SWIP-TR talk: Leonie Smith (online event)

“What is our concept of impostor syndrome, and what do, and should, we want it to be?”

By Leonie Smith (University of Manchester, Philosophy)

Date: Thursday, 27 May, 2021

Time: 1330-1500

Zoom: tbd

This is a SWIP-TR event.

Abstract: What is impostor syndrome? On Katherine Hawley’s account it involves a person holding negative mistaken beliefs or attitudes relating to her own competence and success in an area in which she is actually successful (Hawley 2019). Hawley suggests that an ameliorative concept of impostor syndrome will aim to provide opportunity for reducing non-competence impostor beliefs, in the sufferer. Sarah Paul, in contrast, has argued that we should focus more on “the debilitating emotional and behavioural consequences of such beliefs” than on the doxastic attitudes themselves, as this is where the sufferer experiences real pain (Paul 2019: 227, my italics).

But although often linked, it is at least conceptually possible for non-competence impostor beliefs of the type Hawley is concerned with and the ‘emotional and behavioural’ reactions which Paul is concerned with to come apart. This, as Hawley suggests, leaves open the possibility that, “perhaps there could be a sufferer from impostor syndrome who believes that she is skilful and successful, yet still has high levels of anxiety, of a type more appropriate to someone who lacks such beliefs” (Hawley 2019: 208). Hawley does not explore this further (although she and others do discuss the alternative case in which the beliefs are present without related feelings and behaviours), but I am intrigued by this open possibility, and its implications. The two questions I believe that we need to answer are these: First, is it possible for significant numbers of people to experience the emotional and behavioural reactions commonly associated with impostor syndrome without experiencing non-competence based impostor beliefs? And second, if they can, what are the implications of these cases for our taxonomy and treatment of impostor syndrome? Should we understand these cases as instances of impostor syndrome, or is there something missing from our current understanding of social reality? In this paper I will argue first, that there are such cases, and second, that failing to recognise them is an issue of social justice.

About the speaker: click here.

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