Alexandra Plakias ’02

Awkwardness: A Theory by Alexandra Plakias -- book coverIn Associate Professor of Philosophy Alexandra Plakias’ new book titled Awkwardness: A Theory, she “discusses how we ostracize and punish those who fail to fit into existing social categories; how we all depend on--and are limited by--social scripts and norms for guidance; and how these norms frequently let us down when we need them.” Quoted by her publisher Oxford University Press (OUP), she said, “But awkwardness has a positive side: it can highlight opportunities for moral and social improvement, by revealing areas where our social norms and scripts fail to meet our needs or have yet to catch up with changing social and moral realities.”

In a later blog on the OUP site titled “Awkward? We’d better own it,” Plakias observed that “The idea that being socially awkward is a personality trait — and a sign of superior intelligence — has become a mainstay of writing about the (predominantly white and male) worlds of tech and finance.” She suggested that “…we should be aware of the way in which we selectively celebrate awkwardness, and who gets left out of the embrace.”

It is situations, not people that are awkward, Plakias said. “And one reason situations become awkward is because of individuals’ willingness to disregard others’ social cues, needs, and feelings. The myth of the awkward misfit is harmful when it’s used to license antisocial behavior, but it’s also used to exclude and stigmatize the neurodivergent, the disabled, and other marginalized groups.”

She warned, “Our fear of being perceived as awkward, or of being seen as ‘making things awkward,’ can function as a form of silencing, suppressing conversations about important issues like salary gaps, menopause, and microaggressions.”

Mark Zuckerberg's awkwardness may be a power move — here's why,” an article in which Plakias was quoted extensively, appeared in Business Insider and later on Yahoo and MSN on March 31. She again noted that “a display of awkwardness could be seen as a marker of intelligence for tech CEOs. Being awkward is a social cost that you can only bear if you have a lot of social capital to burn. For Zuck and men alike, awkwardness is seen as not only excusable, but laudable. If you're powerful enough, and if you're seen as intelligent enough, then you don't also have to be particularly charismatic and you don't have to be particularly socially considerate."

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