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Power, Intersectionality and
the Politics of Belonging
FREIA Working Paper Series
© 2011 Nira Yuval-Davis
Power, Intersectionality and the Politics of Belonging
FREIA – Feminist Research Center in Aalborg
FREIA Working Paper Series
Working paper no. 75
FREIA & Department of Culture and Global Studies
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The paper: Power, Intersectionality and the Politics of Belonging was presented
by professor Nira Yuval-Davis as a keynote speech at the National Gender
Conference for the Danish Association for Gender Research 2011. The
conference was hosted by FREIA: The Feminist Research Centre at Aalborg
University April 30. The conference was titled: Power and Mobilization –
locally, nationally and globally.
Nira Yuval-Davis is Professor and Director of the Centre on Migration,
Refugees and Belonging, East London University. She is the author of the
influential book: Gender and Nation (1997), which has been translated into
many different languages and she has co-edited: Women, Citizenship and
Difference, Zed books 1999. Her new book is entitled: The Politics of
Belonging: Intersectional Contestations and is published by Sage Publications,
The second key-note speech was given by Myra Marx Ferree and entitled:
Framing Inequalities in the US, Germany and the EU: Race, Class and Gender
as Dynamic Intersections. Myra Marx Ferree is Professor of Sociology and
Director of the Center for German and European Studies at the University of
Wisconsin, Madison. She is the author of the influential book Shaping Abortion
Discourse: Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the US
(Cambridge University Press 2001), and Global Feminism: Transnational
Women’s Activism, Organizing, and Human Rights, 2006, co-edited with Alli
Mari Tripp on New York University Press. Her new book is entitled: Varieties
of Feminisms, Stanford.
FREIA is proud to be able to present Nira Yuval Davis’ work for the community
of gender researchers in Denmark and we are confident that this text can also
serve as an inspiration for a broader audience of scholars working on issues
related to power and intersectionality.
On behalf of FREIA
Professor in Gender Research in the Social Sciences
Power, Intersectionality and the Politics of Belonging
This discussion on power and mobilization is based on my forthcoming book
(The Politics of Belonging: Intersectional Contestations, Sage 2011) which
focuses on issues on the intersection of the sociology of power and the sociology
Politics involve exercise of power and different hegemonic political projects of
belonging represent different symbolic power orders. In recent years, the
sociological understanding of power has been enriched by the theoretical
contributions of Michel Foucault (e.g. 1979; 1991a) and Pierre Bourdieu (e.g.
1984; 1990). Traditionally, power was understood and measured by the effects
those with power had on others. However, feminists and other grass roots
activists, following Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), promoted
a notion of ‘empowerment’ in which people would gain ‘power of’ rather than
‘power on’. While this approach has been used too often to cover intra-
communal power relations and the feminist ‘tyranny of structurelesness’ with
which Jo Freeman (1970) described the dynamics of feminist politics, the notion
of empowerment does fit alternative theoretical approaches to power which
focus on symbolic power.
Max Weber’s classical theory of power (1968), which differentiated between
physical and charismatic powers, those dependent on individual resources and
those emanating out of legitimate authority, has been supplemented, if not
supplanted by other theoretical frameworks which sought to explain what is
happening in the contemporary world where social, political and economic
powers have become more diffused, decentered and desubjectified. The most
popular of these new approaches have been those by Foucault (1979, 1986,
1991a) and Bourdieu (1977; 1984; 1990). Foucault constructed a notion of a
‘disciplinary society’ in which power increasingly operates through impersonal
mechanisms of bodily discipline and a governmentality which escapes the
consciousness and will of individual and collective social agents. Under such
conditions, power as was formerly known, starts to operate only when resistance
However, as Ciaran Cronin (1996:56) points out, while Foucault’s genealogical
perspective of power is of crucial importance in understanding contemporary
politics, it is too radical and monolithic, and therefore ‘it is impossible to
identify any social location of the exercise of power or of resistance to power’.
This is where Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic power, while sharing some of
Foucault’s insights, such as the role of body practices as mediating relations of
domination, can serve us better. The subject for Bourdieu is both embodied and
socially constituted. His theory of practice (in which there is constant interaction
between the individual symbolically structured and socially inculcated
dispositions of individual agents which he calls ‘habitus’ and the ‘social field’
which is structured by symbolically mediated relations of domination) offers a
more empirically sensitive analytical framework for decoding impersonal
relations of power.
Symbolic powers are of crucial importance when we deal with political projects
of belonging, although more often than not, they are the focus of contestations
and resistance. Adrian Favell (1999) defined the politics of belonging as ‘the
dirty work of boundary maintenance’. The boundaries the politics of belonging
are concerned with are the boundaries of the political community of belonging,
the boundaries which, sometimes physically, but always symbolically, separate
the world population into ‘us’ and ‘them’. The question of the boundaries of
belonging, the boundaries of the Andersonain (1991) ‘imagined
communities’, is central in all political projects of belonging. The politics of
belonging involve not only the maintenance and reproduction of the boundaries
of the community of belonging by the hegemonic political powers (within and
outside the community) but also their contestation, challenge and resistance by
other political agents. It is important to recognize, however, that such political
agents would struggle both for the promotion of their specific position on the
construction of collectivities and their boundaries as well as using these
ideologies and positions in order to promote their own power positions within
and outside the collectivities.
The politics of belonging also include struggles around the determination of
what is involved in belonging, in being a member of such a community. As
such, it is dialogical (Yuval-Davis & Werbner, eds, 1999) and encompasses
contestations both in relation to the participatory dimension of citizenship as
well as in relation to issues related to the status and entitlements such
It is for this reason that we need to differentiate between belonging and the
politics of belonging. Before discussing this in a little more detail, however, it is
important to discuss why intersectionality and the epistemology of the situated
gaze is so central to it.
Epistemologically, intersectionality can be described as a development of
feminist standpoint theory which claims, in somewhat different ways, that it is
vital to account for the social positioning of the social agent and challenged ‘the
god-trick of seeing everything from nowhere’ (Haraway 1991:189) as a cover
and a legitimisation of a hegemonic masculinist ‘positivistic’ positioning.
Situated gaze, situated knowledge and situated imagination (Stoetzler & Yuval-
Davis, 2002), construct differently the ways we see the world. However,
intersectionality theory was interested even more in how the differential
situatedness of different social agents constructs the ways they affect and are
affected by different social, economic and political projects.
I do not have time here to get into the history of various inter- and intra-
disciplinary debates on how to approach intersectionality. Instead, I shall just
mention three main points that characterize my approach to intersectional
analysis. Unlike many feminists, especially black feminists, who focus on
intersectional analysis as specific to black and ethnic minorities women or, at
least, to marginalized people, I see intersectionality as the most valid approach
to analyze social stratification as a whole (see my paper in Lutz & al, 2011).
Intersectional analysis does not prioritize one facet or category of social
difference. However, unlike those who view the intersection of categories of
social difference in an additive way, I see them as mutually constitutive. As to
the question of how many facets of social difference and axes of power need to
be analyzed – this is different in different historical locations and moments, and
the decision on which ones to focus involve both empirical reality as well as
political and especially ontological struggles. What is clear, however, is that
when we carry out intersectional analysis, we cannot homogenize the ways any
political project or claimings affect people who are differentially located within
the same boundaries of belonging.
Belonging and the politics of belonging
It is important to differentiate between belonging and the politics of belonging.
Belonging is about emotional attachment, about feeling ‘at home’. As Ghassan
Hage (1997:103) points out, however, ‘home is an on-going project entailing a
sense of hope for the future’. (See also Taylor 2009). Part of this feeling of hope
relates to home as a ‘safe’ space (Ignatieff, 2001). In the daily reality of early
21st century, in so many places on the globe, the emphasis on safety gets a new
poignancy. At the same time, it is important to emphasize that feeling ‘at home’
does not necessarily only generate positive and warm feelings. It also allows the
safety as well as the emotional engagement to be, at times, angry, resentful,
ashamed, indignant (Hessel, 2010).
Belonging tends to be naturalized and be part of everyday practices (Fenster,
2004). It becomes articulated, formally structured and politicized only when it is
threatened in some way. The politics of belonging comprise of specific political
projects aimed at constructing belonging to particular collectivity/ies which are
themselves being constructed in these projects in very specific ways and in very
specific boundaries (i.e. whether or not, according to specific political projects
of belonging Jews could be considered to be German, for example, or abortion
advocates can be considered Catholic).
As Ulf Hannerz (2002) claims, home is essentially a contrastive concept, linked
to some notion of what it means to be away from home. It can involve a sense of
rootedness in a socio-geographic site or be constructed as an intensely imagined
affiliation with a distant local where self realization can occur.
People can ‘belong’ in many different ways and to many different objects of
attachments. These can vary from a particular person to the whole humanity, in
a concrete or abstract way, by self or other identification, in a stable, contested
or transient way. Even in its most stable ‘primordial’ forms, however, belonging
is always a dynamic process, not a reified fixity – the latter is only a naturalized
construction of particular hegemonic form of power relations. Belonging is
usually multi-layered and – to use geographical jargon – multi-scale (Antonisch,
2010) or multerritorial (Hannerz, 2002).
To clarify our understanding of the notion of social and political belonging, it
would be useful to differentiate between three major analytical facets in which
belonging is constructed1. The first facet concerns social locations; the second
relates to people’s identifications and emotional attachments to various
collectivities and groupings and the third relates to ethical and political value
systems with which people judge their own and others’ belonging/s. These
different facets are interrelated, but cannot be reduced to each other.
Of course not all belonging/s are as important to people in the same way and to
the same extent and emotions, as perceptions, shift in different times and
situations and are more or less reflective. As a rule, the emotional components
of people’s constructions of themselves and their identities become more central
the more threatened and less secure they become. In most extreme cases people
would be willing to sacrifice their lives – and the lives of others - in order for the
narrative of their identities and the objects of their identifications and
attachments to continue to exist. After a terrorist attack, or after a declaration of
war, people often seek to return to a place of less ‘objective’ safety, as long as it
means they can be near their nearest and dearest, and share their fate.
1 As will become clearer further on in the chapter, these facets can be reconstructed and
reconfigured in many different ways by different political projects of belonging.
Ethical and political values
Belonging, therefore, is not just about social locations and constructions of
individual and collective identities and attachments but also about the ways
these are assessed and valued by self and others and this can be done in many
different ways by people with similar social locations and who might identify
themselves as belonging to the same community or grouping. They can vary not
only in how important these locations and collectivities seem to be in one’s life
and that of others, but also in whether they consider this to be a good or a bad
thing. Closely related to this are specific attitudes and ideologies concerning
where and how identity and categorical boundaries are being/should be drawn,
in more or less permeable ways, as different ideological perspectives and
discourses construct them as more or less inclusive. It is in the arena of the
contestations around these issues where we move from the realm of belonging
into that of the politics of belonging.
The Politics of Belonging
In my book I discuss what I consider to be the major political projects of
belonging in the contemporary world. The first one to be discussed is
citizenship. I argue that citizenship should not be seen as limited to only state
citizenship but should be understood as the participatory dimension of
membership in all political communities. Moreover, I argue that it is impossible
to understand state citizenship without analyzing the multi-layered structures of
people’s citizenships that include, in intersectional ways, citizenships of sub,
cross and supra-state political communities. However, I also argue that in spite
of this and in spite of the reconfigurations of states as a result of neo-liberal
globalization, different state citizenships (or their absence) and the rights and
entitlements associated with them, can (still?) be seen as the most important
contemporary political projects of belonging, mobilizing people in popular
resistance campaigns as well as determining to a great extent a global system of
Central to my argument in the book is the claim that the political project of
states and that of nations overlaps only partially and is hegemonic only within
specific locations and in specific historical moments. It is for this reason that
nationalism and related ideologies are constructed in the book as an autonomous
political project of belonging from that of citizenship of states.
Nationalist ideologies usually construct people, states and homelands as
inherently and immutably connected. The fluidity and mobility of globalized
economy, people’s migrations and political/religious/social movements which
have all transcend national and ethnic borders and boundaries (in spite of
various attempts by states to control or contain them), have also deeply affected
nationalist political projects of belonging as well as the ethnocisation of many
states. It contributed to the rise of political movements which embrace the
conviviality and richness of multicultural national lives. However, it has also,
and in a growing intensity, contributed to the rise of and the emotional power of
autochthonic movements which claim possession of territories and states
because ‘we were here first’.
This is the other side of the growing legitimacy of the notion of indigeneity,
which conversely has proved to be a potent tool for claiming rights of racialized
minorities who survived colonization and settlement of Europeans in various
parts of the world. Their struggles, although different from those of other
racialized minorities of people who immigrated to those and other western
countries, can be analyzed, on the one hand, as some forms of nationalist
political projects of belonging. On the other hand, however, they can also be
seen as part of the global rise of cosmopolitan political projects of belonging
which rely on human rights discourse to claim their entitlement for individual
and collective rights.
Another rising cluster of political projects of belonging are linked to religion.
These can be linked to particular nationalist and ethnic movements or constitute
parts of cosmopolitan global movements. However, some of the most important
political projects of belonging of our times are religious fundamentalist (or
absolutist) movements which have arisen in all major religions and are part –
especially some Muslim and Christian fundamentalist movements - of the global
‘clash of civilizations’ discourse which has come to replace the cold war as a
dichotomizing discourse of the globe.
Although there have been feminist political projects focusing on all major
political projects of belonging – citizenship, nationalism, religion,
cosmopolitanism (Yuval-Davis, 2011) I consider ‘ethics of care’ to be more
specifically a feminist political project of belonging. It relates more to the ways
people should relate and belong to each other rather than to what should be the
boundaries of belonging. Nevertheless, in the last instance, the question of
boundaries cannot really be avoided once we start questioning who cares for
whom and what are the emotional and the power relations which are involved in
Virginia Held (2005) claims that the care social and political model developed
out the mother-child relationships model guarantees mutual equality and respect
among people. In reality, however, although children can wield a lot of
emotional power on their parents and others who love them, they do not have
the same power as the carer adults and can easily be deprived and abused in
many ways. Pointing out, as the feminists who developed the political project of
‘the ethics of care’ all do, that everyone at certain times of their lives becomes
dependent on care, can be the normative basis for the development of ‘ethics of
care’ as a necessary element of social and political solidarity, but cannot
guarantee it. It is for this reason that Martha Nussbaum (2001) argues for an
approach to compassion in public life that operates at ‘both the level of
individual psychology and the level of institutional design’ (ibid: 403). Although
she recognizes that some emotions are at least potential allies of, and indeed
constituents in, rational deliberation (ibid: 454), she extends her analysis to
include the recognition that public institutions play a role in shaping possible
emotions (see also Perry 6 et al, 2007), as well as the role individuals play in
creating institutions according to their own values and imagination. Those, in
their turn, influence the development of values such as compassion in others.
Nevertheless, in order to be able to influence, let alone construct, public
institutions, emotions such as care and compassion are not sufficient, unless
there is power to make them affective. It needs to be recognized, for instance,
that while caring for others is the opposite of neo-liberal ethics which does not
recognize notions such as ‘public good’ or ‘public interest’ and feminists have
developed ‘ethics of care’ as an ideological and moral alternative to this, it can
be argued that the adoption of ‘ethics of care’ by women, especially those who
work in the care sector, facilitates and oils, rather than obstructs and resists, the
smooth working of globalized neo liberalism which depends on local and global
chains of care.
As Martin Luther King Jr, stated ‘What is needed is a realization that power
without love is reckless and abusive. And love without power is at its best power
correcting everything that stands against love’ (quoted in Gregory, 2008:195).
Care and political projects of belonging
‘Power at its best’. Without power as a resource to, at least, resist if not affect
positive change, the normative values of care and love of feminist ‘ethics of
care’ can have very little social and political influence and can, at best, be
perceived as utopian. However, as Joan Tronto (2005) has shown, using excerpt
of Thomas More’s Utopia on denizens, situated gazes can delineate boundaries
of recognition and care even within Utopias. What is most important to
recognize, however, is that not every combination of power and care/love would
be compatible with feminist ‘ethics of care’ political projects of belonging or
with that of Martin Luther King, Jr.
While feminists focused on care and love associated with traditional gendered
western femininity as it is constructed in women’s roles in family and society,
we need to be aware that the heteronormative constructions of ‘femininity’ and
‘masculinity’ as complementary opposites, as is constructed in hegemonic
discourses on these roles, have detrimental effects on women’s powers and
autonomy, let alone completely excludes the experiences and values of sexual
At the same time it is clear that even in such hegemonic discourses care is not
exclusive the property of womanhood. There can be no clearer sign in such
hegemonic discourses that men care about their community and society than
their traditional readiness to perform the ultimate citizenship duty - to sacrifice
their lives and to kill others for the sake of the nation. Moreover, as Cynthia
Enloe (1990) pointed out, fighting for the nation has been often constructed as
fighting for the sake of ‘womenandchildren’. More concretely, it has been
shown that men care not only for the notions of home and homeland but for the
other men in their unit with whom they are fighting (Kaplan, 2006; Yuval-
Davis, 1997, ch.5). One of the main worries of military commanders about
including women in combat military unit has been that their presence will
disturb the male bonding which is at the heart of military performance. On their
side, women as carers are not only constructed as the biological and cultural
reproducers of the nation, but are also the men’s ‘helpmates’ – their roles in the
formal and informal labour market has been usually defined according to the
range of duties demanded from the men, fulfilling, in addition to their traditional
reproductive duties, all the tasks the men left when called to fulfil national duties
in times of war and other crises (Yuval-Davis, 1985). Caring, in its different
gendered forms, therefore, has been at the heart of the performativity, a well as
narratives of resistance, of national belonging.
Nowadays, in many states, serving in the military is not any more a male
citizenship duty. Just when women started to be allowed to join the military
formally in more equitable manner, the military was transformed from a national
duty into a form of a professional career, like other agents of national external
and internal security. This is also a time in which usually in these states, women
bear less children and the national population as a whole starts to age.
This is also the time in which women come to participate in higher and higher
percentages in the national labour market, just when, due to neo-liberal
globalized economy demands, the nature of service work itself changes and
becomes more demanding. This is the time when the ‘care gap’ appears, not
only in the domestic sphere, but in the national sphere as well and when the
growing dependence on migrant and immigrant workers in various sectors of the
economy but especially the care one, raises issues of racialized boundaries of the
nation and the various inclusionary and exclusionary political projects of
belonging – secular and religious - and the emotions associated with them.
However, maybe even more importantly, this is the time in which in many
countries, especially in the West, the percentage of citizens who care enough to
vote in the elections falls beyond any previous known rate of the population,
especially among younger generations who have grown up under the
transformed state institutions as a result of globalized neo-liberalism. Neo-
liberal morality of the ‘selfish gene’ seems to be celebrating, as people cannot
see any relationships between engaging in the state and their own interests and
concerns. A cynical illustration of this reality has been the demand – from all
major political parties in the UK, for instance - to agree for savage cuts in state
benefits and services and/or freezing workers’ salaries, when the profitability of
banks and most of the incomes of the highest earners are largely not been
affected or significantly interfered with. Of course, the distance – if not
contradiction - between the care demanded from citizens, driven by feelings of
entitlements (Squire, 2007) of states and the interest of those who rule states can
take also very different forms, such as when in ethnocracies, citizens who
belong to non hegemonic minorities are still demanded to show loyalty and care
to the state which frames of reference is constructed in terms excluding their
The probably obvious, and yet groundbreaking at its time, element in Benedict
Anderson’s theory of nationalism in his book Imagined Communities (1983) has
been a recognition that nationalism, although modern and correlative of the age
of enlightenment, is not based on rationality. Like other ‘modernist’ theorists of
nationalism (e.g. Gellner 1983; Hobsbawm 1990; Althusser 1971), Anderson
linked the rise of nationalism to a particular stage of the rise of industrialisation
and capitalism (print capitalism in his case), and saw it as replacing religion. In
this respect, he was wrong, as we can see that most contemporary nationalist
ideologies incorporate, rather than fully replace, religious belonging. However,
he was right to emphasize the passion which is at the base of the nationalist
sentiment in which, like religious or familial attachment, there is no actual
rational reason and self interest involved.
As Anderson (ibid) argues, this care is not based on any notion of self interest,
and this is where it gets its strength from, as it is a substitute construction of ‘the
sacred’. ‘The sacred’, constituting the heart of the religious sphere, then, inspires
probably the strongest notions of loyalty and sacrifice. The notion of martyrdom
is widely spread in various religions, especially the monotheistic ones. The
notion of absolute sacrifice is not limited to sacrifice of self but also of those the
self cares most about, as is illustrated in the stories when a father is prepared to
sacrifice his son (Abraham and Isaac) as well as a mother her children – at least
in the Jewish tradition in the story of Hanna and her seven children2 where she
preferred them to be killed rather than to betray the Jewish faith.
One of the factors contributing to the growing strength of religious movements
all over the world is that religious movements and organizations are often the
only ones who put time, energy and funds in caring for the poor, the homeless,
the slum neighbourhood, especially after the growing privatisation of the
welfare state and the collapse of socialist and communist movements.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that there are growing secular
global social movements concerned with war, poverty and global warming
which transcend borders and boundaries, sharing common human values rather
than ethnic, national and religious belonging in cosmopolitan practices and
discourses of global and human care.
In discussions of familial, national and religious sentiments, it is sometimes
taken for granted that people would not be prepared to sacrifice their lives for
any more abstract – or cosmopolitan – cause. And yet we know that strangers
and outsiders volunteered to fight for various socialist revolutions – Che
Guevara probably embodies this sentiment more than anyone else - and in the
Spanish civil war in the 1930s, for example, the international brigade had an
important role to play, ideologically and militarily (Richardson, 1982). In recent
years the international solidarity movement in support of the Palestinians3 for
instance, has also been politically important as other similar organizations in
other militarized conflict zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan4. Although some
of the volunteers have religious motivation, for others it was the visceral
cosmopolitan sentiment of caring and identification with oppressed strangers
and the need to fight for their human rights to be recognized.
Feminist ‘ethics of care’ morality does not ground its ontological base in
membership in specific national, ethnic or religious communities but on
transcending familial relationships into a universal principle of interpersonal
relationships. We need to explore, however, what, if at all, is the relationship
between the discourse of ‘ethics of care’ and collectivity boundaries. Such
exploration should not be carried out only in relations to feminist ethics of care
but also in relation to other similar moral philosophies which put ‘love’ at the
basis of the good society.
As illustrated by Donovan and Adams’ work on animal welfare, (2007) there is
one basic similarity which is assumed in all ethics of care theories which is, to
use Alison Assiter’s words (2009:101) that ‘all human beings are needy and all
Following Kierkegaard’s call to love all human beings and Levinas’ insistence
that care and love should not be mutual or conditional, she also argues that
‘sometimes, loving another will involve respecting their differences from
oneself to the extent that one is able.’ (ibid:102). The position expressed in the
above quote raises two issues which are of fundamental importance to feminist
and other emancipatory politics of belonging. Firstly, what criteria should be
used to decide when such difference should or should not be respected, and
secondly, how does one determine their ability to respect such differences. I
would like to examine these two issues via examining transversal feminist
politics (Yuval-Davis, 1994, 1997, 2006; Cockburn &Hunter, 1999).
Care, belonging and feminist transversal politics
Transversal feminist political movements are one form of cosmopolitan
dialogical politics. The participants, while being engaged with ‘others’
belonging to different collectivities across borders and boundaries, act not as
representatives of identity categories or groupings but rather as advocates, how
they are reflectively engaged in ‘rooting’ and ‘shifting’ and how their strength
lies in the construction of common epistemological understandings of particular
political situations rather than of common political action. It was also mentioned
that transversal politics, unlike ‘rainbow coalitions’, depend on shared values
rather than on specific political actions, as differential positioning might dictate
prioritising different political actions and strategies. Most relevant to our
discussion here, it was described how transversal politics encompass difference
by equality and while continuously crossing collectivity boundaries, the
transversal solidarity is bounded by sharing common values.
Shared values as the basis of solidarity and cooperation is generally rejected by
ethics of care feminists. The bond of mothers to their children and of carers to
their dependents is not that of shared values but that of love and need. The ethics
of care feminists and others might share the value of helping the needy, but there
is no such a demand for the needy to necessarily hold such values. This is an
asymmetrical politics of solidarity based on the Levinas principle.
Transversal politics, on the other hand, are based on the symmetrical politics of
the Buberian ‘I-You’ approach. But the symmetry and reciprocity is not that of
commercial interest, as Levinas claimed in his critique of Buber, but of the
reciprocity of trust. While one might be engaged in defending the rights and/or
helping to fulfil the needs of any individual and collective human beings
whatever their values, common political belonging depends on shared values,
although these shared values encompass intersectional individual and collective
differential positionings. This trust, based on common values, also differentiates
transversal politics from the Habermasian (Habermas et al, 2006) deliberative
This is of crucial importance because in this way the transversal perspective
helps us to judge which differences matter when and where, and to differentiate
between care and compassion towards the oppressed, whoever and wherever
they are, and that of accepting them all as long term potential political allies in
any case of political mobilization6. Southall Black Sisters in London, for
instance, are very active in the defence of women of all ethnic and religious
communities from domestic violence and abuse, rejecting any cultural and
religious justification of such acts. At the same time, they are not the political
allies and oppose those who have sought to solve domestic violence caused by
migrant men by deporting them from Britain – after all, men of all classes and
ethnic communities commit the crime of domestic violence but are not punished
by deportation. Racist solutions should not be the answer to sexist problems and
SBS would not establish a transversal political alliance with those who do not
share their anti-racist values.
However, although Southall Black Sisters have been an effective campaigning
organization in many ways and even managed to overthrow attempts by
politically hostile local authority to stop their funding, they do not have the
power to stop such deportations.
Examining feminist ethic of care and feminist transversal dialogical politics
brings us back to the question of power and its relations to ethics and to the
words of wisdom of Martin Luther King quoted earlier that –
‘What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and
abusive. And love without power is at its best power correcting everything
that stands against love.’ (quoted in Gregory, 2008:195).
5 In the importance of trust in public political life and the ineffectivity of accountability as its
replacement in public culture, please see Onora O’neil’s 2002 BBc Reith lectures
6 Recently there have been major debates and political crises in two major human rights
organizations, Amnesty International in London and the Centre for Constitutional Rights in
the USA when major feminist activists working in both organizations accused them of
crossing the boundary of defending human rights victims and championing them as if they are
not only victims but also human rights defenders and thus giving their views political
legitimacy please see http://www.human-rights-for-all.org/ and http://www.guardian.co.uk/
I would argue that a feminist political project of belonging, therefore, should be
based on transversal ‘rooting’, ‘shifting’, mutual respect and mutual trust. It
should be caring, but should differentiate clearly between caring towards
transversal allies and caring towards the needy. Above all it should not neglect
to reflect upon the relations of power not only among the participants in the
political dialogue but also between these participants and the glocal carriers of
power who do not share their values who need to be confronted, influenced, and
when this is not possible – resisted.
Politics of belonging is about the intersection of the sociology of power with the
sociology of emotions, but it is the normative values lens which filters the
meaning of both to individuals and collectivities, differentially situated along
intersectional glocal social locations.
However, it is not, or not just, ideological and emotional ‘consciousness raising’
which homogenizes discourse, but specific relations of power. But power, in
order to be effective in the long term, has to be internalized and naturalized. The
problem of feminist, as well as other emancipatory political movements of
belonging, is how to gain power enough to change society, without internalizing,
on the way, at least some of the assumptions about ’what works’ which, at the
end, would have them co-opted. The case of ‘gender mainstreaming’ is but one
example, but there are also many others7.
I would like to conclude by quoting St. Lukes, who predicted that ‘The
Wretched will inherit the Earth’, which some, like Anat Pick (2010) would
claim is the religious formulation of the mission of the Left. However, she also
claims that this is an impossible mission, as granting power to the powerless
without just transfer rather than a transcendence of relations of power is a
contradiction in terms except in extraordinary and very short moments of grace
(eg the 18 days of resistance of the Egyptians masses during February 2011).
While I find this warning sobering but valid in many ways, this view also
involved a homogenous construction of power which I take exception to,
ignoring the complexities of different systems of power which have different
systems of checks and balances which might be mobilized, to a lesser or greater
extent in the containment, contestation and redistribution of power and other
social resources. On a more basic level this view of power of the powerless
ignores the insights of Bourdieu which views power as constituted by constant
interaction between the symbolically structured and socially inculcated
7 See, e.g. AWID, 2004; Walby, 2003; Yuval-Davis, 2005.
dispositions of individual agents and the social field structured by symbolically
mediated relations of domination.
So – is our mission impossible? Probably. But we must carry on in the
Gramscian way – with the pessimism of the mind and the optimism of the will.
As the Zimbabwian women’s slogan says – ‘If you can talk, you can sing; if you
can walk, you can dance’. As my friend Helen Meekosha has shown – you can
dance even in a wheelchair.
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FREIA’s working paper series:
1. Karin Widerberg: Udfordringer til kvinneforskningen i 1990’erne - föredrag på
Center for Kvinneforskning i Aalborg 10.5.90, 1992
2. Feminist Research. Aalborg University. Report 1976-1991, 1992
3. Ann-Dorte Christensen: Kvinder i den nye fredsbevægelse i Danmark - mellem
køkkenruller, resolutioner og teltpæle, 1992
4. Ulla Koch: Uformel økonomi og social arbejdsdeling - en fortælling om
tværfaglighed og det umuliges kunst, 1992
5. Marianne Rostgaard: Kvindearbejde og kønsarbejdsdeling i tekstilindustrien i
Danmark ca. 1830 - 1915, 1992
6. Inger Agger: Køn og krænkelse - om politisk vold mod kvinder, 1992
7. Margrethe Holm Andersen: Heks, hore eller heltinde? - et case-studie om
tanzanianske kvinders politiske deltagelse og kønsideologier i forandring, 1993
8. Ulla Koch: A Feminist Political Economics of Integration in the European
Community - an outline, 1993
9. Susanne Thorbek: Urbanization, Slum Culture, Gender Struggle and Women’s
10. Susanne Thorbek: Køn og Urbanisering, 1994
11. Poul Knopp Damkjær: Kvinder & rektorstillinger - et indlæg i ligestillings-
12. Birte Siim: Det kønnede demokrati - kvinders medborgerskab i de skandinaviske
13. Anna-Birte Ravn: Kønsarbejdsdeling - diskurs og magt, 1994.
14. Bente Rosenbeck: Med kønnet tilbage til den politiske historie, 1994
15. Jytte Bang og Susanne Stubgaard: Piger og fysik i gymnasiet, 1994
16. Harriet Bjerrum Nielsen og Monica Rudberg: Jenter og gutter i forandring, 1994
17. Jane Lewis: Gender, Family and the Study of Welfare ‘Regimes’, 1995
18. Iris Rittenhofer: A Roll in the Hay with the Director: The Manager in a
Genderhistorical Perspective, 1995
19. Ruth Emerek: On the Subject of Measuring Women’s (and Men’s) Participation
in the Labour Market, 1995
20. Maren Bak: Family Research and Theory in Denmark: A Literature Review, 1995
21. Ann-Dorte Christensen & Birte Siim: Gender, Citizenship and Political
22. Hanne Marlene Dahl: Contemporary Theories of Patriarchy - Like a Bird without
Wings? Power, Signification and Gender in the Reproduction of Patriarchy, 1995
23. Lene Klitrose: Moving far beyond the Separated Fields of Patriarchal Scholarship:
the Qualitative Leap of Philosophical Daring, 1995
24. Ulla Koch: Omsorgsbegrebet i lyset af international økonomisk integration
- begrebs- og metodediskussion, 1995
25. Karen Sjørup: Patriarkatet og det kvindelige subjekt, 1995
26. Susanne Thorbek: Women’s Participation in Slum Organizations - Does it Make a
27. Mette Groes: Kvinder laver daghøjskoler for kvinder, 1995
28. Signe Arnfred: Conceptualizing Gender, 1995
29. Durre Ahmed: Essence and Diversity in Gender Research, 1995
30. Ann Schlyter: Women’s Responses to Political Changes in Southern Africa -
Common Grounds and differences, 1995
31. Diana Mulinari: Thinking about Feminism, 1995
32. Susanne Thorbek: Global Context - Local Concepts, 1995
33. Sylvia Walby: Key Concepts in Feminist Theory, 1996
34. Yvonne Hirdman: Key Concepts in Feminist Theory – Analysing Gender and
35. Anna Alten: The Incompatability of Entrepreneurship and Femininity: A
Dilemma for Women, 1996
36. Jane Lewis: Equality, Difference and Gender in Twentieth Century Welfare
37. Eileen Drew: Key Concepts Employed to Understand Gender in Relation to the
Labour Market, 1996
38. Ilona Ostner: Individualization, Breadwinner Norms, and Family Obligations.
Gender Sensitive Concepts in Comparative Welfare, 1996
39. Feminist Research. Aalborg University. Report 1996-1999, 1997
40. Ruth Lister: Engendering Citizenship, Work and Care, 1997
41. Ruth Lister: Citizen or Stakeholder. Policies to combat social exclusion and
promote social justice in the UK, 1997
42. Anne Showstack Sassoon: Beyond Pessimism of the Intelligence: Agendas for
Social Justice and Change, 1997
43. Lilja Mósesdóttir: Breaking the Boundaries: Women’s Encounter with the State in
Sweden, Germany and the United States, 1997 Labour Market, 1996
44. Ruth Emerek, Jeanette E. Dahl og Vibeke Jakobsen: Migrant Women on the
Danish Labour Market, 2000
45. Birte Siim: Dilemmas of Citizenship in Denmark – Lone Mothers between Work
and Care, 1999
46. Iris Rittenhofer: Historicizing the “Glass Ceiling”. The engendering of difference
in German and Danish media presentations of leadershipdebates 1960 – 1989,
47. Chiara Bertone: Familiens rolle i og kvinders krav til de sydeuropæiske
velfærdsstater: et studie om Italien, 1999
48. Margareta Bäck-Wiklund: Senmodernt familjeliv och föräldraskap – om
tratitionella roller och nya identiteter, 2001
49. Pernille Tanggaard Andersen: Retten til at vælge fællesskab – Yngre ufaglærte
kvinders opfattelse af og praksis om fællesskab og solidaritet, 2002
50. Birte Siim: Feministiske bidrag til politisk teori, 2003
51. Anna-Birte Ravn: Economic Citizenship: Debates on Gender and Tax Legislation
in Denmark, 1903-83, 2004
52. Christina Fiig: En feministisk offentlighed – Ph. D-forelæsning, Aalborg
Universitet den 23. september 2004
53. Ann-Dorte Christensen: The Danish Gender Model and New Political Identities
among Young Women, 2004
54. Hege Skjeie: Trosfrihet og Diskrimineringsvern, 2005
55. Kathleen B. Jones: Reflections on Violence and Gender in an Era of
Globalization: A Philosophical Journey with Hannah Arendt, 2005
56. Gunhild Agger: Køn i Matador og Krøniken, 2005
57. Tina Kjær Bach: Kvinder i kommunalpolitik – rapport udarbejdet for Lige-
58. Birte Siim: Køn, magt og medborgerskab i en globaliseret verden, 2005
59. Kirsten Sværke: Nyfeminisme og nye kønsidentiteter, 2005
60. Anette Borchorst: Daddy Leave and Gender Equality – the Danish Case in a
Scandinavian Perspective, 2006
61. Yvonne Mørck: Why not intersectionality? A concept at work in modern complex
societies. Intersectionality and class travels, 2006
62. Daniel Gustafsson: Gender Integration and the Swedish Armed Forces: The Case
of Sexual Harassment and Prostitution, 2006
63. Lise Rolandsen Agustín: Demokrati i det transnationale rum: En diskussion af
civilsamfundsaktørernes demokratiseringspotentiale i den europæiske kontekst.
64. Ann-Dorte Christensen & Mette Tobiasen: Politiske identiteter og kønspolitiske
holdninger i tre generationer. Forskningsrapport, pilotundersøgelse, Aalborg
65. Birte Siim & Anette Borchorst: The multicultural challenge to the Danish Welfare
state – Social Politics, Equality and Regulating Families, 2007
66. Birte Siim & Christina Fiig: Democratisation of Denmark – the Inclusion of
Women in Political Citizenship, 2008
67. Anna-Birte Ravn & Bente Rosenbeck: Gender and Family Policies in Denmark in
the 20th Century, 2008
68. Sune Qvotrup Jensen: Andenhed, hybriditet og agens – Ph.d. forelæsning,
Aalborg Universitet, 28. November 2007, 2008
69. Anette Borchorst: Scandinavian gender equality: Competing discourses and
70. Carol Bacchi & Joan Eveline: Gender mainstreaming or diversity mainstreaming?
The politics of “doing”, 2009
71. Lotte Bloksgaard: At ‘gøre’ køn i det moderne arbejdsliv – Ph.d.-forelæsning,
Aalborg Universitet, 19. juni 2009, 2010
72. Valentine M. Moghadam: Feminist Activism in the Arab Region and Beyond:
Linking Research to Policy Reform and Social Change, 2010
73. Lotte Bloksgaard: Integration, mentoring & networking. Erfaringer fra KVINFO’s
mentornetwork for indvandrer- og flygtningskvinder i Danmark, 2010
74. Carol Bacchi: Foucault, Policy and Rule: Challenging the Problem-Solving
75. Nira Yuval-David: Power, Intersectionality and the Power of Belonging, 2011
FREIA, the Feminist Research Centre in Aalborg, is an interdis-
ciplinary, social science-based research centre at the Department of
Culture and Global Studies at Aalborg University, Denmark. The
affiliated researchers work in the fields of anthropology, European
studies, history, political science, sociology and statistics. The present
research program (Gendered Power Relations in Transition - Equality
and Difference in Modern Welfare States) frames a number of
individual and collective research projects.