Politics of intersectional practice: representation, coalition and solidarity
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/11/2023
Christoffersen, Ashlee Maggie
This thesis makes both an empirical and theoretical contribution to the study of intersectionality’s operationalisation. While race, class, gender and gender identity, disability status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, migration status, and faith remain salient markers of inequality, and in many ways increasingly so, these inequalities have predominantly been addressed separately. The idea of intersectionality is to focus on the ways in which they are simultaneous and mutually constituting. Since little progress has been made with the separate single issue approach in terms of achieving equality for the most marginalised, there is growing recognition that pursuing social justice requires policies and organisations to engage with intersectionality. Yet intersectionality is widely thought to be a challenging theory to apply. Existing literature aiming to fill this gap between theory and practice has usually focused on how to operationalise intersectionality in research or social movements, while this project fills a key gap in knowledge in focusing on UK policy and third sector practice. While several authors have now noted intersectionality’s fluidity of meaning, there has up to now not been an empirical study exploring how both policy makers and practitioners themselves understand intersectionality, and how these understandings relate to policy and practice. This thesis represents the first in-depth exploration of intersectionality’s applications in the UK, specifically how equality third sector organisations, which have been predominantly focused around single issues/identities, are conceptualising and operationalising the politically transformative frame of ‘intersectionality’. My fieldwork was conducted with three networks of equality organisations (racial justice, feminist, disability rights, LGBTI rights, refugee organisations, and intersectional combinations of these) in cities in England and Scotland, through case studies employing interviews, focus groups, observation/participant observation and documentary analysis. I explore and compare the development and use of intersectionality: what it means, how these meanings are used in practice, and how this relates to equality policy; and theorise approaches to operationalisation of intersectionality based on results, with reference to intersectionality theory and research. I develop a typology of five competing applied concepts of intersectionality circulating in UK third sector equality organising and policy, each with different implications for intersectionally marginalised groups and intersectional justice. I argue that in the current context, operationalising intersectionality is fundamentally about: i. representation (who is represented, and whether and how to represent); and ii. coalition and solidarity, and conflicts around each are driven by these competing concepts of intersectionality; in other words, competing concepts are at the heart of the politics of who does intersectionality, and how. Intersectionality’s operationalisation necessitates a twin focus on common issues and intersectionally marginalised identities, including emergent ones. Equality organisations can build greater unity through developing shared understandings of intersectionality, and work to balance acting in solidarity while prioritising the agency of those who are intersectionally marginalised.