Cultural Groups, Essentialism, and Ontic Risk

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The culture concept is the backbone of empirical research and policy interventions aimed at supporting cultural groups, diversity and revitalization. Yet the concept — and by extension, the work it supports — has long been subject to critique. The core concern of this critique is that the culture concept is "essentializing." This “essentializing” is taken to generate wrongheaded characterizations of human populations and empirically unprincipled research.

Andrew Buskell, a Leverhulme Early Career Researcher at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, will be arguing that these concerns are not as serious as they appear. If contemporary work is “essentialist,” it is not the kind of “essentialism” that should trouble critics. Nonetheless, there are serious metaphysical worries in the neighborhood. He identifies ontic risk as a source of potential downstream harms and costs for extant populations. These occur when scientists or policymakers choose ontological criteria, and subsequently make assertions about, the identities and existence of some set of entities. In work on culture, this means adopting criteria and making assertions about what cultural groups fundamentally are, and when and where they exist. Such assertions can place the resources, entitlements, and statuses of extant groups at risk. While ontic risk does not repudiate scientific research or policymaking around culture it does identify a source of serious consequences that should be considered when engaging in research and policy design.

The event will be held virtually on Friday, March 11 from 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. in D.M. Smith Room 303 and via BlueJeans.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: gwyner3
  • Created: 03/09/2022
  • Modified By: dminardi3
  • Modified: 03/09/2022


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