Intersectionality Theory

Wednesday, October 27, 2021 1:54:29 AM

Intersectionality Theory

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The urgency of intersectionality - Kimberlé Crenshaw

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Thus, Crenshaw concluded that Black women were disproportionately marginalized due to the simultaneous, intersecting nature of how they are read by others as both raced and gendered subjects. Trained as a sociologist, Collins saw the importance of folding class and sexuality into this critical analytic tool, and later in her career, nationality too.

For instance, when examining the social world through an intersectional lens, one can see that a wealthy, white, heterosexual man who is a citizen of the United States experiences the world from the apex of privilege. He is in the higher strata of economic class, he is at the top of the racial hierarchy of U. By contrast, consider the everyday experiences of a poor, undocumented Latina living in the U. The ideas and assumptions encoded in her race suggest to many that she is not deserving of the same rights and resources as others who live in the U. Some may even assume that she is on welfare, manipulating the health care system, and is, overall, a burden to society.

Her gender, especially in combination with her race, marks her as submissive and vulnerable, and as a target to those who may wish to exploit her labor and pay her criminally low wages, whether in a factory, on a farm, or for household labor. Her sexuality too and that of the men who may be in positions of power over her is an axis of power and oppression, as it can be used to coerce her through the threat of sexual violence. Further, her nationality, say, Guatemalan, and her undocumented status as an immigrant in the U. The analytic lens of intersectionality is valuable here because it allows us to consider a variety of social forces simultaneously, whereas a class-conflict analysis , or gender or racial analysis, would limit our ability to see and understand the way privilege, power, and oppression operate in interlocking ways.

However, intersectionality is not just useful for understanding how different forms of privilege and oppression exist simultaneously in shaping our experiences in the social world. Cudd defines oppression in terms of four conditions: 1 the group condition, which states that individuals are subjected to unjust treatment because of their membership or ascribed membership in certain social groups Cudd , 21 ; 2 the harm condition, which stipulates that individuals are systematically and unfairly harmed as a result of such membership Cudd , 21 ; 3 the coercion condition, which specifies that the harms that those individuals suffer are brought about through unjustified coercion Cudd , 22 ; and 4 the privilege condition, which states that such coercive, group-based harms count as oppression only when there exist other social groups who derive a reciprocal privilege or benefit from that unjust harm Cudd , 22— Any satisfactory answer to this question must draw on a combination of empirical, social-scientific research and normative philosophical theorizing, inasmuch as a theory of oppression is an explanatory theory of a normative concept Cudd , That oppression is a normative — rather than a purely descriptive — concept is evident from the fact that it is defined as an unjust or unfair set of power relations.

Cudd argues that social-theoretical frameworks such as functionalism, psychoanalysis, and evolutionary psychology are inadequate for theorizing oppression Cudd , 39— Structural rational choice theory, in her view, best meets reasonable criteria of explanatory adequacy and therefore provides the best social-theoretical framework for analyzing oppression. Having made this distinction, Haslanger then argues for a mixed analysis of oppression that does not attempt to reduce agent oppression to structural oppression or vice versa.

Haslanger also connects her account of structural domination and oppression to her analysis of gender. Other things -- such as norms, identities, symbols, etc -- are then gendered in relation to those social relations. On her analysis, gender categories are defined in terms of how one is socially positioned with respect to a broad complex of oppressive relations between groups that are distinguished from one another by means of sexual difference see By claiming that women are oppressed as women, Haslanger reiterates an earlier claim made by radical feminists such as Catharine MacKinnon see, for example, MacKinnon , Up to this point, much of this entry has focused, as does much of the feminist literature on this topic, on power understood in terms of an oppressive or unjust power-over relationship.

However, a significant strand of feminist theorizing of power starts with the contention that the conception of power as power-over, domination, or control is implicitly masculinist. In order to avoid such masculinist connotations, many feminists from a variety of theoretical backgrounds have argued for a reconceptualization of power as a capacity or ability, specifically, the capacity to empower or transform oneself and others. Thus, these feminists have tended to understood power not as power-over but as power-to.

Wartenberg argues that this feminist understanding of power, which he calls transformative power, is actually a type of power-over, albeit one that is distinct from domination because it aims at empowering those over whom it is exercised. However, most of the feminists who embrace this transformative or empowerment-based conception of power explicitly define it as an ability or capacity and present it as an alternative to putatively masculine notions of power-over. This conception of power as transformative and empowering is also a prominent theme in lesbian feminism and ecofeminism. Hartsock finds it significant that the theme of power as capacity or empowerment has been so prominent in the work of women who have written about power. Although this movement has had more influence in mainstream media and culture than in academia -- indeed, in many ways it can be read as a critique of academic feminism -- it has also sparked scholarly debate.

In contrast, power feminists endorse a more individualistic, self-assertive, even aggressive conception of empowerment, one that tends to define empowerment in terms of individual choice with little concern for the contexts within which choices are made or the options from which women are able to choose. In order to prompt such a rethinking, Caputi turns to the resources of the early Frankfurt School of critical theory and to the work of Jacques Derrida. Focusing on empowerment in the context of international development practice, Khader develops a deliberative perfectionist account of adaptive preferences. This allows her to acknowledge the psychological effects of oppression working through the mechanism of IAPs without denying the possibility of agency on the part of the oppressed.

Khader draws on her deliberative perfectionist account of IAPs to diagnose and move beyond certain controversies over the notion of empowerment that have emerged in feminist development practice and theorizing. While acknowledging that the language of empowerment in development practice can have ideological effects, Khader addresses these concerns by providing a clearer conception of empowerment than the one implicit in the development literature and emphasizing what she understands as the normative core of this concept, its relation to human flourishing. This definition of empowerment enables her to rethink certain dilemmas of empowerment that have emerged in development theory and practices.

For example, many development practitioners define empowerment in terms of choice, and then struggle to make sense of apparently self-subordinating choices. If choice equals empowerment, then does this mean that the choice to subordinate or disempower oneself is an instance of empowerment? For Khader, empowerment is a messy, complex, and incremental concept. As I claimed in the introduction, and as I hope this entry shows, the concept of power is central to a wide variety of debates in feminist philosophy. Indeed, the very centrality of this concept to feminist theorizing creates difficulties in writing an entry such as this one: since the concept of power is operative on one way or another in almost all work in feminist theory, it is extremely difficult to place limits on the relevant sources.

Throughout, I have tried to emphasize those texts and debates in which the concept of power is a central theme, even if only an implicit one. I have also tried to prioritize those authors and texts that have been most influential within feminist philosophy, as opposed to the wider terrain of feminist theory or gender studies, though I acknowledge that this distinction is difficult to maintain and perhaps not always terribly useful. Questionable as such framing choices may be, they do offer some much needed help in delimiting the range of relevant sources and providing focus and structure to the discussion.

Arendt, Hannah Beauvoir, Simone de critical theory existentialism feminism-analytic feminism-body feminism-continental feminism-intersections feminism-radical feminism-sex feminist philosophy, interventions: liberal feminism feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on class and work feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on the self Foucault, Michel identity politics Marx, Karl phenomenology race. Defining power 2. Power as Resource: Liberal Feminist Approaches 3. Power as Domination 3. Power as Empowerment 5. Defining power In social and political theory, power is often regarded as an essentially contested concept see Lukes and , and Connolly Power as Resource: Liberal Feminist Approaches Those who conceptualize power as a resource understand it as a positive social good that is currently unequally distributed amongst women and men.

Power as Empowerment Up to this point, much of this entry has focused, as does much of the feminist literature on this topic, on power understood in terms of an oppressive or unjust power-over relationship. Concluding thoughts As I claimed in the introduction, and as I hope this entry shows, the concept of power is central to a wide variety of debates in feminist philosophy. Bibliography Ahmed, Sara, Alcoff, Linda, Allen, Amy, Al-Saji, Alia, Arendt, Hannah, Bachrach, P. Bartky, Sandra, Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression.

New York: Routledge ———, Beauvoir, Simone de, Benhabib, Seyla, Bordo, Susan, Butler, Judith, Caputi, Mary, Carastathis, Anna, Clegg, Stewart, Frameworks of Power , London: Sage. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy , 3 2 : Collins, Patricia Hill, et al. Combahee River Collective, Connolly, William, Crenshaw, Kimberle, a. Barlett and Rosanne Kennedy eds. Cudd, Ann, Dahl, Robert, Davis, Angela, Diamond, Irene and Lee Quinby eds. Dowding, Keith, Eisenstein, Zillah, Feder, Ellen, Fisher, Linda, and Lester Embree eds. Firestone, Shulamith, Follett, Mary Parker, Metcalf and L.

Urwick eds. Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison , trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage. Robert Hurley. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Fraser, Nancy, Social Text , — Frye, Marilyn, Garry, Ann, Hypatia , 26 4 : Gines, Kathryn, Goswami, Namita, Maeve M. This article is part of a special project about equality in America today. Contact us at letters time. By Katy Steinmetz. Related Stories. America Needs to Get Back to Facts. Already a print subscriber?

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