When I think about myself, asking myself the question, who am I? I have in front of me the possibility to answer using several options: I am an Italian woman living in Sweden; I am also a mother and I am married to a man; I am a student and a teacher. All these statements build up the picture that contributes to my identity, positioning me differently depending on the circumstances that require me to tell my personal story to an audience. I am the subject preparing my own speech, my own discourse.
“If our self-representations are to be understood by others, they must be oriented towards the specific conceptual horizon of our listeners. […] Identity is therefore dialogically constructed in both listening to discourses and using them to construct our own narratives.”
Using the concept of the ‘dialogical self’, the author highlights its importance when dealing with the study of intersectionality and different markers of identity. The choice of words, of stories made in narratives about intersecting identifications, is strictly connected to the practices they are embedded in: the words need to be ‘tuned’ to the situation, each context requiring a specific genre. Buitelaar considers the dialogical self a valuable tool to analyze how individuals communicate and interact from different I-positions, choosing among different voices in order to create a self-representation. The author draws attention upon the fact that these narratives are often inconsistent self-representations being based on “different chains of selected personal memories. […] Through self-reflection and telling, a person is able to bring different experiences and views together in a composite whole.”
Personal narratives consist of stories, or ‘personal myths’ that are endlessly under editing process. There is not such a thing as one life-story (as there is no one specific identity), but they are as many as the different situations and audience that we may encounter in our lives.
In her article, Buitelaar focuses upon the life-story of Tahara, a well known political figure in Dutch society. In her telling, it is possible to discern the different purposes that Tahara has in mind while telling her story. Taking stands from gender, ethnicity and religion, she shows how these identity markers merge and intersect in order to create what she considers to be her life-story.
“Tahara’s story is the product of a skilful orchestration of the voices in which the characters representing her various I-positions speak.”
An important aspect of Buitelaar analysis is that it sheds light upon the connection between dialogical self and an intersectional approach by standing out from the notion of multiple identity as “the product of summing up a person’s different identifications.”
The same standing point is taken by Prins, arguing that “intersectionality […] emphasizes that the complexity of processes of individual identification and social inequality cannot be captured by such arithmetical frameworks.”
Prins illustrates the concept of power, conceived not as a property but as a relation, i.e. as the product of the interaction, or the ‘strategic game’ as Prins defines it, between parties that cannot count upon the same share of freedom. By doing this, Prins draws upon Foucault’s notions of power and normalization and Gramsci’s view of hegemony in order to account for differences between the US approach and the one by the British scholars as far as how intersectionality is treated is concerned. Prins refers to these different traditions as the systemic approach on the one hand and the elaboration of a constructionist interpretation of intersectionality on the other. One of the aspects that defines and characterizes these different perspectives is that, while the systemic approach focuses on categorization and naming, in a constructionist perspective identity is a matter of narration: “our stories are multilayered and contradictory; the scripts of gender, race, ethnicity and class play a constitutive role, but never in the same way, never as mere determining factors.”
The stories that Prins refers to in her article are the ones of some of her former classmates. Taking its stands from the constructionist approach, Prins’s analysis shows that identity is not based upon static and given markers or labels, but identity is something negotiable, created in the interaction with an audience. The story-tellers are often aware of their position as far as power relations are concerned. Even though the stories are perfomatively produced by the agents or subjects in their own story, actively choosing how they wish to tell the story and what they want to put in it, the story-tellers also need to deal with their identity as objects, to relate to their position in society or what the society expects from them, and also to relate to their sense of belonging, to ‘fit into’: "certain intersectional locations – locations that may be manufactured by hegemonic discourses of ethnicity, nation, culture and race, but also by articulatory practices around family, gender, age, religion, sexuality or class.”
These practices can contribute to the creations of a common origin or belonging to a common group, but according to Prins, this process can hardly be considered to belong to an empowering discourse, but rather it fosters the process of crystallization of old stereotypes.
In her article about the personal narrative of a girl from Bulgaria, Ludvig deals with the notion of ‘subjectivity’ acknowledging it as the “modality of identity” meaning that by positioning her- or himself in a certain field, the narrator needs primarily to submit to a certain category, to identify herself to it, or to differentiate from that category. We are shaped by culture and embedded in society, but we are also agents in that context. The question is how these two, structure and agency, are related. Ludvig uses Saussure’s notion of dichotomy in language and especially in semantics, to better explain her point here. Categorization needs two extremes in order to be meaningful. If we define an object as black, we need to know what white is and even if there are different blacks and different whites and everything in between, it is true that dichotomies are used to define identities by claiming that there is an ‘us’, that wholly differs from ‘them’. There are no nuances in between. If we put Ludvig’s point here in a very simplistic way, one could ask the question: to what extent are we either a product of labeling or of our own will in interaction with other people? Drawing from Bourdieu, Ludvig answers this question introducing the notion of ‘habitus’: “a means to link and combine both: individuals act within 'fields', and within these fields they can shape the structures and are mutually shaped by them.”
This means, as I see it, that individuals have potentials in the form of different kinds of resources such as language, social position or gender (can gender be a resource?) and their position in the field (favorable or unfavorable in term of power relations) is determined by how well we can profit by our potentials. It would be interesting to go further into this discussion by connecting these chains of thoughts to the concept of ‘affordance’ in language and that we are going to deal with later during this course.
The other articles in this issue have, what I consider, a more political agenda, or rather they show the authors’ attempt to deal with intersectionality mainly on theoretical basis, in order to enhance or discard some of the issues that have raised since the establishment of an intersectional perspective to deal with power relations.
In one of the articles, issues about intersectionality and feminist HIV/AIDS research are pondered. In her analysis, Bredström shows that we are deemed or, as she put it, ‘hindered’ by our own ideas of masculinity vs femininity or homosexuality vs heterosexuality as far as sexuality is concerned. These dichotomies are supported and reinforced by social divisions, ‘race’, ethnicity and class, but also age and able-bodiedness. In one of her empirical examples, Bredström refers to a girl feeling “’the pressure’ to be a ‘bad girl’” as an Afro Caribbean woman of 19. Bad in relation to what? Bredström concludes her article by posing questions that also take that direction: What is the norm and how are "these notions of otherness [...] constructed 'through a gendered and sexualized idiom’.
Bredström argues that "an intersectional approach [is indispensable] to the HIV/AIDS problematic." to put into fire other elements than gender and sexuality in the analysis of safer sex discourses.
In the article by Verloo we find a theoretical contribution that focuses upon what the author calls “the complexity of multiple inequalities” and consider the UE’s body of regulation and political interventions from an intersection perspective.
Finally, in Yuval-Davis, we find an analysis of social divisions and intersectionality as a human rights policy methodology, concluding that intersectional analysis is not a tool to find ‘several identities under one’ according to an additive model, but rather the tool that favors the analysis of how different social divisions are merged "and how they relate [to each other and] to political and subjective constructions of identities.”
Some issues for further discussion
- The notion of the dialogical-self in terms of identity interests me deeply. I find it challenging to consider it as a unit of analysis especially when what we consider are life-stories or narratives? I guess my concern deals with the fact that in the articles here all we know is the “talking about” relations of social divisions and identities. Still we do not know about how these identities are performed in interaction with others, even if I can acknowledge the fact that also interviews are interactions that per se can hide important analytical findings.
- Continuing on the same chain of thoughts how is the researcher to be considered? When acting in the field, assuming an emic position, how can he/she keep these aspects into consideration?
- Marjo Buitelaar (2006). "‘I Am the Ultimate Challenge’ Accounts of Intersectionality in the Life-Story of a Well-Known Daughter of Moroccan Migrant Workers in the Netherlands". European Journal of Women's Studies 13 (3): 259-76. doi:10.1177/1350506806065756. http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/57/12/78/PDF/PEER_stage2_10.1177%252F1350506806065756.pdf. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
- Baukje Prins (2006). "Narrative Accounts of Origins: A Blind Spot in the Intersectional Approach". European Journal of Women's Studies 13 (3): 277-90. doi:10.1177/1350506806065757. http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/57/12/79/PDF/PEER_stage2_10.1177%252F1350506806065757.pdf. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
- Alice Ludvig (2006). "Differences Between Women? Intersecting Voices in a Female Narrative". European Journal of Women's Studies 13 (3): 245-58. http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/57/12/77/PDF/PEER_stage2_10.1177%252F1350506806065755.pdf. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
- Anna Bredström (2006). "Intersectionality: A Challenge for Feminist HIV/AIDS Research?". European Journal of Women's Studies 13 (3): 229-43. http://www.tara.tcd.ie/bitstream/handle/2262/52007/PEER_stage2_10.1177%252F1350506806065754.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
- Mieke Verloo (2006). "Multiple inequalities, intersectionality and the European Union". European Journal of Women's Studies 13 (3): 211-28. doi:10.1177/1350506806065753. http://www.tara.tcd.ie/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2262/52006/PEER_stage2_10.1177%252F1350506806065753.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
- Nira Yuval-Davis (2006). "Intersectionality and Feminist Politics". European Journal of Women's Studies 13 (3): 193-209. doi:10.1177/1350506806065752. http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/57/12/74/PDF/PEER_stage2_10.1177%252F1350506806065752.pdf. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
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