Intersectionality in Progressive Research: Contesting Privilege, Fostering Inclusion

Call for papers for: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Special Issue: Intersectionality in Progressive Research: Contesting Privilege, Fostering Inclusion
•    Stella Nkomo - University of Pretoria - [email protected]
•    Diana Rajendran - Swinburne Business School - [email protected]
•    Jenny Rodriquez - Manchester Business School - [email protected]

Call for Papers

We are inviting for submissions for an upcoming issue of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion on “intersectionality in progressive research and interrogation of its capacity to contest privilege and to foster equality and inclusion”.

From the early 1960s, diversity management has been commonly focused on historically disadvantaged groups such as women and minorities, with apparent nexuses with the equality laws passed in the USA, the UK, Europe and other western democracies. When the multiple characteristics of diversity overlap – that is, they ‘intersect’ and “are simultaneously expressed” (Talwar, 2010:15) – employees with a combination of such characteristics experience distinct disadvantages due to their overlapping identities (see, e.g., Alberti et al., 2013; Carbado et al., 2013; Rajendran et al., 2017; Syed & Pio, 2010). ‘Intersectionality’ as key to understanding challenges to diversity first gained attention in the USA in the late 1980s, especially in Kimberlé Crenshaw’s (1989) analysis of race, gender and politics for African-American women. Crenshaw’s construction of intersectionality as a paradigm has been significant in its evolution over time and its power to capture experiential and structural complexity (Carastathis, 2014:307).

One of the aspirational goals of addressing of intersectionality is ‘inclusivity’ as it simultaneously addresses a multiplicity of dimensions and acknowledges that they interact to produce unique forms of exclusions. Our race and gender, for example, interact to shape the multiple dimensions of identity “when considering how the social world is constructed” (Crenshaw, 1991:1245). More recently, when addressing the African- American Policy forum, and reflecting upon the term Crenshaw first coined and where it is headed, she now believes that “intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects” (2017).

Intersectionality, as it has generally been applied to diversity research, affirms that in workplaces, individuals are disadvantaged in distinct ways through multiple overlaying sources of oppression arising from intersecting identities. Purdie-Vaughns and Eibach (2008:380) assert that, “by recognizing that people with devalued intersectional identities experience distinctive forms of oppression, we can shift the focus away from score-keeping to a richer analysis of the complex field of oppressive forces in which people with intersectional identities are situated.” Scholars have also argued that devalued intersectional identities require additional support from organizations. Furthermore, taking into account the power-centred role of management, they claim that if this challenging issue is not dealt with, it may result in a climate of silence in organizations (see Donaghey et al., 2011). In short, an intersectional multi-level approach has enabled an analysis of the interrelatedness of a range of inequalities taking into account identity constructions, symbolic representations, and social structures (see Winker & Degele 2009; 2012; Winker 2012).

However, there have been challenges to the utility of intersectionality theory from several fronts suggesting it is an exhausted theoretical idea - from post-identitarianism to post-racialism perspectives (Tate, 2018; Cassino, 2016; Carbado, 2013). Scholars have critiqued intersectionality theory as narrow identitarianism overly invested in subject positions (Salem, 2018:7) - that is, it overly focuses on intersections of identity (ies) neglecting structural inequalities and power relations. Other scholars have noted its failure to recognize the fluidity of identities in a transnational world (Calas & Smircich, 2013). These critiques overlook Crenshaw’s (1991) articulation of three levels of intersectionality: structural, political, and representational intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1991) as well as work that has demonstrated the interplay between subjectivity and systems of domination--racism, colonialism, sexism, and patriarchy (Carrim & Nkomo, 2016; Dhamoon, 2011).

 In the context of discourses of post-racialism, ideas about ‘race fatigue’ have led to a systematic ‘unacknowledgment’ of privilege. Intersectionality has then become a threat, because it provides visibility to oppressive dynamics and structures, bringing into observation the struggles of people of colour, and hence making them ‘space invaders’ (they are everywhere!) and awarding them a degree of importance that some claim is now making white people an oppressed minority (Puwar, 2004; Flynn, 2015). Yet, in a context where white supremacy is a global phenomenon, the reconfiguration of white power (e.g., what Shirley Ann Tate (2018) refers to as “whiteliness”) has pushed back, and we see the development of new strategies, such as ‘white fragility’, that demonstrates the growing racial resentment at the ground-breaking theoretical and analytical work of intersectional scholars (DiAngelo, 2018; Tuch & Hughes, 2011).

The fear, then, is that ‘colour-blind intersectionality’ may mute the experiences of people of colour in ways that minimize their continuing subjugation and marginalization in organizations (Carbado, 2013). The tension between intersectionality and inclusiveness experienced by individuals with intersecting identities requires a more tenacious and systematic approach in view of what elements of ‘diversity and inclusion’ there are at its core: the embrace of marginalized groups.

The expansion of the definition of diversity has opened the door for another front that  challenges to intersectionality theory raise important questions about the meaning of inclusion, particularly the dominant definitions of inclusion which focus on “everyone feeling valued and accepted as individuals” (Nishi, 2013) or “people of all social identity groups [have] the opportunity to be present, to have their voices heard and appreciated, and to engage in core activities on behalf of the collective” (Wasserman, et al., 2008).  Do these definitions obfuscate and deny experiences of exclusion and disadvantage that persists for women and racial/ethnic minorities?  Do they complicate who is typically assumed to be privileged (i.e. white men)? If we have to impose a limit on inclusion (Ferdman, 2018), then how do we set ground rules for inclusion? This raises the larger question of how we consider ‘intersectionality’ in a post-identitarian or identity-sceptical theoretical milieu such that we maintain its possibilities for exposing racism, patriarchy, heterosexism, ableism and classism and interrupt oppressive power and privilege (Calás, Ou & Smircich, 2013; Hekman, 2000; Nash, 2011).

While we continue to argue that intersectional research effort must continue to devote attention to multiple jeopardies (i.e. disadvantage, inequality and discrimination suffered by persons within historically oppressed group categories), it must also be argued when focusing more closely on specific category intersections and contexts, patterns of inequality can become more complex.  Hence, scholars need to attend to an earlier observation made by scholars that everyone has varying degrees of privilege and/or subordination in organizations.  For example, a white male blue collar worker with disabilities may be privileged because of his race but marginalized because of his class and disability.  The challenge is how do we capture this simultaneity without diluting the core focus of intersectionality theory -- social justice for historically disempowered groups.   Intersectionality was proposed as a ‘provisional concept’ to demonstrate the inadequacy of approaches which separate systems of oppression, isolating and focusing on one, while occluding the others.” (Crenshaw, 1991: 1244).  Hence, how do we embrace Crenshaw’s vision about the possibilities of intersectionality theory becoming a means for emancipatory and transformative change in organizations?
We therefore should understand how power and privilege intersect (Atewologun & Sealy 2014), how identities are underprivileged and privileged, and in what contexts, and how identities can consist in forms of identity other than gender and race, such as class, religion, migrant status, physical ability, and age. Yet again, if identities are fluid and different identities may become salient under different contexts, how do we address the issue of justice and fairness for all individuals (Rajendran & Dahanayake, 2018).  That is, how do we create inclusive organizational practices that foster equity across multiple intersecting identities (Carbado & Gulati, 2001)?

Tatli and Özbilgin assert that intersectionality remains under-theorized and under-operationalized, and suffers from premature fixing of different categories in workforce diversity studies (2012:181). Rodriguez et al., (2016) further highlight the theoretical stagnation (if any) that may arise from methodological limitations. In this case, how then can we break free from these impediments, especially the methodological ones which can help us establish boundary conditions (Rodriguez et al., (2016) and thereby discover the real effects and possibilities of intersectionality for contesting subjectivity, oppressive structures, and systems of power and privilege in organizations which implicate all subjects and social groups (Carastathis 2016).

Questions and themes to be addressed include:
•    Cumulative and non-cumulative forms of oppression, inequalities, disadvantage
•    Intersectionality and class, religion, sexual orientation, migrant status, ethnicity
•    Invisible disadvantage, visible privilege
•    Methodologies for undertaking intersectionality research
•    Oppression, inequality, disadvantage
•    Transformative inclusion and social justice
•    Visible and non-visible forms of intersection
•    Visible disadvantage, invisible privilege

We solicit original manuscripts that will provide a clear grounding in literature and scholarship, offering compelling conceptual framework or theoretical models or empirical studies. Potential authors please adhere to the following deadlines. We hope that you will make a contribution to this important issue.

Deadlines for submissions:

Manuscripts should be submitted online by April 1, 2021 and should follow the Submission Guidelines available on the journal's page. Please note that all submissions will be subject to the standard EDI double-blind review process.

Please select Special issue and submit under the title Intersectionality: Contesting Privilege, Fostering Inclusion. Submissions will open on February 1, 2021. For questions regarding this special issue, please contact any of the Guest Editors at the email addresses above.


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