Who’s Afraid of Essentialism?

The term “essentialism” often comes up in my classes, and I always stop my students to ask what it means. It is supposed to be a bad thing to make essentialist claims, but what exactly is the problem? Perhaps an essentialist is someone who makes a claim of the form “all X’s are A”, for example, “all women are nurturing” Yet in academic work, people rarely make such categorical claims; obviously most variables, well, vary. Maybe most X’s are A, maybe more X’s are A than Y’s are A, but in the social sciences our data are almost always noisy. The sin of essentialism has to be something more than simply inaccurate generalization. But what? Continue reading Who’s Afraid of Essentialism?