Consciousness Rising

The subtitle of this post should be "or, how the internet learned about intersectionality," but while I love a good pretentious academic title, I don't think that's particularly representative of my intent here.


Sometime in the last 5 or 10 years, the popular discourse on justice on the internet learned about intersectionality. Which is great. Intersectionality, generally is the notion that a single identity isn't sufficient to explain an individuals social experience particularly vis a vis privilege. Cool.

This is really crucial and really important for understanding how the world works, but for totally understandable and plain ways. People have a lot of different identities which lead to many different experiences, perspectives, and understandings. All of these identities, experiences, perspectives, and understandings interact with each other in a big complex system

Therefore our analysis of our experiences, thought, understandings, and identities, must explore identities (ET AL) not only on their own terms, but in conversation with each other and with other aspects of experience.

Intersectionality is incredibly important. It's also incredibly useful as a critical tool because it makes it possible for our thought to reflect actual lived experiences and the way that various aspects of experience interact to create culture and society. [1]

[1]A lot of arguments in favor of intersectional analysis and perspectives are political, and raise the very real critique that analysis that is not intersectional tends to recapitulate normative cultural assumptions. I'd argue, additionally, that intersectionality is really the only way to pull apart experiences and thoughts and understand fundamentally how culture works. It's not just good politics, but required methodology for learning about our world and our lives.

While intersectionality is an interesting and important concept that could certainly support an entire blog post, I'm more interested, the genealogy of this concept in the popular critical discourse.

I know that I read a lot about intersectionality in college (in 2004-2007), I know that the papers I read were at least 10 years old, and I know that intersectionality wasn't an available concept to political conversations on the internet at the time in the way that it is now. [2]

Concepts take a long time, centuries sometimes, to filter into general awareness, so the delay itself isn't particularly notable. Even the specific route isn't that interesting in and for itself. Rather, I'm interested in how a concept proliferates and what is required for a concept to become available to a more popular discourse.

If interesectionality was an available concept in the academic literature, what changes and evolutions in thought--both about intersectionality, but in the context--needed to happen for that concept to become available more broadly.

[2]I admit that this post is based on the conceit that there was a point when the popular discourse (on the internet) was unaware of intersectionality followed linearly by another point where the concept of intersectionality was available generally. This isn't how the dissemination of concepts into discourses work, and I'm aware that I've oversimplified the idea somewhat. This is more about the process of popularization.

I think it's particularly exciting to trace the recent intelectual history of a specific concept in discourse, because it might give us insight into the next concepts that will help inform our discourse and things we can do to facilitate this process in the future for new concepts and perspectives.

As we understand the history of this proliferation, we can also understand its failures and inefficiencies and attempt to deploy new strategies that resolve those shortcomings.

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