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Annual Review of Sociology. The term intersectionality references the critical insight that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, and age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather as reciprocally constructing phenomena.

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Despite this general consensus, definitions of what counts as intersectionality are far from clear. I examine three interdependent sets of concerns: a intersectionality as a field of study that is situated within the power relations that it studies; b intersectionality as an analytical strategy that provides new angles of vision on social phenomena; and c intersectionality as critical praxis that informs social justice projects. As I read through approximately 30 paper submissions, only a handful seemed to fit the session's theme.

What criteria characterized the papers that I selected? The and seemed to matter, but how? My initial response to these questions was much like that of US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's dilemma when asked to define pornography.

Yet I was less clear about my standards for selection. Because so much intersectional scholarship had been published by then, I anticipated that selecting readings for the course would be easy. Not so. Faced with the absence of guidelines, I settled on exploring intersectionality's definitions as our collective project for the course. The syllabus contained the following charge: What exactly is intersectionality?

Is it a concept, Trinity-AL black women fuck paradigm, a heuristic device, a methodology, or a theory? If it is a theory, what kind of theory is it? Because intersectionality constitutes a new term applied to a diverse set of practices, interpretations, methodologies and political orientations, we cannot assume that we are studying a fixed body of knowledge. Instead, our course will investigate the question of the interpretive frames of intersectionality itself.

These two experiences constitute two instances where I encountered intersectionality's definitional dilemma of defining the field neither so narrowly that it reflects the interests of any one segment nor so broadly that its very popularity causes it to lose meaning. Casting a self-reflexive eye not only on the substance of intersectional scholarship but also on the processes that legitimated it constituted one important step in seeing the interconnections between what counted as intersectionality and the processes that upheld changing and various definitions of it.

Activities such as selecting papers for an ASA session, choosing readings for a Trinity-AL black women fuck syllabus, or determining which citations to include in journal articles such as this one may seem objective. Yet, collectively, these practices suggest that the ificance of conference papers, syllabi, publications, and citation patterns lies less in the content of individual documents than in processes of selection themselves. When it comes to addressing intersectionality's definitional dilemma, the devil is in the details. By now, a general consensus exists about intersectionality's general contours.

The term intersectionality references the critical insight that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, and age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but as reciprocally constructing phenomena that in turn shape complex social inequalities.

Variations of intersectional practice can also be found within and outside the academy. Teachers, social workers, parents, policy advocates, university support staff, community organizers, clergy, lawyers, graduate students, nurses, and other practitioners find themselves upholding and challenging social inequalities.

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Practitioners both search for and propose ideas that will explain their experiences with the social problems around them. Given these wide-ranging approaches and concerns, intersectionality's current definitional state still resembles Stewart's dilemma: Scholars and practitioners think they know intersectionality when they see it.

More importantly, they conceptualize intersectionality in dramatically different ways when they use it. To explore this definitional fluidity, this article addresses one fundamental question: What is intersectionality? I am not trying to prematurely tame intersectionality's unruliness by imposing an imperial definition from above. Definitions constitute starting points for investigation rather than end points of analysis. Presenting a finished definition of intersectionality that can be used to determine whether a given book, article, law, or practice fits within a preconceived intersectional framework misre both intersectionality's complexity and this article's intent.

Most people consult dictionaries to find such quick, concise ways of categorizing social phenomena, forgetting that ideas, fields of study, set of practices, or definitions themselves are never finished. Instead, definitions emerge from more iterative, grassroots processes that enable intellectual and political consensus to emerge through everyday practices such as organizing sessions, developing syllabi, or choosing citations.

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By now, enough evidence exists to categorize focal points within intersectionality's burgeoning scholarly literature and the actions of its practitioners. My goal is to provide al tools for thinking about intersectionality rather than coverage of intersectionality writ large.

In the next section, I identify a set of conceptual tools that provide an intellectual and political context for intersectionality. Intersectionality also houses a dynamic assemblage of interpretive communities, each of which has its own understanding of intersectionality and advances corresponding knowledge projects.

In the remaining sections, I examine three interdependent sets of concerns that characterize intersectionality as a broad-based knowledge project: a intersectionality as a field of study, e. Intersectionality faces a particular definitional dilemma—it participates in the very power relations that it examines and, as a result, must pay special attention to the conditions that make its knowledge claims comprehensible.

Because analyzing the relations between knowledge and power is the traditional bailiwick of the sociology of knowledge, this field provides important theoretical vocabulary for conceptualizing intersectionality as both reflecting and shaping the power relations that house it. A sociology of knowledge framework suggests that knowledge—including knowledge aimed at better understanding intersectionality—is socially constructed and transmitted, legitimated, and reproduced.

Because it conceptualizes race as situated within the recursive relationship between social structures and cultural representations, racial formation theory conflates neither discourses about race Trinity-AL black women fuck. Both are held separate yet interconnected. Historically constructed, ever-changing racial formations organize racialized groups, the specific patterns of racial inequality that link racialized populations, and social problems that ensue. For example, in the United States, the racial formation of color-conscious racism has relied on a deep-seated logic of segregation that was applied to all aspects of social structures and cultural representations.

In contrast, contemporary color-blind racism constitutes a differently organized yet equally powerful racial formation that manages to replicate racial hierarchies, often without overt attention to race itself Bonilla-SilvaBrown et al. Despite being more visible in different historical periods or across cross-national settings—both South Africa's racial apartheid and Brazil's racial democracy established racial hierarchies that persist—color-conscious and color-blind racial formations do not displace one another. As structural forms of power, one or the other racial formation may predominate, yet typically they coexist.

Racial formations have distinctive configurations of racial projects for which interest groups advance various interpretations of racial inequality. Within racial formation theory, ideas matter, not simply as hegemonic ideologies produced by elites but also as tangible, multiple knowledge projects that are advanced by specific interpretive communities.

Because groups aim to have their interpretations of racial inequality prevail, knowledge lies at the heart of racial projects. The question is less whether race is real or whether racial projects exist, but rather what kinds of racial projects appear and disappear across specific racial formations and why. For example, African American intellectual production has a storied history of protesting both the social structural dimensions of racism and the cultural representations of people of African descent Kelley Yet despite these efforts, the richness of these knowledge projects rarely make it into the legitimated canon of established fields.

Similarly, the eugenics projects that advanced widely accepted scientific knowledge about race Trinity-AL black women fuck ificant impact on the public policies of the United States, Germany, and many nation-states. Eugenics arguments fell out of favor in the post—World War II era, suggesting that counterarguments claiming that race was socially constructed with no connections to biology had prevailed. Yet in a postgenomic age, the resurgence of race in science, law, and medicine points to the resiliency of biological understandings of race within contemporary racial projects of science itself, typically without racially discriminatory intent Duster Just as racial formations change in response to racial projects, racial projects change in relation to changing racial formations.

Racial formation theory offers one additional benefit for intersectionality. Through its analysis of racial projects, racial formation theory can for change in ways that retain the agency of individual human actors and group-based action. In contrast to the sociology of knowledge's traditional emphasis on individual intellectuals as superior if not the sole producers of knowledge—whether Mannheim's intelligentsia or Gramsci's organic intellectuals—this theory makes room for multiple interpretive communities. Because understanding racial inequality remains central to racial formation theory, it provides intellectual and political space for subordinated social groups such as African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and indigenous peoples.

Such groups find intellectual and political space within racial formation theory for the group-based knowledge of racial projects that oppose racial hierarchy and racial inequality Collins app. Racial formation theory offers social actors guidance as to how their individual and collective actions matter in shaping racial inequality. The strength of racial formation theory lies in how it links specific knowledge projects racial projects with historically constructed power relations racial formations. Intersectionality can build on this foundation by moving beyond a mono-categorical focus on racial inequality to encompass multiple forms of inequality that are organized via a similar logic.

As an initial step, this framework can be applied to other social formations and knowledge projects that reproduce inequality, for example, social formations of patriarchy, capitalism, heterosexism, and their characteristic knowledge projects. Yet intersectionality goes farther than this mono-system analysis, introducing a greater level of complexity into conceptualizing inequality.

Whereas racial formation theory ironically, itself a knowledge project focuses on racism as a mono-categorical system of power, intersectionality examines social formations of multiple, complex social inequalities. In order to build on racial formation theory's promise, however, intersectionality would need to Trinity-AL black women fuck out a more nuanced sociological understanding of how social structures and cultural representations interconnect.

Knowledge projects are not free-floating phenomena; they are grounded in specific sociological processes experienced by actual people. Here a robust analysis of the new politics of community provides a way of grounding the more theoretical arguments in both racial formation theory and intersectionality Collins Linking power with knowledge, the construct of community provides an important framework for understanding the interpretive communities that advance intersectionality's many knowledge projects. Intersectionality can be conceptualized as an overarching knowledge project whose changing contours grow from and respond to social formations of complex social inequalities; within this overarching umbrella, intersectionality can also be profitably conceptualized as a constellation of knowledge projects that change in relation to one another in tandem with changes in the interpretive communities that advance them.

The broader knowledge project provides a set of ideas that provide moments of definitional consensus.

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Overarching intersectional frameworks have been so successful because they remain broad and unspecified. They provide the illusion that the constellation of smaller knowledge projects can be uncritically categorized under intersectionality's big tent umbrella. Yet the sets of practitioners that lay claim to intersectionality via multiple cross-cutting and competitive intersectional knowledge projects reveal a lack of consensus about intersectionality's history, current organization, and future directions.

Intersectionality's definitional dilemma occurs in this intellectual and political space. In consideration of this framework, intersectional knowledge projects typically focus on three interdependent concerns. The first focal point makes intersectionality as a field of study the object of investigation.

Examining the content and themes that characterize the field constitutes the main task. Why does this field exist? How is this field of study situated within prevailing power relations?

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Intersectionality's Definitional Dilemmas