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Undergraduate not sure what graduate programs I should apply to - Primary interests: 20th century French philosophy, Ideology, and gender


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Hello everybody! My name is Abigail and I am a transgender woman (relevant I promise) and a Sociology major seeking to apply to graduate programs in the U.S. for philosophy but I'm not really certain what programs teach the subject areas that I personally want to study.

I'm currently studying Sociology at the University at Buffalo at the advanced honors college, I have a 4.0 GPA, and by the time I'm applying for graduate schools I'll have about 2 years of research experience (though in communications and not philosophy). I've only taken intro to philosophy thus far but I plan on taking more philosophy coursework in the year I have left at UB and pretty much all of my reading outside of what's been required for my coursework has been in philosophy. 

PERSONAL BACKGROUND (Why I want to study philosophy & what specifically I want to study) 
I started reading philosophy outside of my classes when I was still at community college, starting with Descartes, Spinoza, and secondary sources on Kant and Hegel before being introduced to Marx in my sociological coursework. This was about 6 months into my studies and I found Marx was a really really influential thinker for me and he's probably the figure I've read the most on over the last two and a half years of studying philosophy outside of my coursework. I started listening to video essays and lectures outside of school around this time and since then have listened to hours and hours of them weekly for the last 2 years or so. I found leftist youtube around this time, kept studying Marx, and then got into existentialism and absurdism, reading mainly from Camus and Sartre which eventually led me into Continental philosophy in general  about a year and a half in. The last year is when I really started falling in love with what I was reading, I knew before that I wanted to attend graduate school, but I had thought I would just study critical theory within Sociology from an especially Marxist lens. Over the last year I've read a good deal of Michel Foucault, Slavoj Zizek, Angela Davis, Judith Butler, and Marx and have been listening to lectures and video essays on Deleuze, Debord, and Lacan. I'm interested in Althusser but I'm not as familiar with him at this point. Studying Philosophy is basically all I do outside of my classwork. I also realized I was a woman during this period thanks to all the wonderful trans women who make philosophy content on youtube giving me a chance to explore and eventually accept myself for who I am. I'm most interested in 20th century French philosophy and ideology as areas of study. Specifically, I'm interested in the ways that institutions like the education system and popular media reinforce and suppress particular subjectivities through representation. As a trans women especially I feel like the American education system and popular media's historic refusal to talk about transgender people as anything other than a grotesque, dangerous, or mentally ill "other", alongside extensive medical gatekeeping, played a huge role in suppressing transgender and gender non-conforming individuals capacity to explore their identities by simultaneously creating a cultural landscape of silence AND stigma around performances of gender outside of what was considered normal. I would also make the argument that ideology in the Marxist sense can be used beyond a socioeconomic analysis to interrogate the ways in which other structures of power and oppression sustain themselves by producing discourse and activity that reinforce the material power base for those structures. 

Overall, I've been most influenced by Marx, Zizek, and Foucault. But I think Althusser, Deleuze, Lacan, and Butler will also be really important for what I want to do. If I were to try and summarize my interests in the simplest and shortest way possible I would probably put it like this: I want to analyze the ways that cultural products and institutions shape the identities that people are encouraged/discouraged to internalize and perform, alongside what identities are either erased or confined to the social and cultural periphery as vague "others". Furthermore, I think that this sort of analysis can play a part in showing how socializing and discursive practices reinforce and reproduce subjectivities and corresponding behaviors that maintain systems of power. For me, I think the most fitting way to analyze this would be by looking at how this process can work for gender specifically, since that's where I have and will continue to have the lived experience.

The Problem? I have no idea what graduate programs I should apply to in order to study any of this
Any and all suggestions for what schools to apply to would be incredibly appreciated. I'm just really out of my depth with regards to programs because before finally deciding to study philosophy, I had been looking exclusively at Sociology programs ? Life is a bitch like that, yaknow? Also, is there anything I can do to raise my chances for acceptance into a program? I worry that my lack of coursework in philosophy might hurt me, but I'd be able to take about 3 more classes in philosophy in that time, and I've taken some coursework that intersected with philosophy over the last few years as well (European Intellectual history & Classical Sociological Theory specifically). I'm really passionate about this field and I just wanna make sure I have the best possible chances of getting into whatever program is best for the kind of work I want to do in it.

If you've read this far ... thank you so much! Again, any and all school or prep recommendations are greatly appreciated!

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Check out the SPEP lists - those are a good first step. What you're interested in is extremely broad and general.

Also look into terminal M.A. programs. As far as those go, you really just gotta make sure it isn't one that is explicitly opposed to Foucault, etc., but it doesn't necessarily have to cover that specific set of thinkers. It's also good to familiarize yourself with the general offerings within contemporary analytic philosophy, if only for professional reasons (it's going to be hard to get published, etc. if you don't know the norms of the more "orthodox" wing of the profession in the US)

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Maybe look at Berkeley's rhetoric program, I think you could make a strong fit for them, especially depending upon the sub-field of your communications research.

Philosophy programs to look at (alphabetical): DePaul, Emory, Northwestern, University of Oregon, Penn State, Stony Brook, Vanderbilt, Villanova

There's other programs to apply to as well, but I think these are broadly a good match for you. Also, since you're coming to philosophy a bit later than some, apply to funded terminal MA programs as well, eg. Georgia State and Miami (Ohio). I think Duquesne, University of Mexico, University of Oregon, and Stony Brook also have good MA programs, but they are not typically funded and you'll be in the mix with PhD students too.

You're right: philosophers like to see lots of philosophy classes from applicants. Take as many philosophy (especially history of philosophy) courses as you can muster before you graduate. Continental philosophy programs often have history of philosophy requirements. Language requirements are less important than they used to be, but it will also help your application if you demonstrate some facility with a philosophical language relevant to your interests (ie. French, in your case). In your statement of purpose, clarify  some of your non-philosophy coursework and demonstrate that these courses were philosophically oriented.

Note: make sure only philosophers write your recommendation letters for your applications to philosophy programs. (Philosophers have a tendency to think they're special and that philosophy is special, so they sometimes tend to discount evaluations from people in other fields. Sigh.)

Another note: have a look at current student graduate profiles at different programs. Practice writing your interests in terms similar to the ones they use. You will probably fair better if you can describe your interests in terms of philosophy's sub-fields. I don't like that this is the case, but I do think it's the case.

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UB has a PhD program and hence plenty of people who have insight to your question, right in your own backyard. Have you asked any professors in the Philosophy department at UB? Cohen, who teaches in both philosophy and Jewish studies department, might be worth considering meeting. He's very continental. Lawler works in continental. Williams is the dept chair. There are currently grad level courses on Nietzsche, on Hegel, and on pragmatists. Current grad students are working lots of the authors you named.

Edited by Duns Eith
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On 11/5/2021 at 5:01 PM, Duns Eith said:

Have you asked any professors in the Philosophy department at UB? Cohen,... Lawler...Williams... current grad students...[etc.]

Just to be clear this is not an endorsement for the UB program for accomplishing your goals, but that they would likely be competent to give direction for your goals.

Edited by Duns Eith
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