UCL Faculty of Laws


Online | How to Change a Social Structure

25 January 2022, 4:00 pm–6:00 pm

Image of pedestrains crossing a zebra crossing

This event is organised by the Institute for Laws, Politics and Philosophy (ILPP)

Event Information

Open to



UCL Laws

Please note that the time allocated for this colloquia will be devoted to discussion of the paper.

Speaker: Prof. Sally Haslanger (MIT)

About the Paper

Societies are complex systems that reproduce themselves: their hierarchies, their culture, their practices, and their structures. Most, if not all, societies reproduce profound injustice. How can the process of social reproduction be effectively disrupted and replaced so that better systems emerge? In order to answer this question, I begin by considering how agents are embedded in social systems and participate in their reproduction. I argue that once we see how both cognition and agency are shaped for the purposes of coordination, the philosophical strategy of promoting justice through argument and deliberation, i.e., the non-coercive appeal to reason, is not as promising as it might initially seem. Is legal activism a better option? Law is a means for coercing people, or "incentivizing" them, to do things differently in a way that is presumed legitimate. But law functions as a means of social reproduction as much (or more) as it disrupts it. Moreover, legal activism, even if justified, tends to be ineffective unless there is a corresponding cultural change, over which law has limited control. I will argue that the dichotomy between voluntary and imposed or coerced change is misguided. Societies and their systems evolve in response to multiple factors. Although social movements need allies in the state, effective and legitimate social change requires that we employ tools of both disruptive and everyday activism to change the material and cultural conditions of agency. Practices change when we do things differently, together. Nothing is ever promised by such activism, but it is morally wrong to hold out for promises.

About the Speaker

Sally Haslanger is Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women’s and Gender Studies at MIT. She specializes in social/political philosophy, feminist philosophy, critical race theory, and social ontology. She is the author of Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique (Oxford, 2012).


This event will be delivered via Zoom Meeting. Attendee cameras can be turned on however microphones will need to be turned off unless when contributing to discussions or putting forward a question for our guest speaker. You will receive your zoom joining link on registration, as well as a link to the paper. Contact the Laws Events team (laws-events@ucl.ac.uk) if you have not received the link.

About the Institute

The Institute brings together political and legal theorists from Law, Political Science and Philosophy and organises regular colloquia in terms 2 and 3.

If you would like to be added to the ILPP mailing list please contact us at laws-events@ucl.ac.uk

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