Session: The Promises and Challenges of Critical Intersectionality Frameworks in Scholarship and Practice (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

304 The Promises and Challenges of Critical Intersectionality Frameworks in Scholarship and Practice

Sunday, January 20, 2019: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Union Square 23/24 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
Cluster: Gender (G)
Tina Jiwatram-Negron, PhD, Arizona State University, Odessa Gonzalez Benson, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Angela Perone, JD, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Mieko Yoshihama, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and Beth Glover Reed, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
While the term "intersectionality" is usually attributed to Kimberle Crenshaw, women of color scholars and activists have long illuminated the challenges of navigating multiple interacting systems of oppression. Crenshaw specifically focused on the inadequacy of laws addressing either race or gender discrimination when Black women experience both. Scholarship and methods focused on intersectionality have evolved substantially since then, with many developments and controversies. Some argue that intersectionality should stay focused on interacting systems of oppression, and especially race, gender, and class (Alexander-Floyd, 2012), while many are expanding foci to multiple positionalities (e,g, TGLBQQI, age, religion, dis/ability status, ethnicity, citizenship status) and incorporating privilege as well as oppression. Some argue that social categories are fluid and mutable, and thus understandable only with deconstructive and qualitative research methods, while others argue that social locations and categories have material consequences that require multiple methods. Increasingly, intersectionality frameworks inform global analyses, activism/organizing, coalition building, and multi-strand policy analyses.

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.

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