Colloquium: "The Complexities of Intersectionalities" | Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
University of Pittsburgh

Colloquium: "The Complexities of Intersectionalities"

September 22, 2016 - 12:30pm - 2:00pm
Rostom Mesli, Hum Center and GSWS Post-doc

In this paper, Mesli starts from the contradictory claims according to which, for some, intersectionality is a radical framework of analysis that allows for a radical questioning of formation of social categories and identities (intersectionality is then viewed as anti-identity politics), whereas for others it is a liberal framework that fundamentally relies on leaving those social categorizations unquestioned (it is, in this view, inseparable from identity politics). In order to elucidate this puzzle, he argues that although using the same word "intersectionality," scholars often talk about different academic and political traditions which are unduly conflated. Mesli distinguishes between three understandings of intersectionality. They correspond to roughly three different historical moments: 1) Women of Color feminism of the late 1970s and early 1980s (the key text here is the Combahee River Collective statement); 2) Kimberle Crenshaw's texts when she coined the term "intersectionality" in late 1980s/early 1990s; 3) a de-constructionist and postmodern version of "intersectionality" to be found in contemporary queer of color critique (Ferguson, Somerville, among others).   His contention is that in their attempts to resurrect Women of Color feminism, advocates of the postmodern version of intersectionality have often claimed to derive their anti-categorical and anti-identitarian claims from that tradition: he argues that this is an undue conclusion: WOC feminism and Crenshaw are suspicious of certain homogenizing effects of categories but they are not for that reason anticategorical. A second contention is that in their rejections of identity categories, critiques of intersectionality frameworks have failed to see what, in the earlier versions of "intersectionality," could be used to fix some of the theoretical and political problems that surfaced in later versions of feminisms. In other words, he argues, against queer of color critique and with anti-intersectional scholars (Wendy Brown, Jasbir Puar), that Women of Color feminism is indeed deeply vested in identity politics and the claim that it articulates anti-identitarian positions is untenable. But he also argues, against Brown and Puar, that this is no reason to reject WOC feminism: on the contrary, one of its crucial values lies in its articulation of a form of identity politics that eschews many of the critiques postmodern scholars often make to identity politics.

With responses by Todd Reeser (Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program) and Melanie Hughes (Sociology) 


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