The development of intersectionality analyses/methods is consistent with critical social theory, but as these methods are spreading across disciplines and professions, they often focus primarily on people's multiple "identities." While people do negotiate multiple social locations and categories, intersectionality is intended to focus on interacting systems of power and oppression, not primarily on identities and individual experiences. Thornton Dill & Kohlman (2012) argue for making a distinction between "strong" and "weak" intersectionality. Weak intersectionality explores differences with little systemic analyses and less attention to the origins of these differences, while "strong" intersectionality focuses on how social systems work and systems of power are "mutually constituted and interdependent." Strong approaches also focus on different types of power (e.g., structural, cultural, disciplinary, interpersonal, Collins & Bilge, 2014), and how mechanisms of oppression may operate differently with different mixes of positionalities and in different contexts.
This roundtable aims to explore these developments and controversies, and the ensuing range of opportunities and challenges in employing critical intersectionality frameworks and methods and, in particular, implications for social work. The organizers draw on several years of work as participants in the University of Michigan School of Social Work's Critical Intersectionality Learning Community. We explicitly include "critical" in the title to stress intersectionality's origins in critical theory, and emphasize "strong" approaches to intersectionality, and its central role in furthering justice. Drawing from collaborative learning and research across multiple fields using diverse approaches, this roundtable will employ a range of participatory action methods—identifying key questions, strengths, challenges and dilemmas. Specifically, the presenters will first engage in a dialogue regarding what these frameworks are and how have they been implemented. We will then explore with participants the different methodologies/methods that are employed in intersectionality work, and some pros and cons of each. We will end by identifying key issues and controversies and engage participants in generating examples and strategies for navigating these issues. We will draw on examples from our own work (using qualitative, quantitative and participatory, transformative methods), and provide interactive opportunities for participants to identify and share issues from their own work.