Spontaneous Action Research: Interrogating Intersectionality

The challenge of making the invisible visible, of bringing those aspects of relationships and identities that have been silenced into awareness and open conversation, was a common problem across seven international research projects explored at a workshop on “intersectionality” hosted by the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons College School of Management.

Context:

Q: How many intersectionality scholars does it take to count who’s at the dinner table?

A: One Japanese waiter. (Male.)

“Be gentle.”researchmethodsB

Charlotta’s request came toward the end of the 2nd meeting of our Working Group on Research Methods at the “Interrogating Intersectionality” conference sponsored by the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons College School of Management. Charlotta was the last member of our group to present. At this point we had been engaging with each other for about 2 & 1/2 hours, and I was glad that everyone was reminded about our interaction being blogged. We had negotiated authorization during my presentation on the first day, and clarified the boundaries (of who & what might potentially be bloggable)  at the start of this (2nd) session while welcoming Lisa to the group.

“I don’t have ownership of this project.”

Random (representative?) sample of participants.
Random (representative?) sample of participants.

The reason Charlotta gave for requesting a mild representation was because she had not contacted her fellow researchers regarding their opinion of her assent to being blogged. I hope her colleagues are okay with me mentioning that their research project involves “Generation Y.”  This struck me as a moment of virtual intersectionality because I am in the midst of exploring collaboration with an entrepreneurial group of Gen Y glomads. I am curious what Gen X and Baby Boom era scholars can offer to a younger cohort, and equally excited by what Gen Y’ers may be able to teach us.

“All research is potentially intersectionality research.”

Happily embodying intersectionality.
Happily embodying intersectionality.

Samuel may have benefitted the most directly from our preview of Lisa’s panel talk but we all enjoyed her responses to his question about how to use quantitative methods to get insight into the matrix of a particular organization. “Any method can be used,” she said. “What matters is the analytical framework…to bring in what you know…. [to link] the micro and the macro.” Lisa told us about her favorite article, “Intersectionality and In-Depth Interviews” (Cuádraz  and Uttal, 1999), which it seems we are all going to rush to read.

“Don’t lose sleep over methods.”

Elizabeth also received direct encouragement from Lisa. Barbara suggested Judith Lorber’s work on the paradox of having to make identity categories visible (which also reifies them) as the first step in problematizing structures of inequality. The challenge of making the invisible visible, of bringing those aspects of relationships and identities that have been silenced into awareness and open conversation, was a common problem across the seven different research projects that we explored with each other. Several of us became excited by the notion of using vignettes for our various contexts.
flowers

What if . . .

The idea of a vignette is to create a realistic scenario involving a person of particular identity characteristics dealing with a situation that is reflective of their context (i.e., the context being studied). This vignette is shared and used as a reference point during interviews. Questions evolve from (something like),

  1. “What do you think this person can/should do in this situation?” or “What do you think will happen to this person in this situation?” and “Why do you think ‘this’ or ‘that’ will happen?” to questions like,
  2. “If it was you in this situation, what do you think would happen? What would your options be?” to
  3. “Does comparing this situation from the perspective of people with different identity characteristics lead you to consider anything new about yourself, and/or about your relationships with others, that you hadn’t thought about before?”


Interlude:

Debra: “I’m younger than I look!”                             Steph: “Immaturity got me this far!”

“That reflects where we were.”

Definition from Winter and Degele: “Intersectionality as a multi=level analysis: Dealing with social inequality”
Definition from Winter and Degele:
“Intersectionality as a multi=level analysis:
Dealing with social inequality”

At the opening of the third–and last–session of our Working Group, Judith and Barbara emphasized how their focus had shifted over the course of the conference, from problems of research (as described above) to challenges of teaching. James noted that the definition of intersectionality he had shared with us on the first day uses the label of “symbolic representation” but that we–talking with each other–have not explored this very much. Frustrated with the limitations of the much-used diversity wheel, Barbara said, “I’d love to have another symbol.” Elizabeth liked the notion of “interference” (which had been introduced by one of the keynoters) and Barbara shared a notion of “identity landscapes” developed by one of her graduate students.

Exploring the multidimensionality of simultaneity.
Exploring the multidimensionality of simultaneity.

 Next Steps

Our group’s attempt to represent our cumulative learning/knowledge from the three day working conference sought to incorporate multiple metaphors: the simultaneity hologram, identity landscapes, gravitational planetary systems, chemical reactions, temporal change, individual representations of self, blind spots (that need to be unwrapped) and hope – – – which is my interpretation (!) of the ‘Love Picnic River’ just waiting to be revealed.

Mapping Intersectionality. Copyright: Margo Okazawa-Rey and the Transnational Feminism Working Group.
Mapping Intersectionality.
Copyright: Margo Okazawa-Rey and the Transnational Feminism Working Group.

5 thoughts on “Spontaneous Action Research: Interrogating Intersectionality”

  1. Charmaine sent some resources, including the article with her galaxy model of intersectionality!

    galaxy-intersectionality-Wijeyesinghe

    From “The Representation and Exploration of Racial and Social Identity through Galaxies” – Curriculum by Charmaine L. Wijeyesinghe, 2012. The Intersectional Model of Multiracial Identity: Integrating Multiracial identity theories and Intersectional perspectives on social identity. In New Perspectives on Racial Identity Development: Integrating Emerging Frameworks. C.L. Wijeyesinghe and B.W. Jackson (Eds.).New York: NYU Press

  2. Thanks for mapping your reflections on intersectionality. I was wrestling with many of these identity issues that are inextricably connected to social inequalities–you have given me the visual impetus to map the issues that I am recognizing. This blog is exceptionally inspiring! (a grateful grad student)

  3. Hey Barbara, and thank you for the compliment!

    I’m slogging through the absolute final week of formatting my dissertation…. all this blogging helped me get here. It often felt/feels inconsequential, so your comment comes at a wonderfully opportune time.

    Will you share what you’re working on? I’m all about intersections 🙂

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