Social Ontology 2023 

Time: 16th-19th of August, 2023.

Place: Stockholm, Stockholm University Campus Albano

Greta Arwidssons Väg 10, 113 47 Stockholm, House 2/Hus 2

Keynote lecture videos

Keynote speakers:

Michael E. Bratman, Stanford University

Shared Agency, Institutional Agency, and the Core Capacity Conjecture

I discuss some main ideas in my 2022 book, Shared and Institutional Agency: Toward a Planning Theory of Human Practical Organization. Our human lives involve remarkable forms of practical organization: diachronic organization of individual activity; small-scale organization of shared action; and the organization of institutions. A theory of human action should help us understand these multiple forms of human practical organization and their inter-relations. A key is our capacity for planning agency. Drawing on earlier work on the roles of planning agency in the cross-temporal and small-scale social organization of our agency, I turn to the role of our planning agency within our organized institutions. I draw on ideas, inspired by H.L.A. Hart, that our organized institutions are rule-guided, and that to understand this we need a theory of social rules. I draw on the planning theory of shared intention to understand social rules. I understand an organized institution as involving authority-according social rules of procedure in a way that accommodates pluralistic divergence. This leads to a model of institutional intention and––drawing on ideas from Harry Frankfurt––institutional intentional agency. And this supports the conjecture that our capacity for planning agency is a core capacity that underlies not only temporally extended projects, string quartets and informal social rules but also, thereby, the rule-guided structure of our organized institutions.

Katharine Jenkins, University of Glasgow

Ontology and Oppression: Race, Gender, and Social Reality

This talk draws on the rich history of accounts of race and gender kinds that position these kinds as the products of histories of oppression. I will consider how we should understand the precise ontological and normative status of race and gender kinds in the spirit of these accounts whilst also taking into consideration the fact that many people value membership in race and gender kinds. I defend a pluralist account of race and gender kinds, introducing a framework for pluralism, the ‘Constraints and Enablements Framework’, based on using constraints and enablements as a common denominator for different varieties of kinds. I then assesses the normative status of these kinds using the concepts of ‘ontic injustice’ and ‘ontic oppression’, which capture the ways in which being made into a member of a social kind can itself be wrongful. My conclusion will be that some race and gender kinds are ontically oppressive, others are not, and some are actively emancipatory – even for a given gender or racial designation. When people value membership in race and gender kinds we can plausibly take them to be valuing membership in the harmless or emancipatory kinds, at least some of the time.

Muhammad Ali Khalidi, City University of New York

The Mind-Dependent World: From Cognitive Ontology to Social Ontology

This talk will focus on different types of mind-dependence in the social world. I will begin by revisiting the distinction between transparent and opaque social phenomena (respectively, phenomena that are concept-dependent and those that aren’t), problematizing it in various ways. In particular, I will make a distinction between opaque and covert social kinds, where the latter are transparent yet are conceptualized in a misleading or misguided way. I will go on to explore some implications of the distinction between transparent and opaque social kinds when it comes to four issues in social ontology: the nature of “social construction,” “looping effects,” “ontic injustice,” and the “mark of the social.” I will conclude by asking whether transparent social kinds can be considered to have either temporal or causal priority over opaque social kinds. 


Emma Tieffenbach, University of Geneva

There is a forthcoming difference between bringing a good to someone as a gift and selling it to that person. But what is it that distinguishes gifts from economic exchanges ? One cannot rely on ordinary talks (gifts are done by "spending money on others"), nor on external differences (is she giving a tip or mistakenly overpaying?) and not even on the respective intentions of gifters and sellers/buyers for capturing the difference. Furthermore, after Marcel Mauss’ essay The gift (1925), the conflation has been defended as a valid conceptual point. In my talk, I will show why settling the matter is important, why so-called cases of counter-gifts seem to challenge the distinction between gifting and exchanging, but also why ultimately the latter survives. 

Vanessa Wills, The George Washington University

Towards an Ontology of the “Social Individual” in Marxist Theory

In the unpublished Grundrisse, Karl Marx wrote that “human beings become individuals only through the process of history.” In other words, that human beings exist as individuals is a fact which is historically arisen and socially produced. Individuality cannot be taken as a bare, natural quality of human beings from which sociopolitical conclusions are then to be abstractly deduced.

As opposed to the picture of the human being as an already essentially atomized or essentially individual being, “The human being,” Marx writes, “is an animal that can only individuate itself in society.” For a human being to appear fully as an individual, and not merely as a biological specimen of a certain type, requires that productive forces be developed so that she does not need to spend her entire waking life satisfying her merely biological needs for food, water, shelter, and the like. Such a level of development in the forces of production is too great and complicated a task to be carried out by a single person. It is an inherently social project requiring a number of people working together, communicating with one another, and developing increasingly complex ways of organizing and dividing their labor.

Sociality is hence prior to any individuation that takes place in human beings. That process of individuation is also a mark of how far human social development has progressed. The more efficiently a society satisfies biological human needs, and the more productive it is, creating new resources to satisfy the historically emergent needs that arise in an increasingly complex society, the more that its members are able to pursue activities determined more by their own expanding array of interests and less by mere biological necessity. In a phrase, we begin to see an emergence of the “rich individuality”--the free, all-sided development of the human person–that Marx regards as the highest aim for human beings.

In this talk, I will explore Marx’s notion of the “social” or “rich” individual, offer an account of who and what such a person is and how she might come to be, and discuss how the notion of the “social individual” helps resolve the antagonism between individual and society that animates so many central concerns of moral and political philosophy.

Panel on the method(s) of social ontology:

Social ontology: What is it? What do we want it to be?

Confirmed participants: Ásta, Hans Bernhard Schmid, Johan BrännmarkMiguel Garcia Godinez, and Sally Haslanger.

Moderator: Åsa Burman

Individual talks:

Speakers are allocated 28 minutes total (usually 20 minutes for the talk and 8 for questions) with 2 minutes transition to the next speaker.

The program for the parallell sessions (individual talks) and abstracts are posted below. We recommend brining your own laptop  if you would like to use a Powerpoint presentation. Send us an email by the 7th of August if you do not have a computer available so that we can arrange for another solution. The conference venue is a new facility with new technology in all rooms. 

Keynote lectures and the panel will be on Zoom:

The keynote lectures and the panel will be broadcasted on Zoom for ISOS members. If you wish to join on Zoom please email to get the links and the access codes by 11th of August the latest. We will respond by the 14th and 15th of August to these requests. 

Social Media:


Conference dinner on Friday night in the City Hall and the Informal dinner on Saturday night on a boat:

The City of Stockholm has kindly invited all people presenting at the conference to the City Hall for a tour and dinner. This is the place of the annual Nobel Prize Dinner. Dresscode for the City Hall dinner: The City Hall says that they would like all dinner guests to feel comfortable and if we would like further information on the dress code: please dress in smart casual for the occasion. The formal conference dinner (on Friday the 18th of August at 7 pm), the four lunches, and the coffee break items are all included in the conference fee for all people presenting. There will also be an informal social dinner after the conclusion of the formal program of the conference on Saturday the 19th of August (19.00-23.00). The boat leaves at 7 pm from Klara Mälarstrand, kajplats 2. This informal dinner takes place on a boat taking us around the Stockholm archipelago and all conference participants, audience, presenters and family and friends of audience and presenters are welcome to the informal dinner. For more information, registration, and payment, go to this link by 31st of July the latest:

Sightseeing for family and friends

We have arranged a free guided tour of Stockholm on the 17th of August between 3 pm and 5 pm. The meeting point is the conference hotel Scandic No. 53 at Kungsgatan 53. Please arrive 10 minutes before it starts (by 2.50 pm). The guide Anna-Karin Waldau will be at the front door and hold a sign "Social Ontology". We have a list of people who are attending this guided tour. If your family or friends wish to join please email and state the names of the people who would like to come to the guided tour.


Applications for bursaries have now closed. We were able to offer 16 bursaries of $300 each, paid for by the International Social Ontology Society and the Society for Applied Philosophy.

Sponsors of this conference:

Stockholms Stad, The Society for Applied Philosophy; Anders Karitz Foundation; The Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University, and the International Social Ontology Society. 

Katharine Jenkins

Vanessa Wills

Muhammad Ali Khalidi

Emma Tieffenbach

Michael E. Bratman

Old Town, Stockholm

"International Social Ontology Society" is registered as a non-profit organization in Austria.

Michael E. Bratman is U. G. and Abbie Birch Durfee Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University.  His main research interests are in the philosophy of action, where this includes issues about both individual and social agency and about practical rationality. His main book publications are Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason (1987); Faces of Intention: Selected Essays on Intention and Agency (1999); Structures of Agency:  Essays (2007); Shared Agency: A Planning Theory of Acting Together (2014); Planning, Time, and Self-Governance: Essays in Practical Rationality (2018); and most recently, Shared and Institutional Agency: Toward a Planning Theory of Human Practical Organization (2022).  

Katharine Jenkins is a Reader in Philosophy at the University of Glasgow. She previously worked at the University of Nottingham and at Jesus College, Cambridge, and she did her PhD at the University of Sheffield and her MPhil and BA at the University of Cambridge. Her research is primarily in social philosophy, especially the ontology of social categories such as gender and race. She is the author of, among other papers, ‘Amelioration and Inclusion: Gender Identity and the Concept of Woman’ (Ethics, 2016); ‘Toward an Account of Gender Identity’ (Ergo, 2018); and ‘Ontic Injustice’ (Journal of the American Philosophical Association, 2020). Her first monograph, Ontology and Oppression: Race, Gender, and Social Reality, is published in 2023 by Oxford University Press. It examines the nature of social categories that are bound up with oppression, such as race and gender, and the ways in which emancipatory social movements can best respond to such categories in view of the important role they play in many people’s identities.

Muhammad Ali Khalidi is Presidential Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.  He specializes in general issues in the philosophy of science, as well as questions in the foundations of the special sciences. His book, Cognitive Ontology: Taxonomic Practices in the Mind-Brain Sciences, will be published in December 2022 by Cambridge University Press. Another book, Natural Categories and Human Kinds, appeared in 2013, and he is currently working on a short monograph titled, Natural Kinds, for the Cambridge Elements series.  He has also published papers in a number of philosophical journals, including Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, British Journal for Philosophy of Science, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Synthese, and Mind & Language.

Emma Tieffenbach is a researcher at the Università della Svizzera Italiana at Lugano and a temporary lecturer at the universities of Geneva, Lausanne, Fribourg, Neuchâtel and EPFL, where she teaches political and moral philosophy. The philosophy of economics is her domain of research where has published on invisible-hand explanations, the ontology of money, economic exchanges (what they are and whether they are ethically restricted), the legal foundation of gifting, the “warm glow” theory of gifting, nudges and public goods. She has co-edited with Julien Deonna a Petit Traité des Valeurs (Edition d’Ithaque, Paris, 2018) which brings together the contributions of 35 internationally renowned scholars. She is currently working on the philosophy of Austrian economics, with a special focus on the essentialism, apriorism and mentalism of Carl Menger. 

Vanessa Wills is a political philosopher, ethicist, educator, and activist based in Washington, DC. She is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at The George Washington University. Her areas of specialization are moral, social, and political philosophy, nineteenth century German philosophy (especially Karl Marx), and the philosophy of race. Her research is importantly informed by her study of Marx’s work, and focuses on the ways in which economic and social arrangements can inhibit or promote the realization of values such as freedom, equality, and human development. Her monograph, Marx's Ethical Vision, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. Dr. Wills is on the editorial board of Spectre Journal, a biannual journal of Marxist theory, strategy, and analysis. In Spring 2022, she was Visiting Faculty Fellow at UMBC’s Dresher Center for the Humanities. In 2019/20, she was DAAD Visiting Chair in Ethics and Practice at Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität’s Munich Center for Ethics (now the Center for Ethics and Political Philosophy in Practice). She received her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011 and conducted part of her dissertation research at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin as a Fulbright Scholar in the 2010-11 academic year. Dr. Wills received her Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Princeton University in 2002.

Organizing committee: Erik Angner, Gunnar Björnsson, Åsa Burman, Staffan Carlshamre, Anandi Hattiangadi. Head of organizing committee and contact person: Åsa Burman:

Call for Papers - Social Ontology 2023

Theme: Social ontology and the social sciences, and the method(s) of social ontology 

August 16-19, 2023, Stockholm University, Sweden

Deadline for abstracts: February 15th, 2023

Social Ontology is the internationally leading philosophical and philosophy-related interdisciplinary conference series on social and collective phenomena. Social Ontology 2023 in Stockholm particularly invites contributions on the nature and existence of social phenomena, methodological debates about social ontology, and analyses of collective intentionality and collective responsibility. 

In-person conference with the option of ISOS members to participate online during the keynote lectures and the special panel on the method(s) of social ontology: Social Ontology: What is it? What do we want it to be?

Call For Abstracts

Submit abstracts (300-500 words, prepared for anonymous review) by February 15th,

Interdisciplinary contributions are strongly encouraged. This year, we particularly invite contributions from sociology, economics, political science, and applied perspectives.

Topics include:

  • The ontology of the social world; the nature and existence of social phenomena 
  • Collective intentionality 
  • The ontology of social kinds (e.g. race or gender or class)
  • Social structures and opaque kinds of social facts
  • Shared, joint or collective action
  • Shared, collective, and corporate responsibility
  • Collective or shared beliefs, intentions, and emotions
  • Linguistic or mental representations of social phenomena 
  • Social skills, habits and practices
  • Trust, cooperation, and competition
  • The concept of social power and stratification 
  • The nature, evolution, and functioning of social norms
  • The structure of institutions, firms, and organizations
  • The ontology of economics including unintended effects
  • The method(s) of social ontology 
  • Approaches to the metaphysics of the social world
  • Critical social ontology 

The Conference Series

The Social Ontology conferences are held under the auspices of the International Social Ontology Society. Previous events in this series have been held at the Universities of Basel, Helsinki, Konstanz, Leipzig, Munich, Manchester, Neuchâtel, Palermo, Rome, Rotterdam, Siena, and Tampere, as well as the University of California San Diego and Berkeley, Delft University of Technology, Tufts University, Indiana University, Bloomington, and the University of Vienna.

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