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Confronting Confusion in Intersectionality’s Legacy: Are Race, Sexuality, Class, and Gender Mutually Constituted?

Sat, August 12, 4:30 to 6:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 513E


This paper traces the concept of interlocking, mutually reinforcing, and intersecting systems of inequality from Du Bois’ foundational research on the unique conditions faced by black women workers of urban cities in the early 1900s to more contemporary discussions of how structures such as “race” and “gender” are mutually constituted. We argue that while “additive approaches” to understanding gender and race inequality overlook the intersections and interconnections among systems of oppression, more multidimensional formulations of intersectional theory—such as those that emphasize the ways that elements of these systems “mutually construct” one another—may also fall short of specifying precisely how this mutual constitution work. The mechanisms, means, and practices through which mutual constitution occurs have not been thoroughly specified. We further elaborate this important concept first by tracing its origins in foundational sociology, and then by coding and analyzing over 160 intersectional journal articles and 23 scholarly books. In doing so, we identify some of the subjects and objects that scholars invoke when describing mutually constitutive relationships, while also raising more questions. Our contribution to this ongoing conversation is meant to interrogate and then clarify the way the field analyzes the interrelationships between race, class, gender, and other systems of inequality. Our goal is to push the field beyond the urge to merely reiterate how race, class, and gender are implicated in social phenomena toward articulations of the specific dynamics of those implications.


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