The Diversity Reading List

Supporting students to learn about underrepresented topics and thinkers in philosophy.

The partner

A dictionary opened at the word Philosophy.

The Diversity Reading List (DRL) aims to diversify the range of topics and thinkers that are traditionally represented in Philosophy curriculums.

It does this by providing resources for lecturers and teaching fellows to diversify their courses under the tight time constraints that University staff typically operate within.

The challenge

The central challenge for this project was to understand trends and patterns in what is represented on philosophy syllabi across the UK. The subsequent challenge was then to assess and address the impact of this on student experience. There were three broad aims of this project. Firstly, to understand which philosophical topics are taught most frequently on undergraduate syllabi and which are neglected. Secondly, to understand how the composition of philosophical topics on syllabi impacts student experience – especially those students who are members of marginalised groups. And finally, to provide tools for students to learn about underrepresented topics outside of their restrictive syllabi.

The primary aim of the DRL was to move closer towards launching a new, student-focused page within our site. The work completed by Anne-Marie allowed us to identify what should be the content of that page. Armed with this knowledge, we can now reach out to volunteers and seek further funding to develop the content needed. Further, Anne-Marie’s work on developing two research blueprints gave us excellent examples of the sort of content needed, and we will be able to share them as inspiration for future collaborators. Finally, the student interviews conducted by Anne-Marie further contributed to grounding the rationale behind the development and, when edited in video format, they will serve to promote our initiative

Dr Syzmon Fokt / Manager of the DRL

Research lead

  • Anne-Marie McCallion, PhD in Philosophy, School of Social Sciences. 
  • In collaboration with Dr Syzmon Fokt, Manager of the DRL. 

The solution

The project collected data on undergraduate syllabi from the top 15 and bottom 15 Philosophy departments in the UK, presenting the occurrences of each philosophical topic within these 30 departments in a graph format. Anne-Marie McCallion, who lead the project, interviewed students from a variety of backgrounds within these 30 departments, analysing the interviews in relation to the relative diversity of their department’s syllabi. Interviews also explored students' thoughts about what they were being taught and how the composition of their syllabi had impacted their student experience.

The project created two ‘reading group blueprints’ which provided students with the tools to learn about underrepresented topics such as feminism, race, and post-colonialism.

Findings and impact

The highlight of this collaboration for me was certainly the interviews I got to conduct with UG students. I have learned a great deal from the students I spoke to, and because my thesis is on a closely related topic these are insights that I will be able to bring into my thesis. Further to this, the placement has also led to a collaboration between me and the British Philosophical Association. They are very interested in the data I have collected and have utilised my expertise to apply for funding for a postdoctoral position to carry out further research in this area. This collaboration (between the BPA and me) will put me in a very good position to apply for postdoctoral scholarships once I have submitted my thesis.

Anne-Marie McCallion / School of Social Sciences

The research clearly shows that there is less representation of topics which concern areas such as race, gender, and class (RGC) when compared to other philosophical topics. Further data analysis is required to determine exactly how inequitable the distribution is, but what we can determine for certain at this stage is that there is a substantial discrepancy.

The visual graphs created will be an excellent starting point for further research in an under-researched area. These graphs were published on the DRL website (an open-access platform) in order to encourage researchers interested in diversifying philosophy to conduct further analysis of the data. In addition, the research blueprints created will allow students to study RGC topics by guiding them through the seminal literature within these areas. 

The graphs and the research blueprints have also greatly benefitted the DRL. In identifying exactly where the gaps are in syllabi, they have provided a clear starting point for intervention, thereby foundationally facilitating and enriching the new student-focused section of the website, which will cater to students who wish to learn more about RGC topics. Finally, the interviews conducted provide important empirical evidence which can be cited in grant applications written to further fund this new section of the DRL website.

This project was completed as part of the NWCDTP Placement scheme (Researcher-Led), between January and June 2021 (part-time).