What is an election? What is a city? What is money? On the face of it, such questions bear on the real definition, nature or essence of the social phenomena in question (viz., election, city, money). Getting clear on the nature of social phenomena is crucial for our understanding of social reality. Yet in spite of the recent surge in research in both social ontology and metaphysics, essentialist approaches to social phenomena remain quite rare. The goal of this seminar is to examine essentialist approaches to social phenomena. In particular, we will discuss different types of objections that have been raised against social essentialism and we will present positive considerations to motivate an essentialist approach to social phenomena. At the end of this seminar, we hope to have arrived at a more nuanced understanding of how an essentialist framework can contribute to the study of social phenomena.
The case of sex and gender is discussed in this seminar as an example of a phenomenon which seems especially challenging for essentialists.