On the Inseparability of Social Categories and their Relations
Intersectionality is the concept used to refer to the interactions among multiple social categories such as gender, race, sexuality, class, age, etc., that affect people’s experience. One of its main insights is that social categories such as gender, race, sexuality, class, etc., interrelate in complex ways so as to produce specific forms of oppression for particular social groups or identities. From a theoretical and philosophical perspective, there are at least two claims that intersectionality research has presented as crucial: the inseparability of social categories and the fact that social categories relate with each other in complex ways. The first one refers to the idea that social categories cannot be understood in isolation from each other, and the second claim focuses on the question of what’s the relation (or relations) that exist(s) among social categories. Both observations are often stated in the literature and purport to play a significant role in intersectionality theory but they are not very often accounted for.
In this paper I aim to advance a view of both the inseparability and the interaction claims. I begin with some preliminaries on what intersectionality is about, and then present an assumed view on the inseparability and relation observations: the mutual constitution model. I present different senses of ‘mutual constitution’ we find in the literature and criticize the model mainly because it operates with a reified conception of social categories. I illustrate the point with an analysis of the different metaphors of intersectionality. Then I propose an alternative framework that views categories as properties of individuals. I then propose to understand the question of the relation among social categories within the general framework of the emergent intersectional property view, according to which intersectional properties are wholes constituted by certain configurations of social categories’ effects. This general framework allows for a multiplicity of specific empirical relations (such as intensification, mitigation, etc.) to occur among social categories, thus making it a plural view on the relation question. And I argue it accounts well for both the inseparability and the relation observations.
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