections sponsoring political theory panels were Environmental Political Theory, chaired by Brad Mapes-Martins and Cheryl Hall, Political Theory and Its Applications, chaired by J.S. Maloy, Political Theory: Critical and Normative, chaired by Peter Breiner, and Political Thought: Historical Approaches, chaired by Keally D. McBride. Two of these five chairs are women.

Of the political theory sections, Political Theory: Critical and Normative sponsored the greatest number and the highest proportion of panels with only men in substantive roles: 10 of 38, or 26%. Environmental Political Theory was a close second for proportion of substantively all male panels: 4 of 16, or 25%. By this measure, Political Theory and Its Applications came the closest to gender parity: only 5 of their 33 panels, or 15%, were substantively all male. All four political theory sections can and should do better, but chair J.S. Maloy should be commended for the relatively high integration of women into his section's panels.


  1. You seem to present this breakdown as evidence of gender bias in the WPSA process. But since I have it on good authority that over 95% of proposals to WPSA are accepted, what it really represents is the gender breakdown of *submissions* to WPSA, which likely reflects the actual population of faculty and grad students that attend - unless we believe that men are more likely to submit proposals than women.

    Should section heads actively intervene to break up panel proposals when they come in as all-male? Or never put together panels from paper proposals that results in all-male panels? That's an interesting question. Ideally, one would like to believe that composing and maintaining panels based on intellectual criteria would result in balanced panels. But when that doesn't happen, what's the right priority? I don't pretend to know, but if the overall ratio of paper submissions is 2:1 or 3:2 or 3:1 male to female then a focus on eliminating all-male panels will probably mean that paper submissions from men will have to be proportionately disfavored. Or crammed onto already overcrowded panels, which happens a lot at WPSA already.

    These issues clearly need discussion and I'm sure that there are many other factors that I'm missing (and that I hope others will point out). But if we are going to point to patterns as problematic, lets do what we can to figure out where those patterns are really coming from. I find it hard to imagine a set of section chairs more gender-conscious than those you list. Do you really think that they are the problem?

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  3. Sorry; I made a typing error the first time around; here is the comment...

    I don't think the post was mean to suggest gender bias - that would be hard to do without knowing the gender breakdown of submissions. I think it was meant to do at least three things: 1) offer a snapshot of how gender is organized in one of the biggest theory conferences of the year; 2) raise questions (like the ones you suggest) about whether section chairs should be trying to create more mixed panels (where men do not compose the entire panel, or where women are only discussants, i.e. doing the work of caring for the work of men, rather than sharing their own work); 3) raise awareness for sections chairs (who may not be aware of the scale of patterns like this - I certainly wasn't before I saw the numbers) about an issue that they should/may want to address in putting together panels. My view is that section chairs should be trying to gender-integrate panels, as much as they're able. Perhaps this would mean organizing panels in terms of different "intellectual criteria" - coming up with different themes that put men and women together more often. For example, I suspect that many papers submitted by men do little to reference or engage feminist theory - wouldn't it be interesting to put together some papers in feminist theory (which are often segregated into their own sections/panels) with papers that engage similar themes, but from an entirely different perspective? Such an approach might encourage more engagement of work on gender and feminist theory by scholars who tend to think of it as a "niche" part of political theory.

    Of course, I know that this is a hard task, compounded on top of the already hard task of organizing panels (many of which have been submitted as a whole) - and it only gets at part (albeit what I think is an important part) of the issue. The other part of the issue has to do with the apparently low number of women in political theory - and that part of the issue is much harder to grasp and address. We are working on getting some numbers about how many women are actually in the field at different levels, and that might help us think through how we might address this broader question.