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Abstract

This article identifies a set of power relations within contemporary feminist academic debates on intersectionality that work to “depoliticizing intersectionality,” neutralizing the critical potential of intersectionality for social justice-oriented change. At a time when intersectionality has received unprecedented international acclaim within feminist academic circles, a specifically disciplinary academic feminism in tune with the neoliberal knowledge economy engages in argumentative practices that reframe and undermine it. This article analyzes several specific trends in debate that neutralize the political potential of intersectionality, such as confining intersectionality to an academic exercise of metatheoretical contemplation, as well as “whitening intersectionality” through claims that intersectionality is “the brainchild of feminism” and requires a reformulated “broader genealogy of intersectionality.”
INTERSECTIONALITY UNDONE
Saving Intersectionality from Feminist
Intersectionality Studies
1
Sirma Bilge
Département de sociologie, Université de Montréal
Abstract
This article identifies a set of power relations within contemporary feminist academic
debates on intersectionality that work to “depoliticizing intersectionality,” neutralizing the
critical potential of intersectionality for social justice-oriented change. At a time when
intersectionality has received unprecedented international acclaim within feminist academic
circles, a specifically disciplinary academic feminism in tune with the neoliberal knowledge
economy engages in argumentative practices that reframe and undermine it. This article
analyzes several specific trends in debate that neutralize the political potential of
intersectionality, such as confining intersectionality to an academic exercise of
metatheoretical contemplation, as well as “whitening intersectionality” through claims that
intersectionality is “the brainchild of feminism” and requires a reformulated “broader
genealogy of intersectionality.”
Keywords: Intersectionality, Academic Feminism, Disciplinarity, Neoliberalism, Diver-
sity, Postrace, Europe (Germany, France)
INTRODUCTION
This article identifies a set of power relations within contemporary feminist aca-
demic debates on intersectionality that work to “depoliticizing intersectionality,”
neutralizing the critical potential of intersectionality for social justice-oriented change.
The overarching motivation behind the article is to explicate how intersectionality—
despite receiving unprecedented international acclamation within feminist aca-
demic circles—has been systematically depoliticized. I seek to counteract this trend
by encouraging methods of debate that reconnect intersectionality with its initial
vision of generating counter-hegemonic and transformative knowledge production,
activism, pedagogy, and non-oppressive coalitions. I begin by providing two anec-
dotes to illustrate the complex workings ~or absence!of intersectionality in social
practice, using the Occupy movement and SlutWalk. I go on to examine the prac-
tices through which a kind of disciplinary academic feminism specifically attuned to
neoliberal knowledge economy contributes to the depoliticization of intersection-
ality. I analyze several specific trends in this debate that work to neutralize the
political potential of intersectionality, such as confining intersectionality to an aca-
demic exercise of metatheoretical contemplation, as well as “whitening intersection-
Du Bois Review, 10:2 (2013) 405–424.
© 2013 W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research 1742-058X013 $15.00
doi:10.10170S1742058X13000283
405
ality” through claims that intersectionality is “the brainchild of feminism,” and that it
requires a reformulated “broader genealogy of intersectionality.”
Recent years have seen various movements with claims about social justice and
democratization sweeping across the world, from the lndignados to the Arab Spring,
the Occupy Movement, SlutWalk, and the transnational student movement. How-
ever inspiring they may be, these contemporary progressive politics of protest have
not escaped the enduring problems of legitimacy and representation, in particular
the intricacies of speaking about, for and instead of others ~Alcoff 1995!. Despite
their best intentions and claims of inclusiveness and solidarity, many have fallen short
of intersectional reflexivity and accountability, and prompted their own kinds of
silencing, exclusion or misrepresentation of subordinated groups. Here I draw on the
Occupy movement and Slutwalk to illustrate the need for constant reflection about
intersectionality and non-oppressive coalitional politics.
The Occupy movement has been challenged for lacking decolonial awareness by
Aboriginal peoples from an anticolonialist and indigenous-centered perspective ~Mon-
tano 2011; Yee 2011!. Critics argue that its rallying motto—“Occupy”—discursively
re-enacts colonial violence and disregards the fact that, from the indigenous stand-
point, those spaces and places it calls for occupation are already occupied. The
Aboriginal critique developed a “decolonize occupy movement” wherein indigenous
people hold center stage. Despite being much less publicized, the critique has suc-
ceeded in changing the name of the Occupy movement at least in some parts of the
world.
The SlutWalk movement,
2
organized to protest the shaming and blaming of
women for wearing clothing that invited sexual assaulted, received criticism for its
racial blindness: its lack of concern about the differential resonance of the term “slut”
for Black women of the United States. Historically-sedimented gender stereotypes
have persistently pathologized Black female sexuality as improper and promiscuous.
Stepping away from SlutWalk, Black women’s organizations poignantly asserted
that:
As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves “slut”
without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring
messages about what and who the Black woman is. We don’t have the privilege to
play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bod-
ies and souls for generations ~Black Women’s Blueprint 2011!.
This collective demand for the relabeling of the movement has not been successful.
For example, during a NYC SlutWalk on October 1, 2011, at least two young White
women were photographed with placards reading: “Woman is the N* of the world”
~referencing a John Lennon and Yoko Ono song and using the full racial slur!. While
organizers issued an apology for this racist incident,
3
the incident nonetheless dem-
onstrates that even movements positioning themselves as progressive can still lose
sight of the tools that intersectional thinking makes available ~see Bilge 2012; Carby
1982; Rich 1979!.
4
Such incidents demonstrate Kimberlé Crenshaw’s ~1993!argu-
ment that “political strategies that challenge only certain subordinating practices
while maintaining existing hierarchies not only marginalize those who are subject to
multiple systems of subordination but also often result in oppositionalizing race and
gender discourses” ~pp. 112–113!.
These examples illustrate that despite their claims of inclusiveness, progressive
movements can fail in intersectional political awareness. This failure comes at a
significant cost for various subordinated groups, which are silenced, excluded, mis-
Sirma Bilge
406 DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013
represented, or co-opted. In the present-day political landscape the need for a radical
intersectional praxis may be more pressing than ever. Intersectional political aware-
ness offers critical potential for building non-oppressive political coalitions between
various social justice-oriented movements now required to compete with each other,
rather than collaborate, under the neoliberal equity0diversity regime.
RETHINKING INTERSECTIONALITY IN AN AGE SATURATED
WITH A NEOLIBERAL CULTURE OF DIVERSITY
Ideas about social justice infuse everyday life in complex and contradictory ways,
through popular and corporate discourses and practices ~Ward 2007!. At the same
time underlying structures that produce and sustain social inequalities are over-
looked and erased. Commonplace discourses assume that western societies have
largely overcome problems of racism, sexism, and heterosexism0homophobia. Polit-
ical myths of “posts” ~postraciality, postfeminism!and fantasies of transcendence
~Ahmed 2004!are espoused by both liberal and conservative forces. The result is a
contradictory political and cultural climate replete with idea~l!s of equality, accom-
panied by an unbending refusal to see the persistence of deeply entrenched inequal-
ities of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and citizenship-status. Framing social life
not as collective, but as the interaction of individual social entrepreneurs, neoliber-
alism denies preconditions leading to structural inequalities; in consequence, it con-
gratulates itself for dismantling policies and discrediting movements concerned with
structures of injustice. Thus neoliberal assumptions create the conditions allowing
the founding conceptions of intersectionality—as an analytical lens and political tool
for fostering a radical social justice agenda—to become diluted, disciplined, and
disarticulated.
Pervasive neoliberal notions have facilitated feminism being altered into “post-
feminism” in ways that parallel the current depoliticizing of intersectionality. Accord-
ing to Angela McRobbie ~2009!, “post-feminism positively draws on and invokes
feminism as that which can be taken into account, to suggest that equality is achieved,
in order to install a whole repertoire of new meanings which emphasise that it is no
longer needed, it is a spent force” ~p. 12!. Intersectionality is going through a similar
“double entanglement” ~p. 6!, as it is “hailed” and “failed” simultaneously; some
elements of intersectionality are taken into account, but only to be declared lapsed or
obsolete, to be set aside for something better. Certain lines of feminist debate both
invoke and evacuate intersectionality as post-feminism did feminism.
This double entanglement serves important purposes for the circulation of diver-
sity rhetorics across the academy, progressive social movements, and non-profit and
corporate organizations. Intersectionality, originally focused on transformative and
counter-hegemonic knowledge production and radical politics of social justice, has
been commodified and colonized for neoliberal regimes. A depoliticized intersec-
tionality is particularly useful to a neoliberalism that reframes all values as market
values: identity-based radical politics are often turned into corporatized diversity
tools leveraged by dominant groups to attain various ideological and institutional
goals ~Ward 2007!; a range of minority struggles are incorporated into a market-
driven and state-sanctioned governmentality of diversity ~Duggan 2003!; “diversity”
becomes a feature of neoliberal management, providing “managerial precepts of
good government and efficient business operations” ~Duggan 2003, p. xiii!; knowl-
edge of “diversity” can be presented as marketable expertise in understanding and
deploying multiple forms of difference simultaneously—a sought-after signifier of
Intersectionality Undone
DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013 407
sound judgment and professionalism ~Ward 2007!. Given the range of deployments
available for it, intersectionality has become an “open,” umbrella term used in
different, even divergent, debates and political projects, both counter-hegemonic
and hegemonic ~Erel et al., 2008!.
The mutations of intersectionality and its depoliticizing rest not merely on the
economic logics of neoliberalism, but also on its cultural logics, particularly the
ability of neoliberalism to speak a complex language of diversity. One of the key
features of neoliberalism is its extension of the economic rationale beyond the
economic sphere to saturate all aspects of life. As Oishik Sircar and Dipika Jain
~2012!point out astutely, neoliberalism has slickly achieved three things to ensure its
robust longevity: “first, it has enabled the mutation of the state into a firm; second, it
has given birth to the responsibilised and self-governing citizen; third, it has con-
stantly projected experiences of human precarity and risk as entrepreneurial0
developmental0funding opportunity” ~pp. 11–12!. These adaptions are infused with
social identities and categories. Lisa Duggan ~2003!argues that alliances built by
neoliberal politicians to assist the flow of money up the economic hierarchy are
complex, flexible, and shifting, yet the contexts of their concretion are always forged
by “the meanings and effects of race, gender, sexuality, and other markers of differ-
ence” ~p. xiv!. In other words, Duggan insists,
these alliances are not simply opportunistic nor are the issues merely epiphe-
nomenal or secondary to the underlying reality of the more solid and real
economic goals. Rather, the economic goals have been ~must be!formulated in
terms of the range of political and cultural meanings that shape the social body in
a particular time and place ~p. xvi, italics in original!.
Intersectionality has been transformed by the confluence between neoliberal corpo-
rate diversity culture and identity politics in the last fifteen years and also acquired
undeniable intellectual, political, and moral capital ~Knapp 2005; Ward 2007!, which
proved to be a fertile ground for opportunistic uses of intersectionality that I have
dubbed “ornamental intersectionality” ~Bilge 2011, p. 3!. It would be misleading to
consider ornamental intersectionality as benign, for it is part and parcel of the
neutralization, even active disarticulation, of radical politics of social justice. Its
superficial deployment of intersectionality undermines intersectionality’s credibility
and potentials for addressing interlocking power structures and developing an ethics
of non-oppressive coalition-building and claims-making. Similar to routine declara-
tions of commitment to equity and diversity, ornamental intersectionality allows
institutions and individuals to accumulate value through good public relations and
“rebranding” without the need to actually address the underlying structures that
produce and sustain injustice ~Ahmed 2012; Luft and Ward, 2009!. Recast in depo-
liticized terms, intersectionality becomes a tool that certain feminist scholars can
invoke to demonstrate “marketable expertise” in managing potentially problematic
kinds of diversity.
Part of my task in this article is to answer a vital question with regard to how a
depoliticized intersectionality is achieved and “managed” by academic feminism.
Through what kind of practices does academic feminism participate in this paradox-
ical process of co-optation: invoking intersectionality ~or a specter of intersectional-
ity!so that it might be stripped of its radical vision of social justice—rendering it
politically neutralized and undone? I discuss below a number of argumentative
patterns and trends through which intersectionality is deliberately neutralized. The
problematic strategies I discuss do not characterize the arguments of all academic
Sirma Bilge
408 DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013
feminisms, but are deployed in a kind of scholarship that I call disciplinary feminism.
By disciplinary feminism, I refer to a hegemonic intellectual position with regards to
knowledge production, a way of doing “science” which is more concerned with
fitting into the parameters of what constitute legitimate scientific knowledge than
challenging those parameters. It strives to install disciplinarity over the object of
study, to be recognized within traditional disciplines, or to establish itself as a new
discipline or interdiscipline. This is unlike the initial political impetus of academic
feminism, which conceived itself as a “means to institutionalize feminist resistance to
the normalizing agencies of the traditional disciplines” ~Wiegman 2012, p. 71!, and
many academic feminists still engage in a critique of the disciplines, attempt to
challenge hegemonic practices in scholarship and public life. Disciplinary feminism,
in contrast, participates in institutional ~mis!appropriation and attendant depoliti-
cization of both interdisciplinarity and intersectionality.
Disciplinary feminism appears to be more concerned with the institutional suc-
cess of the knowledge it produces than institutional and social change through
counter-hegemonic knowledge production. Hence, today’s disciplinary feminism
uses the very tools that unruly feminist knowledge projects of the 1970s and early
1980s attempted to critique. These were radically political intersectional knowledge
projects that resisted the standardized visions and normalizing techniques promoted
in the name of disciplinarity or interdisciplinarity. Contemporary scholars cannot
fully retrieve themselves from the market logics and practices of the neoliberal
university; we all must, to some degree, tackle neoliberal demands for branding,
product differentiation, and emphasizing novelty. Yet, this does not mean we are
obliged to espouse the kind of work I call disciplinary feminism, which conflates
political struggles and identities with market niches, and contributes to the depolit-
icizing of intersectionality.
More broadly, differentiating academic feminism from disciplinary feminism
also highlights deep contradictions: initially insurgent formations of fields such as
women’s studies, ethnic studies, gay and lesbian studies, and postcolonial studies
were driven in part by the desire to disrupt scientific conventions and decolonize
methodologies and epistemologies; yet their radical critiques are tamed through
their institutionalization and dominant ideologies, as the operations of state and
capital are deeply implicated in the processes allowing the emergence of counter-
hegemonic minoritarian knowledges. Even as they contest power, these formations
constantly strive to make themselves legible to power ~Ferguson 2012, p. 38!. The
neoliberal recomposition of power alignments between state, capital, and academy
subvert unprecedented forms of minority visibility by valorizing difference without
consequences, recognition without redistribution. The minority perspectives created
by counter-hegemonic fields of inquiry can then be rearticulated and incorporated
into an ever adaptive hegemony without altering its structure ~Ferguson 2012, p. 8;
Bilge forthcoming!.
My argument does not idealize the formative stages of intersectionality as unfet-
tered by the workings of capital and state. Stuart Hall argues that new forms of global
economic and cultural power work through an apparently paradoxical treatment of
difference: “economic power . . . lives culturally through difference and . . . is con-
stantly teasing itself with the pleasures of the transgressive other” ~1997, pp. 180–
181!. Hall points out that just as new social movements developed around and
articulated minority justice claims and identities, with their attendant counter-
hegemonic knowledge projects, the flexible accumulation strategies of capitalism
found ways to turn these new interests in local and minority difference into new
market niches, promoting ever more segmented markets, smaller groups, niche
Intersectionality Undone
DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013 409
lifestyles, and identities. Roderick Ferguson ~2012!argues that the process has intro-
duced “a new and powerful contradiction into society” ~pp. 41–42!: minority affir-
mation that elaborates decisive critiques of hegemonic authority also provides, through
its institutionalization, unprecedented opportunities for the exercising of hegemonic
power. Both intersectionality and feminism are bound up in this contradiction.
INTERSECTIONALITY AND ACADEMIC (DISCIPLINARY) FEMINISM
In the last two decades, intersectionality has been celebrated by feminist scholars
across the globe, receiving special praise and appreciation. It is said to be the “best
feminist practice” in the academy ~Weber and Parra-Medina, 2003, pp. 223–224!;
“the most important theoretical contribution of women’s and gender studies to date”
~McCall 2005, p. 1771!; a catalyst for “the political impetus of feminism” ~Knapp
2005, p. 254!; “a globally utilized framework for understanding the issues of social
justice” ~Yuval-Davis 2011, p. xi!; “one of the four principal perspectives of the third
wave feminism” ~Mann and Huffman, 2005, p. 57!; and “a central tenet of feminist
thinking @which#has transformed how gender is conceptualized in research” ~Shields
2008, p. 301!. Intersectionality is also used to assert the importance of the contribu-
tion of feminist knowledge to specific disciplines, as evidenced in the presentation of
intersectionality as “a contribution of feminism to sociology” ~Denis 2008, p. 677!.
The steady popularity of intersectionality—leading to its deprecation as a
“buzzword”—is further evidenced by the significant books, articles, symposia, and
courses on the topic. Such unparalleled attention and large-scale international cir-
culation also poses its share of problems. Similar to other “travelling theories” ~see
Saïd 1983!that move across disciplines and geographies, intersectionality falls prey
to widespread misrepresentation, tokenization, displacement, and disarticulation.
Because the concept of intersectionality emerged as a tool to counter multiple
oppressions, there are multiple narratives about its origins, as well as tensions over
the legibility of its stakes. Introducing a knowledge product to new contexts implies
a politics of translation and of “prefacing,” generating its own celebrity system and
status hierarchies both locally ~in the context of translation!and internationally.
Hierarchies are created when one establishes whose texts are deemed foundational
and included in the translated “canon”; who gets invited to major scientific events
where the new knowledge product is launched and confronted by local expertise;
who gets the credit for introducing it; whose career benefits from it; who are
included to be a part of local expertise, who is side-lined; who is empowered by this
introduction, and who is not. Thus debates about intersectionality also reflect power
struggles, opportunity structures, and turf wars internal to specific disciplines and
fields.
These questions are of particular relevance in the case of intersectionality, as it is
a theory and praxis, an analytical and political tool elaborated by less powerful social
actors facing multiple minoritizations, in order to confront and combat the inter-
locking systems of power shaping their lives, through theoretical and empirical
knowledge production, as well as activism, advocacy, and pedagogy ~Thornton Dill
and Zambrana, 2009!. Given the origins of intersectionality, it is important to ask
what the introduction of this particular tool does for similarly subordinated groups
in the local context of its introduction. Are these groups and individuals empowered
in some way by the availability of this tool? Or, are they disempowered because the
new tool is introduced in ways that erase their own thoughts and activism, and their
own political standpoint shaped by multiple power differentials? Are such individuals
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410 DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013
and groups involved in the introduction of intersectionality to the local context? Are
they among the prime players? These are significant questions. My inquiry is not
about worldwide circulations of a sanitized, overly academic, and depoliticized inter-
sectionality per se, but about what difference the spread of a depoliticized intersec-
tionality makes for subordinated groups within the power relations embedded in
knowledge production.
I contend that what may at first appear to be an enthusiastic reception of inter-
sectionality is a significant reflection of the need by disciplinary feminism to contain it,
to neutralize its politics. For disciplinary feminism to “take on” or “take over” inter-
sectionality serves to marginalize those trying to reconnect intersectionality with its
initial vision which was grounded in the political subjectivities and struggles of
less powerful social actors facing multiple intertwined oppressions. If disciplinary
feminism establishes control of an intersectionality specifically at the expense of
less powerful social actors, if intersectionality is incorporated specifically through
the “curatorship” and benefit of White feminist scholars ~see Erel et al., 2008; Petzen
2012!, the result is a depoliticized intersectionality. To make this argument is not to
say that White feminists should “move over” and leave intersectionality to feminists
of color who will make it transformative and counter-hegemonic again. No! It is to
argue that disciplinary feminists, whether White or of color, should stop doing inter-
sectionality in ways that undo it. One way to undo intersectionality is to turn it into an
overly academic exercise of speculative or normative musings.
DEPOLITICIZING INTERSECTIONALITY THROUGH METATHEORETICAL
MUSINGS
There is a certain propensity in continental European feminist scholarship on inter-
sectionality to discuss intersectionality without much empirical grounding. Those
familiar with discussions of intersectionality in the North American context in par-
ticular notice a profusion of speculative and prescriptive declarations, sentences
starting with “what intersectionality might or might not” be or do, and “what
intersectionality should or should not” be or do. These musings fail to consider what
intersectionality actually does in research, what researchers do with intersectionality,
and with what kind of outcomes. This strong tendency runs the risk of confining
intersectionality to an overly academic contemplative exercise. My own perplexity is
echoed by Jennifer Petzen ~2012!, who expresses amazement at how hard the texts
she analyzed work to make claims about the theoretical implications of intersectional
analysis without ever applying it empirically. She notes:
In other words, there seems to be a lot of talk about how to do intersectionality and
what is the best way to theorise it, but the ways in which it has been taken up and
given a particular genealogy cause one to think about how intersectionality is actu-
ally being applied, and what its actual function is in academic circles ~p. 295!.
The kinds of argumentative strategies I discuss in this article featured prominently at
an important international conference, Celebrating Intersectionality? held in Frankfort
in 2009 ~see Lutz, Vivar, and Supik 2011!.
5
The comments of Kimberlé Crenshaw
~2011!in response to the conference reflect some of the divergent priorities and
sensibilities when intersectionality travels from one context to the other. Pointing
out that the conference organizers and participants appeared to approach intersec-
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DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013 411
tionality with assumptions, questions, and expectations that differed greatly from
hers, Crenshaw notes:
Indeed, the responses they anticipate—some definitive articulation of intersec-
tionality’s grand objectives, mechanisms, and trajectories—are quite foreign to
my own sensibilities about intersectionality. My own take on how to know
intersectionality has been to do intersectionality; to assess what intersectionality
can produce is to canvass what scholars, activists and policymakers have done
under its rubric. Thus, the invitation to measure and evaluate intersectionality as
theory in the abstract has not drawn my engagement over the years.... I’ve
consistently learned more from what scholars and activists have done with inter-
sectionality than from what others have speculated about its appeal ~p. 222!.
I argue that widespread incidence of metatheoretical musings serves to undo inter-
sectionality by distracting from its potential as a tool for social justice.
THE WHITENING OF INTERSECTIONALITY
Another way that intersectionality is undone is through argumentative patterns and
trends that I gather under the rubric of the whitening of intersectionality. These
patterns all participate in annexing intersectionality to disciplinary feminism and
decentring the constitutive role of race in intersectional thought and praxis. Critical
attention should be given to racial underpinnings of these argumentative strategies
in the face of hegemonic discourse of “postraciality.”
What I mean by “whitening intersectionality” does not refer to the embodiment,
skin color or heritage of its practitioners, nor does it attempt to police the boundaries
of who can legitimately do intersectionality and who cannot. Whether scholars are
“whitening intersectionality” refers to ways of doing intersectional work in the
political economy of genealogical and thematic re-framings, in the citational prac-
tices, and in the politics of canonicity. It is also dramatically evident in discussions of
whether intersectionality should be seen as a theory or as merely a heuristic device, as
well as in the recurrent calls for broadening and elevating intersectionality. These
calls require critical reflection because they take place in a context that persistently
devalues the theoretical significance of intersectionality when produced by feminists
of color—the underlying assumption being that racialized women’s structural expe-
rience cannot generate theory, it can only be understood as a descriptive category of
experience ~Lewis 2009, Erel et al., 2008!.
Thus the whitening of intersectionality is achieved in part by excluding from
debate or overlooking the contributions of those who have multiple minority iden-
tities and are marginalized social actors—women of color and queers of color. This
problem is particularly acute in Europe ~Erel et al., 2008; Gutiérrez Rodríguez 2010;
Haritaworn 2012; Lewis 2009, 2013; Petzen 2012; Tomlinson 2013!. While the
whitening of intersectionality is produced through several lines of argument, I focus
here on two: “intersectionality is the brainchild of feminism” and “we need to broaden the
genealogy of intersectionality.”
I analyze these two argumentative strategies from an intellectual tradition that
unties whiteness from skin color, physiology, or biology, and understands it as: a
structurally advantaged position ~race privilege!;a~privileged!standpoint from which
White people view themselves, others, and society; and a set of cultural practices that
are considered “unmarked”—yet unmarked only if viewed from the perspective of
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normative whiteness ~Frankenberg 1993!. My problematizing of the whitening of
intersectionality thus builds on an understanding of whiteness as a social formation
that is conditioned, reproduced and legitimized by a racial habitus—a White habitus.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva ~2006!expands on Bourdieu’s notion to develop the concept
of White habitus: “a racialized, uninterrupted socialization process that conditions
and creates whites’ racial taste, perceptions, feelings and emotions and their views on
racial matters” ~p. 104!. This critical conception is necessary to understand and
unpack the normalizing agency and authoritative power of whiteness, how it gener-
ates “norms, ways of understanding history, ways of thinking about self and other,
and even ways of thinking about the notion of culture itself ~Frankenberg 1993,
p. 231!. While hegemonic positions are never entirely stable, hegemonic “White”
ways of knowing and “White” entitlements are fully implicated in the feminist
struggles for meaning over intersectionality and the forced take-over of intersection-
ality from feminists of color. Such a critical understanding of whiteness also clarifies
that whiteness and whitening are symbolic fields. To be explicit—one does not need
to be White to “whiten intersectionality.”
Strategy One: “Intersectionality is the Brainchild of Feminism
One of the most significant argumentative strategies to whitening intersectionality is
the frequent casting of intersectionality as the “brain child of feminism.” Claiming
that feminism is responsible for creating intersectionality has become a normative,
perfectly naturalized, taken-for-granted feminist practice, as evidenced by a plethora
of writings, symposiums, and course programs in feminist intersectionality studies or
intersectional gender studies, etc. Such reframing makes intersectionality a property
specifically of feminism and women’s0gender studies erasing “intersectionality’s
intersectional origins” ~Luft and Ward, 2009, p. 19!. A serious consequence of this
appropriation is it downplays the centrality of race in the advent of intersectional
thought and activism, while concurrently obscuring the formative tensions, both
historical and contemporary, between feminism and women of color in the shaping
of intersectionality. The appropriation of a whitened intersectionality needs to be
countered by insistently emphasizing intersectionality’s constitutive ties with critical
race thinking and ~re!claiming a non-negotiable status for race and the racializing
processes in intersectional analysis and praxis. Recentering race in intersectionality is
vital in the face of widespread practices that decenter race in tune with the heg-
emonic postracial thinking. Indeed, the chronic avoidance of race in European
feminist debates on intersectionality is sobering. Barbara Tomlinson ~2013!argues
that decentering race facilitates dominant ~White!feminist appropriation of
intersectionality:
Many European social scientists and philosophers concerned with feminist con-
ceptions of intersectionality appear to find valuable a “purified” intersectionality,
quarantined from its exposure to race. Establishing the Black feminist scholars
who originated intersectionality as “unworthy”—parochial, “race-bound,” inca-
pable of “theorizing”—justifies extracting from them the valuable tool of inter-
sectionality ~p. 13!.
Petzen ~2012!insightfully discusses the importance of recentering race in the inter-
sectionality debate. Analyzing the German context, Petzen argues that the practice
of tying intersectionality to gender studies, rather than to postcolonial or antiracist
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critiques, unduly foregrounds gender as a category of analysis. According to Petzen
~2012!, this politics of location
allows the concept of intersectionality to become palatable to white-dominated
gender studies departments and universities, and made less threatening, espe-
cially when ‘ethnicity’ is substituted for ‘race.’ As such, the antiracist critique in
European work on intersectionality tends to suffer at the hands of some theorists
who tend to favour the other intersectional ‘axes’ of ~white!gender and class, and
recently sexuality @...#~p. 296!.
European disciplinary feminism “whitens intersectionality” not only by making
claims of property rights to the concept of intersectionality, but also by minimizing
the importance of race in intersectional thought—for instance by declaring race an
irrelevant category for Europe. This reflects a dominant tendency among European
scholars: disallowing race as an analytic category, instead framing problems through
categories such as ethnicity, culture, and religion. At the Frankfort conference Cel-
ebrating lntersectionality?, as Lewis ~2013!notes, there was an anxious debate about
whether the category of race had any real traction in European contexts, outside of
Britain and the United States. These debates over the usefulness of the category of
race reveal confident yet under-theorized and empirically underexamined dismissals
of race, which end up silencing “those who cannot avoid knowing they are raced
subjects” ~Lewis 2013, pp. 882–883!.
Another way of whitening intersectionality and downplaying the importance of
race takes the form of dispersing and diffusing which basically bypass its origins in
Black feminism. An example commonly asserted at European feminist conferences
implies that intersectionality did not really originate in Black thought because “it was
in the air.” Particularly evident in the audio recordings of the conference Celebrating
Intersectionality?, this claim that intersectionality “was in the air” rests on the tacit
notion that if intersectional thinking emerged from everywhere, if “it was all in the
air,” then there is nothing specially racial or ethnic about intersectional thinking—or
maybe we as feminists are all special, since we are all part of that nebula. Made from
the outset at the inaugural speech of the conference, it has been taken up with
~audible!ease by following speakers, each referring with a certain relief to its previ-
ous deployments. The happy consensus created by the “it-was-in-the-air-claim”
needs to be disrupted, for it does several problematic things. It consolidates the
feminist appropriation of intersectionality: “it was all in the internal effervescence of
feminism.” It emphasizes the stance that “feminists @have#theorize@d#intersectional-
ity from many perspectives” ~Lykke 2010, p. 78!, consequently reducing the Black
feminist thought and epistemologies of women of color that generated intersection-
ality to just “another perspective.”
It is plausible to assume that these claims about intersectionality not having a
clear source—having issued almost simultaneously from everywhere—are influenced
by a Foucauldian power analytics, which is ironically distorted and misrepresented in
these very claims. Indeed, Michel Foucault ~1980!conceptualized power as “some-
thing which circulates, or as something which only functions in the form of a chain
. . . employed and exercised through a net like organization” ~p. 98!. Foucault was
unwilling to identify a principle of domination or a primary source of power, or a
subject or a group of subjects being always at the source of power. But this position
does not sanction ~or allow!an evacuation of the power relations at play in the very
task of consolidating what counts as the legitimate knowledge about the origins of
intersectionality.
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414 DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013
Indeed, by conceiving power as a system of relations dispersed throughout the
society, rather than as a set of relations between those who “have” it ~oppressors!and
those who don’t ~oppressed!, Foucault ~1990!also insists that power “is the name
that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society” ~p. 93!
and can be exercised from an unexpected place. Thus, by dispersing the generative
impetuses of intersectionality “in the air,” disciplinary feminism not only lays claims
of ownership of intersectionality, but also conveniently covers up its own strategic
situation, and, I would add, its racial privilege ~whiteness!in the struggles for mean-
ing unfolding amongst feminist scholars and activists. As Lewis ~2013!aptly notes,
feminist intersectionality studies tend to overlook the often-muted racialized dynam-
ics arising within feminist constituencies, “even as these constituencies are commit-
ted to deepening intersectionality scholarship and widening its political traction and
influence” ~p. 830!. She adds,
It is profoundly paradoxical, then, that this burgeoning arena of feminist inquiry
has also redirected attention away from the relational dynamic that emerges
among diverse constituencies of feminists and women’s studies scholars in fem-
inist gatherings....This inquiry has neglected some of the very issues of inequal-
ity and differentiated subjectivities constituted in intersectional matrices as they
are played out in the space of feminist infrastructure ~p. 830!.
The inaccuracy of the “it was in the air” claims made by several European and,
particularly German feminists, becomes glaringly obvious when we turn our gaze to
other evidence about conceptualizing race and gender in earlier German contexts.
For example, claims that whatever was required for the articulation of intersectional
thinking was already “in the air” prove to be fictitious in the light of testimonies
heard in the inspiring film of Dagmar Schultz about Audre Lorde’s Berlin years
~Schultz 2012!. This testimony reveals that in the 1980s there was no speaking
position for a Black German qua Black German, no legibility for an articulation of an
Afro German hyphenation. The development of such intersectional possibility clearly
emerged from the personal and intellectual encounter between Lorde and a number
of Germans of color striving for this articulation. This is established in the landmark
work of Katharina Oguntoye and her colleagues on Afro German women, and also
highlighted by Lorde herself in her preface to that volume. In the words of the
authors, as quoted by Karin Obermeier ~1989, p. 173!:
Together with Audre Lorde, we developed the term ‘Afro-German’ modelled
after ‘Afro-American,’ as an expression of our cultural heritage. @It#is not and
cannot be our intention . . . to create barriers according to heritage or skin
color....Onthecontrary, we want to advance the term ‘Afro-German’ against
such traditionally expedient labels as ‘half-breed,’ ‘mulatto,’ or ‘colored’—this,
as an attempt to define ourselves, instead of being ~externally!categorized ~Ogun-
toye et al., 1986, p. 10!.
If intersectionality were already “in the air,” the role played by Audre Lorde would
have been much less significant in the initial articulation of Afro German thought.
When during the same period an Afro Dutch lesbian group decides to name itself
“Sister Outsider,” it was not a mark of infatuation with African American culture, but
a move to acknowledge finding inspiration and models to articulate that which was
unarticulated and unutterable in the local context—specifically not “in the air.”
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DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013 415
Strategy Two: “We Must Broaden the Genealogy of Intersectionality
The imperative to broaden the genealogy of intersectionality is a recurrent theme in
European feminist conferences and publications. These calls cannot be understood
outside the context of global circuits of knowledge production and dissemination
wherein “inequalities of opportunity and recognition tied to structures of race, class,
and gender remain, questions of provenance also remain central to the politics of
knowledge production” ~Lewis 2013, p. 872!.
The call for broadening the genealogy of intersectionality was a notable theme at
the 2009 Frankfurt conference Celebrating Intersectionality? Similar calls unfolded
differently but with similar intensity in a large French-speaking feminist conference
held in Lausanne in 2012. The unifying theme was Interweaving of Power Relations:
Discriminations and Privileges of Gender, Race, Class and Sexuality.
6
At this conference
pleas for broadening the genealogy of intersectionality also emphasized the related
desire for “due recognition” of French feminist thought ~both materialist and socialist0
Marxist strands!, which, it was claimed, had been tackling the “same issues” with
different theoretical and conceptual tools. There is much to say about such a claim,
but two points are specifically telling. First, it co-opts intersectionality ~now deemed
valuable!to rebrand a history of thought that was not tackling the “same issues,” but
was, rather, focussed on the class0gender nexus ~or as French materialist feminists
called it “social sex,” or “social relationships of sex”!. Race was not of concern.
7
Second, the calls were issued by White disciplinary feminists, in effect claiming that
they have been “intersectionalists” all along. By insisting that their own tools—which
place race to the side or make it optional—must be considered as valid and valuable
as intersectionality—which was founded on a political standpoint inseparably racial-
ized, gendered, and classed—they actively contribute to undermining intersection-
ality as a tool to be deployed for antiracist purposes. The entire argument turns on
unacknowledged racial relations: scholars who are already beneficiaries of racial
privilege, fail to acknowledge or hold themselves accountable for their racial privi-
lege and, in fact, perpetuate it.
The whitening of intersectionality through “broadened genealogies” requires
certain acrobatic skills: it entails juggling what is represented as recognition ~“to
honor founding mothers and foundational texts”!, while simultaneously pushing
them into the background so that other ~usually White!mothers can be found, or
other ~usually White!genealogies be traced. In other words, attempts to reformu-
late genealogies are always political and never innocent. The organizers of the
conference Celebrating Intersectionality? set forth their task as “looking back at the
early stages of the debate about intersectionality with the intention of making
visible research from those early days that is usually neglected in the current debate”
~Lutz et al., 2011, p. 1!. Such apparently generous moves are always in the service
of contemporary structures of academic power. In the specific context of enuncia-
tion in debates on intersectionality within German gender studies, an interest in
retrieving apparently underrated knowledge and knowledge producers from the
past is not balanced by a due concern for those underestimated in the present, and
for those who are currently being neglected and marginalized within the same field.
Claiming to recuperate the work of the less powerful may serve simply as a pretext
for inserting and amplifying the more powerful.
These endeavours to broaden intersectionality’s genealogy rarely lead to the
identification of newly rediscovered women of color as forerunners or “implicit”
thinkers of intersectionality; instead White scholars such as Alexandra Kollontai
~Lykke 2011!, Zillah Eisenstein, and a whole range of socialist feminists are repack-
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416 DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013
aged as foundational to intersectionality. This gesture reduces and reformulates
their otherwise valuable work on capitalism and patriarchy, serving merely to eclipse
the racial habitus at the origin of intersectionality’s theoretical innovation ~Luft and
Ward, 2009!. This is not to say that intersectionality should not be related to,
compared and contrasted with other ways of theorizing the complexity of power
and structural inequalities. On the contrary, such comparisons and conversations
are an integral part of theoretical developments. But they differ drastically from
questionable moves listing an impressive cortège of White feminist scholars, in-
cluding celebrated names such as Donna Haraway, Judith Butler, Iris Young, Rosi Braid-
oti, etc., as overlooked key contributors to intersectionality. It is rather perplexing to
misrepresent these well-known scholars as suffering a lack of recognition for their hypo-
thetic contributions to intersectionality, as scholars who must be included in the inter-
sectionality “canon” ~Lykke 2010, pp. 72, 80, 81, 85; 2011, p. 213!. It is rather disturbing
that they are all White. The politics of genealogy and canonicity that add more White
feminist forerunners or key contributors to intersectionality conveniently obliterate
the fact that the political standpoint at the root of this theory and epistemology was
constructed oppositionally to White feminism, not in tandem with it.
Applying an intersectional analytical lens to these acts of genealogical recalibra-
tion or displacement allows us to track down who is empowered and disempowered
through them, what kind of citational practices they generate, with which conse-
quences, and which scholars become the decisive gate operators to authorize the
body of knowledge deemed the field’s canon—a whole set of questions that point to
the significance of the whitening of intersectionality. When these acts take place in a
context wherein the category of race is disavowed and unutterable as it is in parts of
Europe—a context David Goldberg ~2006!shrewdly examines in his conceptualisa-
tion of racial Europeanization
8
—their implications are serious. They contribute, per-
haps unwittingly, to cast European feminists and queers of color “outside Europe as
a multinational formation, and indeed outside the community of feminist scholars
and theory makers who reside in or take Europe as their object of inquiry” ~Lewis
2013, p. 875!.
A growing body of critical work on contexts such as Germany and France
demonstrates that disciplinary feminism governs the contemporary knowledge field
of intersectionality through invalidating knowledge produced outside the academy
or subjugating it as a “pre-theoretical raw material” ~Haritaworn 2012, p. 16!, through
whitening intersectionality and excluding or marginalizing racialized postcolonial
scholars and activists who are the local knowledge producers on intersectionality. For
instance, in discussing the reception of intersectionality in Germany by the network
of academic feminism ~i.e., gender studies!, Umut Erel and her colleagues ~2008!
argue that the contributions of women of color and migrant women to debates on
intersectionality are rarely included in institutional academic production. Indeed,
reading what is considered the intersectionality scholarship in the German context
creates the false impression that there are no racialized scholars and activists, no
antiracist feminists and queers of color capable of contributing to this literature,
while in reality these actors were the first to articulate an intersectionality thought
and praxis in this context ~Erel et al., 2008; Gutiérrez Rodríguez 2010; Haritaworn
2012; Petzen 2012!. The outcome of excluding and subjugating the knowledge
produced by racialized Germans from the academic sphere fosters a false history, and
creates the misconception that intersectionality was introduced to Germany in 2005
by White German feminist scholars ~Petzen 2012!—a misconception repeated and
consolidated in subsequent publications. For example, in a recent article seeking to
map the current intersectionality debate in German-speaking countries, Ina Kerner
Intersectionality Undone
DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013 417
~2012!discusses only the work of White feminists as structuring the field. This
posture seems to reflect deep-seated disregard and denial by German mainstream
feminism and women’s0gender studies with regard to debates and interventions made
by Black women and migrant women, who were already arguing in late 1980s that
their lives were “shaped by a confrontation with a complex web of multiple contra-
dictions” ~Erel et al., 2008, p. 211!.
Similarly, Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez ~2010!draws our attention to
unacknowledged elisions and erasures undergirding the entree of intersectionality
in the German context and emphasizes that marginalized voices articulated local
thinking and activism on intersectionality long before it was encountered by Ger-
man disciplinary feminism. Importantly, she pinpoints a contradiction of the Ger-
man debate on intersectionality which “simulates a genuine interest in understanding
the multidimensionality of gender,” while simultaneously ignoring the local debates
“led by migrant, exilic, Jewish and Black feminists, that had already proposed
this perspective in the 1980s ~p. 56!. Moreover, the highly academic debate—
disconnected from both empirical applications of intersectionality and its political
praxis—that appears to be taking place among German-speaking gender studies
scholars seldom mentions scholars’ own positionality and racial privilege ~Petzen
2012!, thus failing to follow a central tenet of intersectionality—attending to stand-
point. Ignoring the counter-discourse and -memory that these racialized scholars
and activists produce clearly contribute to turning intersectionality into a heg-
emonic knowledge project. In this context, it is no coincidence that many of these
racialized scholars who provide insight into the power relations and racial dynamics
involved in the “introduction” of intersectionality to German gender studies live
and work outside Germany ~in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and
Turkey, for example!.
This is a grim irony: a tool elaborated by women of color to confront the racism
and heterosexism of White-dominated feminism, as well as the sexism and hetero-
sexism of antiracist movements, becomes, in another time and place, a field of
expertise overwhelmingly dominated by White disciplinary feminists who keep race
and racialized women at bay.
The framing of subordinate groups as incapable of understanding and inter-
preting their own oppression and consequently of articulating their own tools of
resistance, is, of course, not specific to Germany. Similar discourses are found
elsewhere in Europe, for instance in France. Recent work produced in France by
postcolonial0decolonial scholars such as Fatima Ait Ben Lmadani and Nasima
Moujoud ~2012!, and Houria Bouteldja ~2013!indicate that similar forces and
rationales are at play. Postcolonial scholars and activists strive to articulate crucial
critiques of hegemonic feminism as well as other disciplines and fields dealing with
“minority issues.” Despite constant delegitimation, they argue that settings pre-
sented as progressive can be oppressive and discriminatory for racialized scholars. I
am indebted to Nasima Moujoud for drawing my attention, in a personal commu-
nication, to a quasi-colonial benevolence and paternalism that in some cases accom-
panies the translation of Black feminist or postcolonial texts in the French context:
“but we are doing this for you @Arabs, Blacks#so that you can have the tools to
think, to articulate your oppression.” This is a deep-seated racist misconception
masquerading as progressive generosity and hiding the career benefits that accrue
to those making the generous gift. Painfully ironic in the case of the whitening of
intersectionality is that it is the translation0introduction of Black feminist knowledge—
which is built on the creation by Black women of a self-defined ~political!stand-
point on their own oppression ~Collins 1989, pp. 746–747!—that becomes the very
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418 DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013
site of the denial of the capacity of racialized French women ~in particular Muslim
women!.
In sum, there is enough reason to tackle critically the politics of the “introduc-
tion” of intersectionality, including the politics of translation, of “prefacing,” and so
forth, in terms of their power effects—structurally, culturally, and disciplinarily, and
on interpersonal levels ~Collins 2000, 2009!—on the subordinate groups represented
as the primary beneficiaries of this new knowledge.
CONCLUSION
The belated entrée of intersectionality to the august house of European disciplinary
feminism has catalyzed existent struggles and power hierarchies and generated new
ones, highlighting contradictions that reveal deep problems in the state of race in
academic disciplinary feminism. One of these contradictions lies in the wish to
acknowledge and restore past subjugated knowledge, while ignoring present-day
subjugations. It bears emphasizing that redressing past subjugation generally requires
little more than symbolic recognition, whereas redressing present subjugation entails
power redistribution. In the European context where the category of race has been
disarticulated and replaced by reference to ethnicity, culture, religion, and other
categories, the present-day raciality seems increasingly beyond the limits of what can
be thought and said. “Race” points only to a void. No category is available “to name
a set of experiences that are linked in their production or at least inflection, histori-
cally and symbolically, experientially and politically, to racial arrangements and
engagements” ~Goldberg 2006, p. 335!. As a result, denying the relevance of race to
understand and confront power differentials becomes easier than doing the same
with axes of power.
Another contradiction emerges when the tools of intersectional thinking are
combined with the denial of race. One line of argument interprets intersectionality
as insisting that “there is no such a thing as a purely racial0racist oppression, which is
always already enmeshed with other categories, other axes of power.” Such a stance
invalidates radical anti-racism on the grounds that it singles out race and treats it “in
isolation.”
9
Obviously, this is misusing intersectionality to “trump” racial oppres-
sion, dismissing it because it never stands alone. But intersectionality does not entail a
universal ~i.e., undifferentiated and context-free!application of a static, almost dog-
matic, rule to be applied to every form of knowledge and political organization
dealing with oppression. On the contrary, the careful and conscious deployment of
intersectionality requires us to take into account systemic disparities in social loca-
tion. The indigenous critique of the Occupy movement and the critique of SlutWalk
by Black women discussed in the introduction highlight the ways that some can use
an injunction against intersectionality in order to create situations of exclusion and
invisibility. Those who argue that there is no need to argue about racial oppression
because such oppression is never “purely” racial are treating intersectionality in
the abstract as a directive of universal application, for the specific purpose of sup-
pressing discussion of racial oppression. Treating intersectionality as a universal rule
disciplines and further delegitimizes forms of minoritarian knowledge and political
organizing, which often have had to prioritize ~albeit temporarily and strategically!
single-issue approaches.
A third contradiction emerges when the analytic complexity of intersectionality
is treated simplistically, rather than as a tool that does not serve the same purpose
in different hands. One form this contradiction takes is to extract intersectionality
Intersectionality Undone
DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013 419
from its acknowledgement of standpoint theory and its attendant critique of heg-
emonic understandings of scientific knowledge, distorting and misrepresenting inter-
sectionality as an “objective” analytical tool ~see Ait Ben Lmadani and Moujoud
~2012!for a discussion of this with regard to the French academy!. But careful
intersectional thinking must always account for different meanings, purposes, and
audiences. Intersectionality does not create a shopping list of categories that can be
deployed to shut down discussion of specific oppressions ~“yes, race is important,
but what about . . . ?”!. This interpretation of intersectionality as an imperative that
all oppressions be countered always together is one strategy used to dilute the
attention given to racism ~Luft 2009!, to serve as a method of deflection, of turning
away from race ~Ahmed 2012!. Without suggesting that these “what about gender0
sexuality0class?” questions are not legitimate, Sara Ahmed rightly points out that
“given how hard it is to attend to race and racism, these questions can be used as a
way of redirecting attention. In other words, when hearing about race and racism is
too difficult, intersectionality can be deployed as a defense against hearing” ~p. 195,
n18!.
To avoid a prescriptive, disciplinary use of intersectionality requires paying
proper attention to historical contingencies, to specific contexts, and the purposes of
specific arguments. Thinking intersectionally about how intersectionality is and
should be deployed requires considering structural locations and power differentials.
Those who use intersectionality as a universal device to be applied as an invariant
rule may undermine the strategic planning of those who use intersectionality to
contest specific concrete oppressions. Thinking intersectionally includes the possi-
bility that stepping back from intersectionality may in some cases work as a strategy of
empowerment for subordinated groups, as evidenced in the struggles of the PIR to
articulate decolonial politics in France ~Bouteldja 2013!, or intervention0teaching
strategies to raise the consciousness of dominant groups with regards to their natu-
ralized privileges. As Rachel Luft ~2009!argues, stepping back from intersectionality
and the strategic use of race-only approaches might be necessary in our “postracial”
times in the early stages of intervention and teaching aimed at encouraging Whites
to recognize their racial privilege. The key question to be asked in this process is
whether this stepping back is disempowering for other subordinated groups or not,
whether it enhances or contributes in any way to their oppression? If the answer is
yes, then we should, as Samuel Beckett ~1983, p. 7!said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail
better.” If it is ~even faintly!disempowering for dominant groups without disempow-
ering other subalterns, then we may perhaps consider it a provisionally successful
strategy in its context.
To conclude, I would underline that the annexing of intersectionality by disci-
plinary feminism is by no means coincidental to the systematic marginalizing of
racialized scholars and activists in contemporary debates and knowledge produc-
tion on intersectionality. Reframing intersectionality as a creation of “feminism,”
an outcome of feminism’s internal debates, effectively erases a landmark opposition-
ality from which intersectionality emerged: feminists of color confronting racism
within feminism. In this disarticulated and rearticulated intersectionality, race also
becomes optional, paving the way to similar oppressions and marginalizations,
taking place this time not within feminism, but within feminist intersectionality
studies.
Corresponding author: Sirma Bilge, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Univer-
sité de Montréal, C.P. 6128, Succursale Centre-ville, H3C 3J7 Montreal (Qc) Canada. E-mail:
sirma.bilge@umontreal.ca
Sirma Bilge
420 DU BOIS REVIEW: SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON RACE 10:2, 2013
NOTES
1. I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful and insightful comments.
My thanks also go to the editors of this special issue, with a special mention to Barbara
Tomlinson. Finally I thank several colleagues and friends for the generous feedback I
received at various conferences ~Paris 2011, Lancaster 2012, Lausanne 2012!where I
presented earlier versions of this article: Fatima Aït ben Lmadani, Philippe Allard, Paola
Bacchetta, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Anne-Marie Fortier, Patricia Hill Collins, Nasima Mou-
joud, Jennifer Petzen, and Julianne Pidduck.
2. The SlutWalk movement began in Canada in April 2011 after a Toronto police constable
told a group of students that women could avoid being sexual assaulted by not dressing
like a “slut.” Reversing stigma like many minority politics of protest, SlutWalk
re-appropriates and re-signifies the term “slut” and urges women to protest in revealing
attire. The movement has rapidly spread across the global north and south.
3. In their response to the indignation following the incident, the organizers stated: “Slut-
Walks around the world have been critiqued from anti-racist standpoints since the first
Walk. We agree with many of these critiques, and have attempted to engage with them in
our organizing. We recognize that under the banner of SlutWalk, we put logistics over
politics in many cases, and that this was a failing. But now as we are moving forward, we
realize that we cannot cultivate an identity as a coalition without upholding all of the
intersecting identities of our organizers and participants” ~http:00slutwalknyc.tumblr.com0,
accessed September 15, 2013!. For a critique of the racial politics of SlutWalk, see The
Crunk Feminist Collective ~2011!.
4. Another example of ineptness is revealed by pictures from a Berlin SlutWalk on Septem-
ber 15, 2012, which show several White young women in blackface and with black paint
covering their bodies, leaving open only the eye area to imitate the niqab. Other women
donned the niqab from the shoulders upward, with their naked torsos covered in black
paint ~Minh-Ha 2009!.
5. Arguments about the conference that appear throughout this article are based on the
co-edited conference proceedings ~Lutz et al., 2011!, other accounts ~Lewis 2009, 2013;
Petzen 2012!, and audio recordings of presentations, in particular those of Helma Lutz,
Nina Lykke and Cornelia Klinger ~http:00www.cgc.uni-frankfurt.de0intersectionality0
audio.shtml, accessed August 21, 2012!.
6. My translation from the original title: lmbrication des rapports de pouvoir: discriminations et
privilèges de genre, de race, de classe et de sexualité, August 30–September 4, 2012, Lausanne.
7. Colette Guillaumin’s work ~1995!would be the exception to this generalization about
race. However, her thought developed an analogical frame ~“imbrication”!, rather than a
frame of interlocking0intersection0interweaving0co-formation0co-extension, her work con-
sidering race was not prominent at the conference—an omission which is in itself eloquent
evidence of how optional is race in the current feminist debates on intersectionality ~in
particular but not exclusively in Europe!.
8. See also Tomlinson ~2013!for a compelling discussion of this context in relation to
European intersectionality scholarship.
9. This attempt to deploy intersectionality to deflect attention from racial oppressions is dis-
cussed by activist Houria Bouteldja ~2013!, one of the spokespersons and founders of the
Party of the Indigenous of the Republic ~Parti des indigènes de la République ~PIR!!, a key
organization of the decolonial movement in France. Bouteldja notes that French scholars
have used intersectional thinking to object to the agendas and priorities of decolonial polit-
ical struggles. Intersectionality, however, has no injunctions “forbidding” strategic atten-
tion to particular categories, for example, prioritizing a race-first approach rather than
assuming the intersectionality requires all oppressions to be addressed simultaneously.
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Article
Although intersectionality is gaining ground in social psychological research, most approaches fail to capture the historically and interactionally contingent nature of intersecting identities and the implications of their mobilization. This study, aiming at addressing this lacuna, focuses on the intersection of identities as lay actors' resource, used to account for the murder of Zak Kostopoulos, a young LGBTQI+ activist in Greece. Data are derived from 4 focus group discussions in which 25 young people, aged between 19 and 25 years old, participated. Using concepts provided by discursive/rhetorical psychology, analysis indicated that the rhetorical occasioning of intersecting identities is oriented to social accountability concerns and accomplishes important positioning work for the speakers. Specifically, by underscoring the intersecting (sexual/class) identities of the victim, speakers accentuated the moral charge against the perpetrators, distancing themselves from the (constructed as prototypically Greek) image of the un-enlightened and servile bigot. However, although participants explained ZK's murder through recourse to his intersecting identities, they grounded claims for justice on a common human identity (independent of class and sexuality). Findings are discussed in relation to the need to advance a critical agenda for social psychology research on intersectionality and to processes of ideological reproduction in the context of LGBTQΙ+ politics.
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Informed by Black feminist thought and intersectional feminism, this study examined the lived experiences of 12 Women of Color on community college STEM education pathways. Participants were current and former community college STEM students, whose narrative interviews were analyzed using Patricia Hill Collins’s domains of power framework. Findings suggest that rather than participants’ experiences being isolated cases, they form a part of a larger pattern of realities that reveal multiple forms of power operating in STEM and beyond. Participants’ experiences of racism and heterosexism intersected with other identities and backgrounds such as being a transfer student, an undocumented student, and a parent. These overlapping and multilayered manifestations of power were found to impact individuals’ abilities to successfully navigate STEM in higher education. While the women of this study critically analyzed their experiences of power and resisted oppression, all stakeholders in the STEM education community must work toward an understanding and dismantling of oppressive power in STEM.
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With ongoing racial tensions, terms such as antiracism and diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) are buzzwords on campuses across the United States. Yet resources, especially in management education, to teach privilege and intersectionality are limited. This article introduces four reflection exercises I have found valuable in facilitating students’ different understandings (contextual and experiential) of privilege as intersectional. In addition, I present a conceptual framework for thinking about the intersection of multiple identities simultaneously given contextual and experiential understandings of privilege. In this way, this article makes both pedagogical and theoretical contributions. The sharing of these exercises, personal reflections, and teaching suggestions are geared at stimulating dialogue for how we learn and teach privilege, intersectionality, diversity, and antiracism. Instructors, regardless of their backgrounds, are invited to reflect on their intersectionality and privilege and also to consider integrating these exercises into their own DEI teaching.
Chapter
Full-text available
In the context of academic neoliberalism, there is an urgent need to explore tools for critical analysis that can facilitate the development of research and knowledge-making processes that respond and actively contribute to projects of democratic deepening committed to social justice. This chapter responds to this need and explores the potential of intersectionality in this area. By approaching intersectionality as an analytical sensibility, this chapter explores the potential of an intersectional interpretive framework to generate knowledge practices that can make contributions to the design, implementation, and development of reflexive democratic deepening processes which take into account the complexity with which human relationships are interwoven with dynamics of domination and privilege. It does so by outlining different uses of intersectionality in the context of two research projects that have made up part of our professional research careers: Unveiling Oppression and Resistance of Women in Zumarraga and Stigma at the Service of Power. Through the diverse and complex uses that these projects have made of an intersectional interpretive framework, we demonstrate the potential of intersectionality and the analytical tools it deploys to identify and confront one-dimensional and disempowering perspectives on oppression. Through this process of reflection, the text delves into an approach which understands intersectionality as an open, reflexive, and complex tool essential for advancing toward a democratic deepening prioritizing social justice concerns. The ultimate conclusion reinforces the maxim that democratic deepening will be intersectional, or it will not be.KeywordsIntersectionalityDemocratic deepeningEpistemic resistanceSocial justice
Chapter
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Chapter
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In the 1960s and 1970s, minority and women students at colleges and universities across the United States organized protest movements to end racial and gender inequality on campus. African American, Chicano, Asian American, American Indian, women, and gay and lesbian activists demanded the creation of departments that reflected their histories and experiences, resulting in the formation of interdisciplinary studies programs that hoped to transform both the university and the wider society beyond the campus. This book traces and assesses the ways in which the rise of interdisciplines—departments of race, gender, and ethnicity; fields such as queer studies—were not simply a challenge to contemporary power as manifest in academia, the state, and global capitalism but were, rather, constitutive of it. The book delineates precisely how minority culture and difference as affirmed by legacies of the student movements were appropriated and institutionalized by established networks of power. Critically examining liberationist social movements and the cultural products that have been informed by them, including works by Adrian Piper, Toni Cade Bambara, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Zadie Smith, this book argues for the need to recognize the vulnerabilities of cultural studies to co-option by state power and to develop modes of debate and analysis that may be in the institution but are, unequivocally, not of it.
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In his discussion of power, Foucault establishes a new, interpretation that challenges the typical view of power as a possession held by certain people and groups in a society. Foucault argues that it is the set of force relations that constitute a perpetual struggle among people as well as the strategies that people employ as they attempt to control the behavior of others. This differs from previous views of power in that it sees power as existing everywhere and deriving from everywhere. No person holds power. Rather, power is expressed in relationships between people. Related to this view is Foucault's argument that resistance is inextricably linked with power and also exists everywhere. No single point of power or resistance can be found. Each point at where power is exercised also reveals a point of resistance. Power is also intimately connected with discourse because discourse becomes a mechanism of power. Not only is discourse both an instrument and an effect of power, but discourse can serve both to liberate and oppress.
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Frankenberg explores the unique intersection of race and sex as she examines the way that white women relate to racism. She writes from the assumption that whiteness is socially constructed rather than naturally pre-existing. She theorizes "from experience" to offer a unique perspective that retains the strength of a theoretical foundation as well as the relatability of personal narratives. She interviews thirty white women to get their perspectives on various racial topics and gain a critical standpoint for thinking about individual and social forces that construct and maintain whiteness in contemporary society. She begins with the question, "What is white women's relationship to racism?" The women discuss various aspects of interracial courtship, the role of power in acknowledging racial differences, and the function of language in facing and overcoming the negative effects of this difference.
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Congratulations to Dr. McRobbie! This book has been named to the list of books for the 2009 Critics Choice Book Award of the American Educational Studies Association (AESA).These essays show Angela McRobbie reflecting on a range of issues which have political consequence for women, particularly young women, in a context where it is frequently assumed that progress has been made in the last 30 years, and that with gender issues now 'mainstreamed' in cultural and social life, the moment of feminism per se is now passed. McRobbie trenchantly argues that it is precisely on these grounds that invidious forms of gender -re-stabilisation are able to be re-established. Consumer culture, she argues, encroaches on the terrain of so called female freedom, appears supportive of female success only to tie women into new post-feminist neurotic dependencies. These nine essays span a wide range of topics, including - the UK government's 'new sexual contract' to young women, - popular TV makeover programmes, - feminist theories of backlash and the 'undoing' of sexual politics, - feminism in a global frame- the 'illegible rage' underlying contemporary femininities.
Chapter
Queer theory offers itself as radical epistemology to uncover pervasive forms of power, not only around sexuality but also around ‘race’ and transgender. Queer of colour theorists and some trans theorists have remained sceptical about these grand claims, and pointed out the notorious silence about racism and transphobia in the mainstream of queer theorising ((charles), 1993; Cohen, 2001; Haritaworn, 2007). Their critique echoes an older tradition of theorising multiple relations of oppression that has been particularly advocated by lesbians of colour like Audre Lorde (1984), Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) and Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith (1982, 1983). While the anti-racist feminisms of the 1980s have produced their own silences, especially around transgender and dissident sexualities, we will here argue that their call to positionality is vital in developing a queer theory and research practice that addresses the silences around raciality. This chapter is an attempt to find a language for our dissatisfaction with the silencing of the knowledge productions and political activisms of trans people of colour, queers of colour, women of colour and migrant women in the UK and Germany; at the same time it is about exploring the possibilities and limits of the concept of ‘intersectionality’. In nearly two decades of a critical debate about how multiple oppressions around gender, ‘race’ and class interlock, ‘intersectionality’ emerged as a concept which promises a comprehensive theorising of various power relations.
Article
What does diversity do? What are we doing when we use the language of diversity? Sara Ahmed offers an account of the diversity world based on interviews with diversity practitioners in higher education, as well as her own experience of doing diversity work. Diversity is an ordinary, even unremarkable, feature of institutional life. Yet diversity practitioners often experience institutions as resistant to their work, as captured through their use of the metaphor of the "brick wall." On Being Included offers an explanation of this apparent paradox. It explores the gap between symbolic commitments to diversity and the experience of those who embody diversity. Commitments to diversity are understood as "non-performatives" that do not bring about what they name. The book provides an account of institutional whiteness and shows how racism can be obscured by the institutionalization of diversity. Diversity is used as evidence that institutions do not have a problem with racism. On Being Included offers a critique of what happens when diversity is offered as a solution. It also shows how diversity workers generate knowledge of institutions in attempting to transform them.