Professor Ásta K. Sveinsdóttir Wins National Humanities Center Fellowship

Monday, August 08, 2016
Photo of Asta K. Sveinsdottir in a coffee shop

Ásta K. Sveinsdóttir, associate professor of Philosophy, is one of 37 scholars worldwide to receive a fellowship from the National Humanities Center for the coming academic year. As the Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Jr. Fellow, she will complete her monograph, Categories We Live By: The Metaphysics of Sex, Gender, Race and Other Social Categories (Oxford University Press).

The National Humanities Center will award more than $1.3 million in individual fellowship grants to enable scholars to take leave from their normal academic duties and pursue research at the center in Durham, North Carolina.

Ásta is the only California State University faculty member selected this year. Chosen from 449 applicants, each fellow works on an individual research project and has the opportunity to share ideas in seminars, lectures and conferences at the center. Overall the fellows come from 17 states, Argentina, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

“This tremendous group of scholars is conducting interesting and important work across a range of humanistic fields,” Robert D. Newman, president and director of the National Humanities Center, said. “We are delighted to provide them support and look forward to their arrival.”

Ásta says her monograph will give a metaphysics of social categories, such as sex, gender and race, as well as other categories such as refugee and single mother that are often stigmatized.

“The motivation for giving a metaphysics of social categories is fueled by the awareness that, while social categories can be a positive source of identity and belonging, often they are oppressive and membership in them put serious constraints on a person’s life options,” she says. “So, in offering a theory of social categories, the aim is to reveal the cogs and belts and arrangements of parts in machines that often are oppressive. Doing so serves to support work done in the humanities and social sciences on the role of social construction in generating and upholding oppressive practices and institutions.”

Determining what makes a feature of a person — whether a physical or nonphysical feature — socially significant is a key element in Ásta’s theories.

Ásta K. Sveinsdóttir

Ásta Sveinsdóttir works mainly in metaphysics, social philosophy and feminist theory, but also has interests in issues at the intersection of metaphysics and other subfields, such as philosophy of language, mind and logic, epistemology and aesthetics. She has written on questions related to essence and modality, response-dependence, realism and anti-realism, naturalism, sex and gender and social construction.

Ásta holds a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and philosophy from Brandeis University, Master’s degree in philosophy from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She joined SF State in 2005.

National Humanities Center

The National Humanities Center is a privately incorporated institute for advanced study in the humanities. Since 1978 the Center has awarded fellowships to more than 1,300 scholars whose work has resulted in the publication of more than 1,500 books in all fields of humanistic study. The Center also sponsors programs to strengthen the teaching of the humanities in secondary and higher education and to promote public understanding of, and advocacy for, the humanities.

Funding for the fellowships are made possible by the center’s endowment, by grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities and by contributions from alumni and friends of the center.


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