In addition to recognizing the diversity of theories, social justice scholars must also recognize how intersectionality and their own positionalities shape which social justice theories they employ. While intersectionality has recently exploded in academic literature and mainstream press, many people tend to focus on intersectional oppression through an individual lens by focusing on individual identities as opposed to systems of power and oppression. While originally conceived through a lens of power and oppression (Crenshaw, 1991), many intersectionality approaches have shifted away from this focus. Positionality reflects a term that underscores the importance of how one's position in structures, contexts, and culture shape their experiences and worldviews of social justice (Puar, 2014).
Researchers at the University of Michigan's School of Social Work recently formed the Critical Intersectionality Learning Community to examine theories, methods, and applications for intersectionality. From May 2015 to the present, we have engaged in various forms of participatory action research and mixed methods to advance knowledge and theory about intersectionality in research, education, and practice. These methods include a two-day working conference, eight focus groups and surveys of social work students, fifteen focus groups and surveys of community groups, and surveys and discussion with social work students in a class entitled “Diversity and Social Justice.” These various methods have underscored how intersectionalities shape one's understanding and approach to social justice.
This roundtable aims to contribute new insights about how one's positionality and the way in which one navigates intersectionalities, including power and structure, shape social justice views and goals. Drawing on our various methods of participatory and mixed methods research, we will begin with an interactive activity called “framework positionalities” that asks participants questions on newsprint and elicits introductory discussion about social justice approaches and theories. We will then provide brief lightning talks about the meaning and principles of critical intersectionality, issues that may arise when navigating intersectionalities in different research approaches, and their implications for social justice theories, research, and practice. Presenters will guide roundtable discussions by using some of the participatory action methods employed through the Critical Learning Community's projects. Thus, the roundtable will not only provide content about epistemology and research methodology related to critical intersectionality and social justice, but will also introduce participants to participatory action research methods which can be used to generate new knowledge and methods for social justice research.