Intersectionality and 'race' in education
Bhopal, Kalwant and Preston, John (eds.) (2011) Intersectionality and 'race' in education, London, GB, Routledge, 227pp. (Routledge Research in Education).
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This book is about intersectionality and is particularly concerned with examining theorising intersectionalites and difference. In recent years, the concept of intersectionality has taken centre stage and become a dominant model with which to engage in how differences such as ‘race’, gender, class, sexuality, age, disability and religion interweave and intersect upon individual lives in a modern ‘risk’ society (Beck 1992). Intersectionality has become a model upon which to understand, analyse and engage with difference in which difference itself becomes a defining feature of ‘otherness’. Otherness is related to the notion that identity itself is fragmented, fragile even, yet constantly evolving through multiple engagements and relationships in society and through this complexity, intersectionality helps us to engage with understanding outsiders and what it means to be a ‘stranger’ in modern society (Bauman 1990). This book engages with the premise that intersectionality is to be understood as a dynamic, rather than a static process. It is based on the premise that understanding identities is a journey, one that changes through different times in history and transforms through different spaces. Current discourses around threats to identity and the categorisation of individuals is related to macro forces, even the ‘war on terror’, particularly when such identities are seen as a threat to the British way of life and notions of British identity. This book is en edited collection of papers which emerged from a conference which aimed to explore how intersectionality can be understood in the everyday workings of our world; particularly within the different fields and spaces of education. The conference brought together researchers working within the fields of education, sociology and cultural studies to explore the different meanings given to interrogating the concept of intersectionality, and doing so with salient empirical examples. In writing and thinking about ‘race’, we both agree that ‘race’ is a contested concept and is not only problematic but also controversial and for this reason in this chapter we choose to use it with single quotes.
In writing about intersectionalities and difference we both work and write from our own personal biographies. Kalwant’s experience as a working class (now middle class) British Indian woman and John’s experience as a white working (now middle class also) man in the Academy. We are aware of how our own identities impact not only upon our daily lives but in world of the Academy. Kalwant’s experiences of covert and sometimes overt racism resonate with the underlying aspects of difference, of being an outsider, of being ‘othered’. John’s experiences were fundamentally different in terms of racial positioning. From within whiteness, albeit an Irish, working class whiteness on the periphery of ‘middle class Englishness’, he was privileged. Working together we are also aware how we are both treated differently in the same space: John gaining from white privilege whereas Kalwant often disadvantaged because of her ‘race’ and gender. However, as formally working class academics (and sometimes we admit we cling on to these identities) we also frequently find agreements in our positioning. The attachments of class /‘race’ and other intersectionalities are therefore complex and for many of the writers of this volume their personal and intellectual histories are interwoven.
The chapters in this book seek to locate dimensions of difference and identity within recent theoretical discourses such as Critical Race Theory, Judith Butler and ‘queer’ theory, post-structural approaches and multicultural models to analyse whiteness and the educational experience of minority ethnic groups (such as Trinidadian boys, Irish girls, black women and Asian girls). The authors use intersectional approaches to specifically examine the inequalities and diversities of educational experiences. To do this, the chapters review existing research and present new and original evidence in a theoretically informed context-specific manner. Whilst there is considerable literature on social inequality and education, there is little which explores notions of intersectionality and how such difference is theorised. Given the gap in the literature on theorising difference it becomes all the more important to address the specificity of difference. This collection brings together major researchers in the field, united by an explicit goal of challenging both dominant perspectives on difference and institutional structures that underpin inequality.
Intersectionality has been used by feminists to address essentialist models of social theory by acknowledging that not all women’s experiences are the same. Black feminist theory arose from the need for black women and women of colour to question discourses of the concept ‘woman’, particularly to address the absence of black women’s experiences in relation to feminist struggles. The focus for black feminism was to challenge white Eurocentric knowledge which was taken as the norm. There was a need to understand and deconstruct the concept of ‘woman’ and analyse this in relation to ‘race’, class, gender and sexuality (hooks 1990; Bhavnani and Phoenix 1994). In Britain, these discussions centred around women’s political position and how they defined themselves in relation to being ‘black’ (Grewal et al 1988; Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1992; Brah, 1996;), this took place through challenges around the essentialist assumptions of racism (such as through employment, domestic violence and reproductive technologies). In discussing the everyday struggles of black women, recent work on intersectionality has acknowledged, ‘recognition that ‘race’, social class and sexuality differentiated women’s experiences has disrupted notions of a homogenous category ‘woman’ with its attendant assumptions of universality that served to maintain the status quo in relation to ‘race’, social class and sexuality, while challenging gendered assumptions’ (Brah and Phoenix 2004, 82). This has also been emphasised by Collins (2005, 11) who views intersectional paradigms as mutually constructing systems of power which permeate all social relations and Seidman (1994) who analyses the different facets of intersectionality through the multiple axes of social hierarchy. What is clear about this work, is the need to focus on the multiplicities of identity and to acknowledge that experiences cannot be taken in isolation, ‘We need to be more aware of how all of our experiences intersect and merge with one another’ (Brock 1991, 14).
The pioneering work of Crenshaw (1989; 1994) in the USA addressed the flawed essentialist model by arguing that a single axis analysis of ‘race’ or gender did not acknowledge the true experiences of black women. Through legal cases of discrimination, Crenshaw argued that the one dimensional approach did not take into consideration the multi dimensions of an individual’s experiences.
‘Black women can experience discrimination in a number of ways and that contradiction arises from our assumptions that their claims of exclusion must be unidirectional. Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction; it may flow in another’ (1989, 321).
More recent work by Floya Anthias has attempted to move away from the idea that certain groups or categories (of ‘race’ or gender for instance) intersect, instead she explores the influence of social locations and processes through the concept of translocational positionality. ‘The concept of translocational positionality addresses issues of identity in terms of locations which are not fixed but are context meaning, and time related and which therefore involve shifts and contradictions’ (Anthias, 2008, 5). Anthias argues that translocations are not just about people moving to different locations (either spatially or culturally), rather they are about crossing borders and defining and redefining boundaries associated within them. ‘The notion of translocation references the idea of ‘location’ as a social space which is produced within contextual, spatial, temporal and hierarchal relations around the ‘intersections’ of social divisions and identities of class, ethnicity and gender (amongst others)’ (2008, 9).
Post structuralism has also attempted to analyse the concept of intersectionality. Crudely speaking, poststructuralists aim to deconstruct perceptions of the world and to challenge what appears to be ‘normal’ or ‘natural’. The perspective of post structuralism is grounded in different types of analyses such as discourse theory, psychoanalysis and postcolonial theory. Consequently, the focus is on examining questions of intersectionality through historical relationships which are embedded in contesting fields of discourses and multiple subject positions. Here the concepts of ‘agency’ and power (Foucault 1972; Derrida 1974) are central. As a result, new ways of examining how difference is understood within the realms of intersectionality have developed (Butler 1990; Weedon 1996; Spivak 1999). Postcolonial studies for example have been used to examine the processes around colonial and postcolonial discourses surrounding the category ‘woman’. In developing such approaches, some researchers have attempted to use the analysis of ‘border theory’ to explore how intersectionality works through time and place and the crossing of specific boundaries (Lewis 2000). Other theorists have used the concept of space to refer to diasporic identities. Brah (1996) uses the concept of diaspora space to analyse how identity is configured when individuals move from space to space through particular historic moments.
‘Diaspora space is the intersectionality of diaspora, border and dis/location as a point of confluence of economic, political, cultural and psychic processes. It is where multiple subject positions are juxtaposed, contested, proclaimed or disavowed; where the permitted and the prohibited perpetually interrogate; and where the accepted and the transgressive imperceptibly mingle even while these syncretic forms may be disclaimed in the name of purity and tradition’ (1996, 208).
According to Brah then, difference is conceptualised as part of an experience, that of subjectivity, identity and location. More recently McCall (2005) has questioned the methodologies that are used to examine intersectionality and the difficulties associated with this. She outlines three approaches for the study of intersectionality; anticategorical complexity, intercategorical complexity and intracategorical complexity.
Critical Race Theory (CRT), and in particular, Critical Race Feminism (CRF), frequently adopts intersectional theories to understand the dynamics of racial oppression. Despite the emphasis in CRT on the endemic nature of racism and white supremacy as a ‘conspiracy’ of white interests (Harris 1993; Gillborn 2005; 2006; Leonardo 2005) it has been sensitive to the interactions of other modes of oppression with racial oppression. Firstly, CRT has been nuanced by the specific dynamics of racial oppression in various cultural contexts giving rise to offshoots such as Asian American CRT (AsianCrit), Latino CRT (LatCrit) and American Indian CRT (TribalCrit). These derivatives of CRT show how different racial oppressions are experienced and resisted by various ‘racial’ groups and point towards the specificity of intersectional racialised experience. Secondly, and particularly through CRF the specificity of racialised and gendered experience and ‘voice’ is foregrounded. As the chapters by Gillborn and Leonardo (this volume) indicate CRT also provides an entry point to considering the classed experience of both majoritarian and minoritarian groups and Chakrabarty indicates how CRF can attend to the specificities of racialised and gendered experience.
Outline of the Book
The individual chapters and the collection as a whole, is based on the premise that education is a controversial subject in which difficult and contested discourses are the norm. Individuals in education experience multiple inequalities and have diverse identifications that cannot necessarily be captured by one theoretical perspective alone. The book and the coherence of its arguments are dictated by an examination of controversial grounds, both empirical and theoretical debates, within educational research around issues of identity, culture and inclusion. Each of the chapters in different ways will 1) specifically examine areas of discrimination and disadvantage such as ‘race’, class, identity and gender within education as well as debating the difficulties of applying such concepts in relation to the experiences of students in education and 2) analyse contesting discourses of identity in different cultural contexts. By doing so, the book provides an engaging space in which to examine its themes and initiate debates about identity, ‘race’ and culture within a wider sociological context and beyond the simple confines of the education sphere into an arena of sociological and cultural discourse.
David Gillborn in his chapter argues that ‘race’ and class inequalities cannot be fully understood in isolation. He explores their intersectional quality through two contrasting discourses examined from an historical perspective and through an analysis of contemporary British media during late 2008; a time of significant international financial melt-down, the essential values of neo-liberalism were being examined and reasserted as natural, moral and efficient. Gillborn explores these approaches through two contrasting discourses. First, a victim discourse which presents White working people, and their children in particular, as suffering because of minoritized racial groups and their advocates. Second a discourse of degeneracy which presents an immoral and barbaric underclass as a threat to social and economic order. He uses the ‘interest-convergence principle’ from CRT, to argue that the discourses amount to a strategic mobilization of White interests where the ‘White, but not quite’ status of the working class provides a buffer zone at a time of economic and cultural crisis which secures societal White supremacy and provides a further setback to progressive reforms that focus on ‘race’, gender and equality. In this controversial and engaging chapter, Gillborn argues that contrary to the arguments of some class theorists (who dismiss CRT as blind to the situation of poor Whites), the existence of poor White people is not only consistent with a regime of White supremacy, they are actually an essential part of the processes that sustain it.
Through a different theoretical strand and understanding of intersectionality, Deborah Youdell analyses Judith Butler’s processes of subjectivation – by considering Althusser’s notion of subjection and Foucault’s notion of subjectivation and the possibility for discursive agency and performative politics. She does so by examining the relationship between subjectivation and the performative suggested in Butler’s work, by analysing how the performative is implicated in processes of subjectivation—in ‘who’ the subject is, or might be, subjectivated as. She explores the usefulness of understanding the subjectivating effects of discourse specifically for education and for educationalists who focus on interrogating educational inequalities. The empirical data for Youdell’s chapter is based on a reading of an episode of ethnographic data generated in an Australian high school. Youdell in her enlightening chapter suggests that it is through specific subjectivating processes that Butler helps us to understand how some students are inside subjects and others are outside or what she refers to as ‘outside student-hood’. Youdell’s chapter enables the reader to engage in theoretical debate regarding the position of students within education and gives the reader the opportunity to explore this from an international student and education experience.
Zeus Leonardo in his chapter uses Marxist objectivism and ‘race’ theory’s focus on subjectivity by integrating the two to argue that as a result of this integra
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