Crossing, highlighting. Transfering intersectionality : exploring the evolution of a militant concept (14-16 novembre 2018, Université Paris Diderot)
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Emerging from the conservatisms and ideological tensions of the cold war, the 1960s generated a number of social movements among the more marginalized and disenfranchised portions of societies on both sides of the Atlantic. The Civil Rights movement lead the way, sparked by the Brown vs Board of Education ruling of the American Supreme Court in 1954; women followed suit, in the wake of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique which in 1963 rekindled the flame of feminism, while LGBT+ activism bloomed around the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967 and the Stonewall riots of June 1969. However, as these aspirations revolved around structuring categories defined in terms of race, gender, sexual preferences, or class, some felt their specific situations were being ignored. In 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw pointed this loophole of traditional militancy which failed to address the specific discriminations African American women experienced for instance, whose difficulties were disregarded by a largely white-based feminism, while they were also marginalized in the race struggle, where issues of gender were not taken into consideration, just as in social struggles, where issues of colour were seldom addressed. Arguing that oppressions should be treated not in isolation but rather as overlapping phenomena, and arguing that the intersection of oppressions needed to be examined specifically to account for the situation of marginalized populations, Crenshaw made it possible to reflect on discriminations no longer as categorical absolutes, but rather in terms of relations and intrications. The concept of intersectionality rapidly caught on, opening new perspectives for a less exclusive form of thinking and activism, aware of the multiplicity of intersecting oppressions – a militantism, though, that often clashed with questionable cultural constructions such as “universals” founded on socially problematic absolutes, as has been the case in France. In academia, the concept was taken on in sociology, but also in history and political science, as well as literature and film studies, opening new research perspectives.
The purpose of this symposium will be to trace the progression of the concept of intersectionality as both a militant and academic tool, considering the questions it raises, the enthusiasm or the suspicion it generates, and the turbulence that comes with its gradual transfer to other cultural and social spheres – artistic, institutional, political for instance. A transfer that opened as much as it revealed multiple possibilities in the field of literature and arts, since the first emergence of voices pointing to the singularity of situations long marginalized – one may think of James Baldwin’s works, or the poetry of Adrienne Rich or Audrey Lorde, or again the cinema of Cheryl Dunye – to today’s call for better visibility even in the most mainstream of productions, and the backlash that often goes with it in the field of video games for instance, as exemplified in the recent Gamergate of summer 2014, or on the big screen, with the controversies that greeted the release of such productions as Ghostbuster in 2016, or the latest opuses in the Star Wars saga. Intersection also defines a cultural and an artistic field that is no longer to be ignored, where art and militantism intersect, and where the political function of art and culture can be reasserted.
Tracing the itinerary and avatars of intersectionality from Northern America to Great Britain and France, what we would like to focus on more specifically is how intersectionality operates pragmatically, in multiple directions, from the field of art to the spheres of cultural, political, or social expression. Ultimately, the purpose of this conference will also be to consider whether, after the intellectual domination of « French theory » in American and British campuses, time has not come for an opening to an American practical and militant theory which in many ways is also its birthchild, and more generally to theoretical options and overtures produced in the English-speaking world, at a time when gender and cultural studies still struggle to secure in France the position that academia and research have gradually made them. In the process, what will also be examined are the relationships between the academic and the social and cultural spheres, in France as in the English-speaking world, where universities are being challenged for resisting forms of social hegemony, opening to interrogations on the social, cultural and political function of an institution based on research.
Organisers : Prof. Myriam Boussahba-Bravard and Dr. Emmanuelle Delanoë-Brun LARCA-UMR8225, université Paris Diderot.
Supported by LARCA-UMR8225LARCA (université Paris Diderot), Fabrique du politique (université Paris Diderot), Institut Émilie Du Chatelet, and the support of the university cultural events (university Paris Diderot)
The November conference will be completed with a thematic selection of documentary films within Cinéma de Midi de la Bibliothèque nationale de France from February to June 2019 (once a month, Tuesday lunch time).
Visit the conference’s website here