Intersectionality

 The term ‘Intersectionality’ refers to the awareness in the social sciences that social hierarchies such as for instance gender, race and class are not separate social structures which act independently from each other. Instead, these social formations are closely interrelated so that any study of them has to take into account and analyse “how they mutually construct one another” (Hill Collins: 1998, 62). This realisation is particularly relevant for studies which set out to examine systems of oppression, social inequalities and minority cultures.

Intersectionality became a particularly prominent concept in academia in the 1990s, developing out of a tradition of Black Women’s Studies and their insight that systems of oppression are multiple, interrelated and interlocked. Intersectionality also disputes the notion that minorities are actually homogeneous groups which can be studied accordingly, an understanding which is hence also pertinent to any analysis of diasporic groups and individuals.

In her article “It’s all in the family: Intersections of Gender, Race and Nation”, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins uses the example of traditional family rhetoric to demonstrate the ways social hierarchies intersect and systems of inequality operate in modern US society. According to her, the idea of a traditional family comprises a heterosexual couple i.e. a working husband and a stay-at-home wife and their biological children (Hill Collins: 1998, 62). This understanding of family also functions as a “fundamental principle of social organization” (Ibid, 63): not only is the family the place where individual subjects learn their positions of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality and national, these family values also help to naturalise hierarchies in society as the nation-state is imagined as a big national family in which everybody has his or her place. Most importantly, the family rhetoric is frequently used to disguise interrelated forms of oppression as it serves as a foundation to conceptualise categories such as gender or race as family. Hill invokes instances where Black-African women are told not to report sexual harassment by Black-African men so as to not “’air dirty laundry’” (Ibid: 67).

However, as useful and important intersectional analytics are for any analysis and study of diaspora cultures as the diasporic identity constantly interrelates with other social formations, the question arises whether intersectionality actually presents itself as a theory of its own right or rather an analytical tool one has to keep in mind for any analysis of difference. Perhaps for the study of diaspora it is most useful to keep in mind that both concepts are “designed to analyse configurations of power – both productive and coercive – in ‘local’ and ‘global’ encounters in specific spaces and historical moments.” (Brah; Phoenix: 2004, 83).

Recommended Reading:

Brah, Avtar & Phoenix Ann. 2004. “Aint I a Woman: Revisiting Intersectionality”. Journal of International Women’s Studies 5(3): 75-86.

Hill Collins, Patricia. 1998. “It’s All in the Family: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Nation”. Hypatia 13(3): 62-82.

 

 

 

El-Tayeb, Fatima. 2011. “Dimensions of Diaspora: Women of Color Feminism, Black Europe and Queer Memory Discourse”. In: European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 43-80.

 

Ferguson, Roderick. 2003. Aberration in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique. University of Minnesota Press.

 

Gopinath, Gayatri. 2005. Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures. Duke University Press.

 

Hong Kyungwon, Grace & Roderick A. Ferguson. 2011. “Introduction”. In: Strange Affinities: The Gender and Sexual Politics of Comparative Racialization. Durham: Duke University Press, 1-24.

 

Lowe, Lisa. 2006. “The Intimacy of Four Continents”. In:Ann Laura Stoler (ed). Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History.

 

 

Roy, Anindyo. 1995. “Postcoloniality and the Politics of Identity in the Diaspora: Figuring ‘Home,’ Locating Histories”. In:  Gita Rajan and Radhika Mohanram (eds). Postcolonial Discourse and Changing Cultural Contexts. Theory and Criticism. Contributions to the Study of World Literature 64. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 101-115.

 

Wesling, Meg. 2008. “Why Queer Diaspora?” Feminist Review 90, 30-47.