[HOT] : Éléonore Lépinard and Sarah Mazouz: “Intersectionality highlights the need to think together about the different forms of oppression” Part one

Indispensable: this is the word that comes immediately to qualify the essay on intersectionality that Éléonore Lépinard and Sarah Mazouz have just published. In a book as brilliant as it is limpid, the two sociologists return with measure and force to the notion of intersectionality which has been at the heart of all debates for several months. Far from the media and editorialist vociferations which distort its definition, Pour Intersectionnalité returns to the critical power that the notion can give to the social sciences and shows that intersectionality gives a different understanding of marginalization and oppression in our societies. Diacritik could not fail to meet the two sociologists during a major interview.

My first question would relate to the genesis of writing your necessary and so stimulating, For intersectionality. Without waiting, you indicate that your remarks start again from your founding article of February 2019, published in the journal Mouvements, which already reflected on the question of intersectionality. What motivated you to write your article at the time? How did the attacks first launched by Jean-Michel Blanquer in October and then at the beginning of the year by Frédérique Vidal on the so-called “Islamo-leftists” in secondary and higher education make you decide to take up the article for deploy it with such vigor? Why did it seem necessary to you to oppose what you rightly qualify as the McCarthyite campaign launched by the LREM ministers with an explanation, an explanation of the notion of intersectionality?

Sarah Mazouz : So, we are not talking about “McCarthyite campaign” or “McCarthyism” in the book. We analyze how discourses that seek to discredit intersectionality work. We focus moreover on the discourse of researchers but we reinscribe them in a moment marked at the national and international level by a very active reactionary movement which specifically takes as its object the critical works of race, intersectionality and gender studies. . To better understand our approach, it is surely necessary to come back to the story of For Intersectionality. At the time we wrote “Cartography of the overhang”, the article at the origin of For the intersectionnality published in 2019 in a larger dossier devoted to intersectionality by the journal Mouvements, we were responding to a blog post by Gérard Noiriel where he returned to the discussion published some time earlier in Le Monde between the sociologist Éric Fassin and the American historian of ideas Mark Lila.

Noiriel took up Mark Lila’s analyzes of the American left by transposing the notion of “identity left” to the French case – without asking in this case the question of the conditions for importing such an analysis into the French case. French context; which however he spends his time reproaching the type of work that we are developing, but let’s move on. It was in this context that he attacked the notion of intersectionality as the main source of the evils of the left and of these pitiful electoral results. This brought a lot to a notion that at the time was little, if at all, known to the general public in France and that only certain social science researchers had used in their work for a long time. Fifteen years. Moreover, Noiriel’s text said false things about this notion and about the research based on it. We therefore wanted to react mainly because this post was widely distributed at the time on social networks. It therefore seemed essential to us to clarify what intersectionality was so that the criticisms formulated hold a little more ground than those signed by Noiriel. It turns out that at that time we were several researchers to have seen this post circulating and we wanted to make this file by considering it as a contribution to what was then a scientific controversy only.

However, in the fall of 2020, following the appalling murder of Samuel Paty, it was the ruling class which in turn attacked the notion of intersectionality by making it through a sleight of hand, including the he effectiveness is explained by a climate fueled by identity anxiety, anti-intellectualism and ignorance, the source of inspiration for this assassination. It was still necessary to dare to claim that jihadists, completely indoctrinated by hate speech, are in fact readers of critical works in social science and feminist theory! But the whole point of these attacks is to discredit critical work in the social sciences by saying anything, as the controversy over Islamo-leftism at the University then showed.

It is therefore in this context where we went from a scientific controversy to a media-political controversy that we thought, with Chloé Pathé of Anamosa editions, that it was necessary to update the text of our initial article and of him. give a larger audience by publishing it in the form of a very small book – a format which is not even pocket-sized but “hand-held” to use the expression of one of our readers -, conducive to compulsive last-minute purchase at the cash register of a bookstore.

Before getting to the heart of your argument, could you tell us what exactly intersectionality consists of? What exactly does this term cover in sociology? Finally, why is it the subject of so much mistrust, political but also academic, in France: is it because it comes mainly from American campuses and because it was first defended by feminists?

Sarah Mazouz : First, in France, there is a fantasy covered by this reference to “American campuses”, as if it were a monolithic entity, when we talk about social issues linked to minority issues or work and methodological tools that are used to think them. As soon as you have analyzes that seek to renew the reflection on how to produce more equality between the different groups that make up the social body and you ask the question of the demands for justice linked to the discriminatory experience that this or that sudden group, part of the media and the political class take you out of the “American campuses”! We saw this in connection with the kind where there again we were given fantasized images of what feminism would be like on “American campuses” as a militant version specific to the United States and as a way of doing politics that would tend necessarily towards an identity and essentializing reading of social reality (whereas the debate as it is currently orchestrated in France would completely escape this pitfall). In the specific case of gender studies, there is also a form of historical irony here because when these studies appeared in the United States, they could have been accused of being imports. … French.

For intersectionality, it would in fact be much more interesting and relevant to make the genesis of the concept and to review the conditions which made this concept emerge in order to understand why it appears in the United States and not in France and what it means on the state of the political and intellectual debate on the place of minorities or the politics of equality in contexts where cultural pluralism is inherited from a history marked by slavery or segregation in the case of the United States , slavery, colonization and post-colonial immigration in the case of France.

As we explain in our book, intersectionality is a term coined by a jurist, Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, in two texts that she published in 1989 and in 1991. Crenshaw is one of the central figures of what is called Critical Race Theory (CRT), an emerging movement within Critical legal studies. Critical Legal studies question the role of law in the reproduction of inequalities and forms of economic, racial and gender domination. The CRT will focus more specifically on the racial question by first showing, in particular, from the question of the recruitment of professors of black law or from other racial minorities, how racism operates in a structural way. Indeed, when she looks back on the history of the CRT, Crenshaw recalls that those responsible for recruiting at Harvard law school, for example, were, if I may say so, fellow travelers of the Civil Rights Movement. . The fact remains that when it comes to recruiting new teachers, black applicants are not the ones who end up getting the job. One of the main challenges is therefore to make explicit these logics which allow racism to continue to act surreptitiously.

Moreover, if the term “intersectionality” appeared at the end of the 1980s, the reality it designates was brought to light long before that, in particular by the criticism that Black feminism and chicana feminism carried by women from the United States. Mexican immigration to the United States has argued against what African-American feminists have called the “white middle class bias” of the feminist movement. This is the other central element in understanding Crenshaw’s intellectual background and political positioning. What does this review say and what does it highlight?

That, at first, feminism thought about its struggles by taking as a reference figure a white woman, of middle class or bourgeois and heterosexual (one could moreover add relatively young and in good health). However, the group of women is itself crossed by differences of condition which therefore invite to complicate the analysis that one makes of the domination undergone by women. And it is on this critique that Crenshaw draws on when she forges the concept of intersectionality. By studying the situation of racialized or immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence, she shows how the specific situation of these women, at the crossroads of racism and sexism, is not adequately addressed by groups or programs that fight against violence. racism and therefore tend to omit the gendered dimension of the oppression that these women experience, neither by groups or programs that combat sexism and tend to miss the way in which the logics of racial hierarchies are also decisive in understanding this that these women live.

The notion of intersectionality is therefore used at the outset to describe the particular situation of domination of groups that find themselves at the intersection of several oppressive regimes in institutional contexts where the effects of racialization, gender, class, migration status, sexuality category, age or state of health. The idea is therefore to articulate these different social principles of hierarchization in a situational way to see how they play out according to the contexts and what form of oppression their articulation produces. And here again, the challenge is to make the analysis more complex by moving away from a reading which would consist in thinking that the effect of these different principles of hierarchization systematically adds up. Indeed, if we think for example of the relationship between the police and young people of color from the working class, we see that young men of color whatever their social class are more likely to be controlled than young women of color, which shows that the articulation of race, gender and class or status produce a reconfiguration of domination which is not understood only as an addition of handicaps for women or as a strengthening of patriarchy in favor of men.