Roundtable: Intersectionality, Part 1

Stefan Dziemianowicz

This sounds very much like that part of post-structuralist theory which holds that what we write and how we interpret what we read is shaped by myriad cultural and personal factors, most of them subliminal or unconscious.

It could very well be that being a white caucasian middle-aged American male shapes how I read and what I write. But I wouldn’t want to hear from someone else, “You know, that’s exactly what I’d expect from a white caucasian middle-aged American male.”

Karen Burnham

Could someone chime in with a tidbit defining post-structuralism, for us amateurs?

Paul Witcover

I don’t think defining post-structuralism comes in tidbits! But Wikipedia actually has a fairly comprehensive entry on the topic. It features a 1976 quote from Foucault that seems germane:

…For the last ten or fifteen years, the immense and proliferating criticizability of things, institutions, practices, and discourses; a sort of general feeling that the ground was crumbling beneath our feet, especially in places where it seemed most familiar, most solid, and closest to us, to our bodies, to our everyday gestures. But alongside this crumbling and the astonishing efficacy of discontinuous, particular, and local critiques, the facts were also revealing something… beneath this whole thematic, through it and even within it, we have seen what might be called the insurrection of subjugated knowledges.

Foucault, Society Must be Defended, 7th January 1976, tr. David Macey

Stefan Dziemianowicz

There are folks more articulate than I on this subject, Karen–heck, some of us may even be dedicated post-structuralists–but since I evoked the term . . .

The post-structuralist strain that I was referring to is the one that is often reduced to the dictum that authorial intention has nothing to do with how we interpret an author’s work. Rather, the biases that we (as readers or interpreters) bring to a work as a result of our gender, our social position, our political views, our cultulrual frame of reference (and so on) determine what we will come away from an author’s work with.

The problem (IF problem there is) is that the lenses could be limitless, based on personal as well as cultural factors. Race, gender, age, and economic privilege can all shape what we see and what we write, but there are so many other factors. Find two “intersectionalized” readers/writers who share 7 or 8 broadly marginalized identities, and I’ll bet you still find a vast number of differences in how they interpret what they read or how they write. To a large extent, we’re all our own private lens-grinders with our own unique prescriptions.

2 thoughts on “Roundtable: Intersectionality, Part 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *