Dissecting Intersectionality

Intersectionality theory is meant to be a lens or way to recognize different forms of oppression, or rather the specifics, e.g. not just racism, but racism as experienced by someone that is also “old” or “age experienced”  and might be experiencing ageism, not to mention sexism…and on, and on. It is supposed to be inclusionary, or bring marginalized groups or individuals into the bigger discussion to ultimately show how power is connected to where a person’s identity intersects x, y, and z. Whether intersectionality is useful in helping stop the oppression/s in question, or even valid as a theory, is an interesting question given it’s pervasiveness at this time. Below are some critiques of the theory, and a summary of Pierre Bourdieu’s theories, which are a much better framework than Intersectionality from which to view and critique power or the so-called intersections of status.

 

Marginalization is messy: Beyond intersectionality by Aph Ko, aka Aphrodite Kocięda Intersectionality is a trendy academic buzz-word that attempts to describe the ways in which oppressions intersect and interlock. (Every so often a new term will pop up that everyone uses, like the word “privilege.”) This particular theory is instrumental in most feminist, anti-racist spaces where we attempt to study and explain how race, gender, class oppression all coalesce in marginalized people’s lives. For example, as a black woman, I am not only faced with racial oppression, but also gender and class oppression. Intersectionality is the theory that accounts for that. You can find the term “intersectionality” in most progressive literature about oppressed populations and for the most part, it is pretty accurate. It provides a space for marginalized people to share how their lives have been molded by white supremacist patriarchy, heteronormativity, ableism, etc. Through intersectionality, we can analyze how organizations, structures, and ideas are reinforced and resisted in oppressed spaces. Although this theory has been instrumental to my own work, which centers on whiteness, black feminism and post-feminism, I am beginning to notice some problematic tensions within intersectionality that cannot be reconciled.

1) First of all, the actual framework that intersectionality operates from is problematic. I would argue that intersectionality operates from a white supremacist patriarchal foundation. Therefore, all populations excluded from the mainstream normative space, focus on how they’re excluded, not why the space is inherently exclusionary. Bitch magazine ran an article (Push(back) at the Intersections: Defining (and Critiquing) ‘Intersectionality’)on intersectionality wherein the writer states: “’intersectionality’ becomes code for ‘wait your turn.’ Rather than being a reflection of a highly inclusive movement that integrates different lived experiences and priorities, it is used to say ‘just as soon as we get our needs taken care of, we’ll turn to yours.’” Through intersectionality, we are caught up in a discussion over who is “left out” of the current model because the actual model itself is exclusionary. On top of that, intersectionality is very reactionary. As such, I don’t believe it was ever meant to be transformative or radical. Intersectionality functions like the notion of “diversity.” Think about “diversity” programs in academic institutions, wherein diversity is understood as “non-white” skin. With this logic, programs recruit people of colour to their white classrooms, even though the knowledge’s still remain white. One could then argue that diversity, in this instance, reinforces whiteness, just with a “progressive” face. Diversity is born out of this white framework and in embracing this superficial idea of “diversity”, we are inevitably embracing whiteness. Diversity was merely a reaction to white supremacy. It was never meant to be critical. If you just Google “diversity”, you can see how superficial it is. It basically means “adding brown people into the white framework,” and in this way, whiteness is strengthened. Intersectionality is the same. It is merely a response, not a solution; born out of a frustration with whiteness, sexism, etc. 2) Intersectionality is incomplete. It is only interested in charting how groups are currently oppressed, but doesn’t offer possibilities for systemic transformation. It must be radicalized. In fact, it naturalizes oppressed identities, stating that oftentimes these oppressed identities can intersect (race, gender, etc.), but does not problematize how these identities are created. Intersectionality relies on the static, fixed oppressed identity. That’s the problem.

3) I think it’s problematic that we view race, gender and class as independent systems that have the “potential” to collide and intersect as intersectional scholars purport, rather than systems that simultaneously and fluidly operate in conjunction with one another. In fact, I would argue that they constitute one another in a given social order. We’re supposed to act as though certain identities are fixed and can then intersect.  I think we need to “radicalize” intersectionality so that we no longer view these systems of organization as separate entities, but as dynamic interpenetrating realities that exist within one another simultaneously. In an article titled: “I am a woman and a human: a Marxist Feminist critique of intersectionality theory,” the author, Eve Mitchell states:

theories of an ‘interlocking matrix of oppressions,’ simply create a list of naturalized identities, abstracted from their material and historical context…Simply reducing this struggle to mere quantity, equality of distribution, or ‘representation,’ reinforces identity as a static, naturalized category.

Since intersectionality doesn’t challenge these “fixed” identities but operates off of them, we unquestionably cite the grand trio: race, gender, and class, as though they each have their own roads that are neatly paved, where we can easily walk on them and understand how they operate. For some of us, the embodiment of this trio places us in a unique position where the roads do not merge into one, but are one from the beginning, and the research should reflect that. According to anthropologist Wesley Garrett, “Perhaps a better analogy would be that they are different lanes on the same highway, rather than separate roads that sporadically intersect.”

 

What’s Wrong With Identity Politics (and Intersectionality Theory)? A Response to Mark Fisher’s “Exiting the Vampire Castle” (And Its Critics) by Michael Rectenwald: “operating under the same schema as a more simplified identity politics, intersectionality theory serves to isolate multiple and seemingly endless identity standpoints, without sufficiently articulating them with each other, or the forms of domination. The upshot in political practice is a static pluralism of reified social categories, each vying for more-subaltern-than-thou status on a field of one-downsmanship. While it may be useful for sociologists attempting to describe groups and their struggles with power, as a political theory, it is useless, or worse. This is because, by ending with the identification and isolation of its various constituencies, it in fact serves to sever the connections that it supposedly sought to understand and strengthen. The practical upshot of intersectionality theory is the perpetual articulation of difference, resulting in fragmentation and the stagnation of political activity. …identity politics does involve a linguistic policing around various identity formations, not only to determine eligibility for membership, but as importantly, to guard against the ill treatment of said group and its members as representatives thereof.  Of course, any political movement on the left worthy of support will defend those subject to various forms of discrimination and abuse. But in the case of identity politics, the defense is of the group and its individual members as such, as particular identities, for the maintenance and continuation of said identities, and not for their liberation from the liabilities that all identities necessarily entail. Thus, identity politics is exclusionary and divisive, continually falling back on difference in order to establish group identity and cohesion. …there’s a difference between working-class emancipation and the emancipation of groups based on identity. The working class is *not* an identity– it is a positionality in the social order. This positionality is determined by exploitation, which is verifiable and concrete. Only the emancipation from this makes possible emancipation from other categories, because the other categories are forms of alienated labor. The emancipation of the working class means the end of capitalism, whereas the same is not true for other identities, as long as the working class is not emancipated. …The common mistake identity politickers make is to mistake working class positionality for an identity. …identity categories are forms of alienated labor, and like other occupations under capitalism, while the categories can be challenged and deconstructed, they will remain alienated and reified for as long as the system that employs them remains in effect. This doesn’t deny the “materiality” of identities, yet it does not put their overcoming on par with overcoming capitalism itself. In fact, it makes their *total* overcoming impossible without the overcoming of capitalism.”

 

I am a Woman and a Human: A Marxist-Feminist Critique of Intersectionality Theory by Eve Mitchell: “The identity politics of the 60s and 70s conflates a particular moment, or a determinant point, in the relations of capitalism with the potential universal.  Furthermore, it reproduces the schism between appearance and essence.  Under capitalism there is a contradiction between the particular and the universal; appearance and essence.  We appear to be alienated individuals (a bus driver, a hair stylist, a woman, etc.), though in essence we are multi-sided individuals capable of many forms of labor.  Identity politics bolsters one side of this contradiction, arguing for collective struggle on the basis of “womanhood,” or “blackness,” or “black lesbianhood,” etc.  To borrow from Fanon, identity politics states, “I am a black man,” “I am a woman,” or “I am a black lesbian,” etc.  This is a key first step. …For supporters of identity politics (despite claiming otherwise), womanhood, a form of appearance within society, is reduced to a natural, static “identity.”  Social relations such as “womanhood,” or simply gender, become static objects, or “institutions.”  Society is therefore organized into individuals, or sociological groups with natural characteristics.  Therefore, the only possibility for struggle under identity politics is based on equal distribution or individualism (I will discuss this further below).  This is a bourgeois ideology in that it replicates the alienated individual invented and defended by bourgeois theorists and scientists (and materially enforced) since capitalism’s birth. … intersectionality theory replicates this problem by simply adding particular moments, or determinant points; Hooks goes on to argue for race and class inclusion in a feminist analysis.  Similarly, theories of an “interlocking matrix of oppressions,” simply create a list of naturalized identities, abstracted from their material and historical context.  This methodology is just as ahistorical and antisocial as Betty Friedan’s. …A historical understanding of patriarchy needs to understand patriarchy from within a set of social relations based on the form of labor.  In other words, we cannot understand the form of appearance, “womanhood,” apart from the essence, a universal human. …It is important to note that identity politics and intersectionality theorists are not wrong but they are incomplete.  Patriarchal and racialized social relations are material, concrete and real.  So are the contradictions between the particular and universal, and the appearance and essence.  The solution must build upon these contradictions and push on them…the struggle for liberation must include both the particular and the universal, both the appearance and essence.  We must build upon and push on both sides of these contradictions. … Simply reducing this struggle to mere quantity, equality of distribution, or “representation,” reinforces identity as a static, naturalized category.”

 

Intersectionality caused a stir at AFem2014, an international anarchist feminist conference developed by a committee of anarchists organizing in the UK. (Breaking the Waves: Challenging the Liberal Tendency within Anarchist Feminism)

 

Red Flag Terms by Francois Tremblay “Because intersectionality inherently focuses on individual conditions, using it exclusively becomes nay-saying of any systemic analysis. For example, feminism assumes that there is such a thing as female socialization and female experience, but intersectionality may lead someone to claim that there is no such thing and that every single woman is a different case, thus making feminism impossible…intersectionality is not a good model of oppression because it fails to include the sources of oppression and portrays hierarchies as fixed and immutable. If you want any sort of accurate model of how oppression works, you have to understand fundamentally that oppression is constantly created and recreated by social institutions, and how this is done.”

Lawrence Jarach: “For a person or group of people on the receiving end of racism and sexism (etc.), essentialism can appear to be a powerful defensive perspective and counter-narrative. Rather than promoting categories of denigration and subordination, the counter-essentialist discourse of Identity Politics attempts to invert the historical categories of oppression into categories of celebration. This is often initiated by appropriating insults and turning them into acceptable, even honorable, labels. What had once been intended to harm the Other thereby becomes a way to show pride in the Group Self. Keeping with the inversion process, the counter-essentialist often merely turns the categories of Otherness upside-down, making visually identifiable members of the Oppressor group into enemies. A sense of belonging either to a group that has oppressed or been oppressed is immaterial — essentialism is not the exclusive domain of oppressors. The discourse of counter-essentialism includes the ideologies of innocence and victimization, which can quickly transform an identity based on the history of shared oppression into a posture of superiority. Counter-essentialism supposedly proves that the victim is eternally innocent, so victims’ actions and reactions are forever beyond reproach; all good Christians know that suffering is ennobling. Oppression is never the result of anything the victim has actually done to the Oppressor, so whatever strategies of resistance the victim chooses are legitimate. Self-defense is its own justification. The adherents of Identity Politics rarely — if ever — question the criteria leading to victimization. They can’t conceive of the possibility that the elevation of any particular culturally constructed marker into a significant value — laden category could lead to oppression. Unlike Oppressor essentialists, counter-essentialists ignore the complexities of relations of power (which are conditional and contingent); but like Oppressor essentialists, they revel in the smug self-assurance that their Identity is static, independent, and eternal. Essentialists create and maintain their own privileges through the institutionalization of power; counter-essentialists through the institutionalization of innocence. …Group self-definition would seem to fit in with the anarchist principles of self-organization and voluntary association. Counter-essentialist identity can even be understood as an attempt to recapture kinship-based community, destroyed by the imposition of industrial capitalism (which is based on division of labor and the resulting atomization and alienation of individuals from each other). It remains problematic, however, because it is an identity forged within the ideology of victimization; it rests on the same arbitrary and constructed categories that were previously formulated to justify oppression. Creating a supposedly liberatory counter-narrative that remains based on visual markers can never possibly question the validity of an oppressive ideology. The other problem is the promotion of an ideologically constructed identity. Such an identity demands group loyalty and solidarity over and above the actual lived experiences of the individuals involved.

The person who is attracted to the promised sense of belonging offered by any institution (whether an oppressed group, a hierarchical organization, or any formation promoting Unity) must agree to the prior distinctions and categories created by others. Once the counter-essentialist agrees to the boundaries of inclusion/exclusion (which is step one on the road to separatism), s/he can’t identify or be identified any other way; whatever criteria already exist in the counter-essentialist narrative are the only ones that matter. This Identity Fundamentalism requires that any person interested in radical transformation relinquish the ability to define her/himself. S/he must dissolve any self-awareness into pre-existing categories of significance. Biology — no matter its ideological and cultural constraints — is Destiny; subjectivity can only be sacrificed and/or suppressed. One of the first authoritarian lies is that someone else knows better.

Essentialists, merely by casting a cursory glance at their chosen Other, already know all they need to know about that person. Separatists, nationalists, anti-imperialists — essentialists all — call that Liberation.”

Adolph Reed: Identity Politics Is Neoliberalism: “[Identity] politics is not an alternative to class politics; it is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism…The contemporary discourse of “antiracism” [and identity politics overall] is focused much more on taxonomy than politics. It emphasizes the name by which we should call some strains of inequality—whether they should be broadly recognized as evidence of “racism”— over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them. And, no, neither “overcoming racism” nor “rejecting whiteness” qualifies as such a step any more than does waiting for the “revolution” or urging God’s heavenly intervention.

Jurriaan Bendien: …Why has intersectionality become so popular recently among Marxist and other leftist academics? …there is again a lot of “me first” ideologies, which explain and justify why people should get access to jobs and resources, in preference to somebody else. And inversely, you have to state reasons to keep the competitors out of your own territory, which promotes xenophobia and racism. The subjective reason is, that there is actually a market for intersectionality ideology among academic careerists, and it satisfies the academic ego’s, because it provides a shortcut to moral righteousness. You can be a Leftist and liberal, advance your career, and appear politically correct all at the same time. The more hostile that rightwing people become to positive discrimination and intersectionality ideology, the more that liberal Leftists feel justified in their stand, and the more they start talking about a fascist scare. The academics have little experience of the real world of work and the suffering it contains, rather, they “symbolically represent” what is happening in the real world, distorted by their moral allegiances. Intersectionality doesn’t really exist, it is just an academic idea, but within the academy, the idea of intersectionality can obtain a real force which it doesn’t have in society. …unlike the liberal bureaucrats who exploit us with intersectionality concepts – treat each other as human beings rather than statistical aggregates, and understand each other without a lot of academic verbal garbage. The second reason is, that if I started to treat people in the intersectional way, by running through a long checklist of whether they are white or coloured, male or female or transgender, etc. etc. I would be regarded as racist and discriminating, or as a liberal idiot who doesn’t understand anything. Over here, people wanted to be treated as human beings, not as statistical aggregates by liberal and Trotskyite exploiters. … by focusing on particular inequities, the functioning of the system for allocating rewards as a whole is overlooked. By focusing on the personal characteristics of competitors, and trying to make the rules of competition fairer, we have already accepted the competition principle, and thereby we have already accepted that some must necessarily lose. …intersectionality was a concept of the radical Left, but over time it has now been absorbed into Rawlsian liberal reformism, whereby rich people show a bit of charity for the poor. Rawls assumes that there will always be inequality but he thinks it is fairer and better if we mitigate that reality to some degree. Unfortunately in the real world, competition is not sportsmanlike. There is no “level playing field.” I think Rawls does understand what the moral problem is, but for a philosopher his answer is just terribly lousy, in a technical sense. The reason for that is, that all his core concepts are very poorly defined, superabstract and vague. He doesn’t really think through the concept of inequality. You can conclude all kinds of things from Rawlsian ideas, and that is precisely also what happens: a Rawlsian reformist bureaucracy arises to redistribute resources to the poor, according to its own terms. Of course, the reformist bureaucracy doesn’t forget its own material interest, and stuffs its own pockets with money from taxes and endowments! Here, where I live in the Netherlands, we are supposed to have one of the most “Rawlsian” countries in the world. But actually, researchers have discovered that the wealthy middle class gets much more financial benefit out of the Welfare State than poor people do. It turns out that Rawlsian redistributive justice was a wonderful ideology to justify middleclass people helping themselves to state funds, and using the state to protect their property. It turns out that Rawlsian ethics is just an apology for inequality. A true ethics is an empirical ethics, but an empirical ethics is so threatening and close to home that academia will not discuss it much.”

Will Shetterly 1. Intersectionality began as a concept loved by people who were not interested in socialism. 2. Intersectionality was adopted by some socialists and continued to be loved by people who were not interested in socialism. I think the idea has some merit when discussing gender and class. Engels seems to have been right when he pointed out that these were parallel oppressions. We can’t know which came first. But how anyone can study racism and not conclude that it’s a outgrowth of class oppression, I don’t know.

To recap, here is a list of the issues people pointed to above:

  1. Intersectionality often overlooks why oppression or exclusion happens, to map how
  2. It is a response, or reactionary, more than radical or transformative
  3. It is not a systemic analysis as it “fails to include the sources of oppression and portrays hierarchies as fixed and immutable.”
  4. Race, gender and class are seen as independent systems, not systems that operate in conjunction
  5. The intersections become a naturalization of oppressed identities
  6. The same arbitrary and constructed historical categories of oppression become categories of celebration thereby perpetuating the visual markers and keeping the oppressive ideology validated
  7. The emphasis is often the “name by which we should call some strains of inequality over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them.”
  8. The theory helps celebrate and isolate endless identity standpoints, sometimes into “oppression Olympics” and a field of one-downsmanship where difference is identity and cohesion, and at the same time division over quantity, equality of distribution, or “representation”
  9. Group loyalty and solidarity can overshadow the actual lived experiences of individuals
  10. Group inclusion/exclusion is a “step on the road to separatism”
  11. Essentialists, merely by casting a cursory glance at their chosen Other, already know all they need to know about that person. Separatists, nationalists, anti-imperialists — essentialists all
  12. The theory and practice smell like essentialism, or counter-essentialism where innocence and victimization are transformed from “identity based on the history of shared oppression into a posture of superiority… so victims’ actions and reactions are forever beyond reproach”

Yes the video below is from the American Enterprise Institute, not good, but some of Christina Hoff Sommers’ points are valid imho:

 from the video above:

  1. Conspiracy Theory- Intersectional theory is like a conspiracy theory, an all encompassing theory of human reality constructed to be immune from criticism. If you question the theory you don’t understand it, or you’re part of the problem.
  2. Victim Creep- Intersectionality values victims of various isms to the point where victimization confers wisdom, moral authority and prestige, so some people seek victim status, and factions can form to create new reasons for anger based on new intersectional identities
  3. Bullying- Intersectionality subjects “privileged” or so-called “privileged” people with hazing, stereotypes, demonizing, shame, and silencing, sometimes to a point where Intersectionality leads people to turn on each other, with calls for trigger warnings, checking privledges, micro-aggression, and safe spaces.
  4.  Intersectionality is a cult of division, not unity, and vies against liberation, free thought, and skepticism.
  5. In another video she has this to say:
    1. @ ~22 minutes: ‘intersectionality promises to put people in touch with “deeper subordinated truths” by avoiding western “logic and reason,” and members of ‘privileged groups should keep quite, listen, and not apply reason and logic.’ [The latter part alone scares me, and the former does smell of conspiracy theory. I’m OK with listening, but not to holding back critical analysis.]
    2. @26 min ‘If intersectionality theory was a recommendation for social scientists and activists to consider a diversity of perspectives and the points of view of marginalized people that would be good…., @ 31 but the truth is buried in rhetoric…it promotes bullying…twists facts and statistics…infantalizes women, and is illiberal in preventing the free exchange of ideas…@35 “it fights racism and sexism by classifying everybody according to race and sex, but if you are going to fight divisions, don’t practice it…Fight for what is rightfully yours, the freedom to speak, to think, to grow. Take back freedom, take back reason, take back kindness and humor, and while you’re at it, take back feminism.”

 

Other than what is written above, I’m not sure how much I can contribute to the critique, or if it needs to be dissected any further. I think Aph Ko is on point with intersectionality sometimes devolving into a focus on the how, not why of exclusion, and oppression for that matter. Are we missing the forest for the trees, or bathwater for the baby? It’s hard to separate the particular from the universal as they are interwoven and inseparable, not that the details aren’t important for figuring out or questioning the why to begin with, as it is useful to see the trees and baby, but why we miss them in the first place is important. Is it “more” important? I don’t know, but stopping oppression does first come with recognizing it, but how does it not stay reactionary and move to solutions? How do we get out of an intersection, or smash them, altogether? Do we stay fixed like a tree in forest, or attempt to move, or cut down the tree and build something? Ultimately, how do we get to classlessness? I’m not sure identifying supposed intersections helps that which we hope will eventually be dismantled. How does Intersectionality theory deconstruct when it rides on the labels it derides? As Ko pointed to Wesley Garrett, “Perhaps a better analogy would be that they are different lanes on the same highway, rather than separate roads that sporadically intersect.” How do we get from particular to universal and not keep the highway divided and jammed, or static, where resentment runs high, and the unity is in division and alienation, not to mention in-fighting?

Intersectionality, as noted differently above, seems like a means of delivering the identity fallacy or identity politics: “When one’s argument is evaluated based on their physical or social identity, i.e., their social class, generation, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation, profession, occupation or subgroup when the strength of the argument is independent of identity.” more Of course it will be argued that an argument, the same argument coming from the said class or race arguing about oppression xyz, is stronger if those making the argument experienced it. No shit, need we call common sense or primary sources “intersectional”? What’s bs is to discount the same argument from someone other than primary sources or those that experienced it, say a journalist, historian, or academic just recording or repeating what took place or even analyzing the events. Bias and distortions could come from any side, even those being oppressed.

 

Beyond the above, I have another issue with Intersectionality in that I have hard time seeing how someone chooses to identify is built upon “intersections,” or how one identity crosses another to make an intersection, or point, to begin with or at all. Granted, people can experience multiple prejudices at once, or might be many things (or “others”), but is “intersectionality” even the right way to describe this? It sounds intuitive or easy, but is this good or right, and how do things like racism and sexism even “intersect”? Do they intersect in the 2nd, 3rd, or maybe the 4th dimension? Is there an x, y, and maybe z axis for these identities or oppressions so they can actually meet, and how would each axis be labeled, and how would the “lines” or points ever “intersect”? There were no graphs or images in Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw’s original paper, but images showing intersections like the ones at the top of this post are commonplace, but they really don’t point to or represent anything real in the way of plotting this on paper as far as I can tell. Aph Ko has an alternate intersection model pictured here, but it looks like similar bs to me. How do we use the theory to actually show the intersection, or quantify/measure oppression or privilege, and can it actually do that? Should we do that, and why? What units of measurement do we “check the privilege” with? I’m guessing this will never happen, by any other means than a cursory glance at someone’s shell, or perhaps their bank account, and genotype and thus perpetuate the very isms the theory is criticizing.

If you think about what would actually be involved in plotting what essentially amounts to someone’s status in some hierarchy or matrix of social, political, and genetic checkpoints, it’s a little mind boggling, and scary. There are certainly some fascists to whom this might appeal. If we ever get far enough to measure not only “kind,” but degrees as well, then what? Count me out. As Cornel West said, “we’ve got to be anti-fascist across the board.” Christina Hoff Sommers cited The Bullshit Asymmetry Principle in one of her talks to reply to MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT!: “the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” (Alberto Brandolini) How much bathwater is needed to clean up the bullshit varies at each intersection of essentialism and inter-speciesism.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas of cultural capital, habitus, doxa, and fields map oppression much better than Intersectionality theory, and necessarily lead to challenging it. They represent a depth and scope lacking in Intersectionality theory. Cultural capital, a form of capital:

  1. Embodied state: learned habits and culture via socialization (i.e. dialect, eating habits, musical tastes, etiquette and  the way someone carries themselves etc.)
  2. Objectified: the durable goods we own, from the clothes we wear to where we live and what we surround ourselves with, that ultimately point to the status symbols that might put us in an economic class
  3. Institutionalized: our labels or qualifications and/or skills that get us recognized as occupying a certain role in society or the job market, which might include certificates, diplomas, and the like that show or make official, or measure us, in some hierarchy of competence or authority

A person’s cultural capital gives them a certain status in society (or their social circles), perhaps the status Intersectionality tries to point to, albeit crudely. Cultural capital + economic capital  + social capital = Power, and the ability to exchange those three with each other to buy status in a society’s social hierarchy (to a certain intersection if you like). They help drive the divides of society itself. “The volume of the social capital possessed by a given agent thus depends on the size of the network of connections he can effectively mobilize and on the volume of the capital (economic, cultural or symbolic) possessed in his own right by each of those to whom he is connected. This means that, although it is relatively irreducible to the economic and cultural capital possessed by a given agent, or even by the whole set of agents to whom he is connected, social capital is never completely independent of it because the exchanges instituting mutual acknowledgment presuppose the reacknowledgment of a minimum of objective homogeneity, and because it exerts a multiplier effect on the capital he possesses in his own right.” >Habitus: The “subconscious” habits, tastes, and know-how resulting from cultural capital that helps (or hurts) someone’s ability to navigate in a given society >Field: The areas in a culture, or subculture, where cultural capital and therefore power and habitus are played out, often between doxa (the orthodox and heterodox norms of a given field) [(habitus) × (cult. capital)] + field = practices

“Bourdieu argues that all actions by individuals in social arrangements are interest-driven, regardless of the specificities of a given concrete context. As a result of this first premise, he maintains that while self-interest is the driving force of human behaviour, the final result is that social struggles are the main facet of social arrangements in any specific field, because individuals try to maximise their gains and accumulate resources under different forms of capital (economic, social, cultural, symbolic). The historical outcome of this persistent search for accumulation of resources is to entrench hierarchies that in their turn require a permanent vigilance to legitimise these social differences – hence a continuous effort to keep ‘misrecognition’ about the origins of these asymmetries. This is the reason why Bourdieu’s theory is essentially political and deals with power relations as its core objective.
A second foundational principle in his theory is the notion that culture is not only the very ground for human interaction, but is also an especial terrain of domination. He argues that all symbolic systems are anchored in culture and thus determine our understanding of reality. They both ensure  communication and interaction, but also create and maintain social hierarchies. Culture, in the form of dispositions, objects, institutions, language and so on, mediates social practices by connecting people and groups to institutionalised hierarchies. Thus it necessarily embodies power relations. Whenever a given society changes and develops through social differentiation and growing complexity, culture and symbolic systems may become relatively autonomous arenas of struggle for difference vis-à-vis other fields. This is encapsulated in the word ‘distinction’ which is a crucial concept (Bourdieu 1984). Thus, cultural capital in some specific concrete situations may be of immense value to perpetuate social differences and hierarchies. …Power is present in all fields, but Bourdieu argues that there is a specific field of power, in two usages: as a ‘meta-field’ that organises differentiation and struggles through all fields and, second, it also represents the dominant class. Since he considers that conflict is the fundamental dynamic of social life, at the heart of all social arrangements is the struggle for power – not only over material resources but also over symbolic power. The study of the field of power is, as a result, crucial to unearth a clear interpretation about the origin, the meaning and the consequences of power and power relations in any specific society. …A cultural theory of power, therefore, following the analytical possibilities offered in the model of Bourdieu, is a promising tool to illuminate society as it really is, in its ensemble of multiple forms of human interaction, and to reveal the foundational premises of any social order. …If rigorously applied to concrete realities, Bourdieu’s model uncovers the nature of power relations and their social basis. Through emancipatory knowledge, power asymmetries might be the subject of action by those who object to social inequalities promoted and secured by the most powerful groups in society. Social struggles may then ensue, thus forcing change and a redistribution of power.” In Search of a Cultural Interpretation of Power: The Contribution of Pierre Bourdieu
More than just pointing to abstract, non-existent, or essentialist-like divisions or “intersections” as is the case with Intersectionality theory, understanding cultural, economic, and social capital will go further in making real change possible.

more:

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Essentialism and the Problem of Identity Politics – RⒺⒶⓁ LIBERTARIAN

Leave a Reply