I found a passage in James C Scott’s Seeing Like a State that shifted me a little closer towards agreeing with intersectionality.
I think that a “woman’s eye,” for lack of a better term, was essential to Jacobs’s frame of reference. A good many men, to be sure, were insightful critics of high-modernist urban planning, and Jacobs refers to many of their writings. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine her argument being made in quite the same way by a man … The eyes with which she sees the street are, by turns, those of shoppers running errands, mothers pushing baby carriages, children playing, friends having coffee or a bite to eat, lovers strolling, people looking from their windows, shopkeepers dealing with customers, old people sitting on park benches … A concern with public space puts both the interior of the home and the office as factory outside her purview. The activities that she observes so carefully, from taking a walk to window-shopping, are largely activities that do not have a single purpose or that have no conscious purpose in the narrow sense-Seeing Like a State (p.138)
I think that a “woman’s eye,” for lack of a better term, was essential to Jacobs’s frame of reference. A good many men, to be sure, were insightful critics of high-modernist urban planning, and Jacobs refers to many of their writings. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine her argument being made in quite the same way by a man … The eyes with which she sees the street are, by turns, those of shoppers running errands, mothers pushing baby carriages, children playing, friends having coffee or a bite to eat, lovers strolling, people looking from their windows, shopkeepers dealing with customers, old people sitting on park benches … A concern with public space puts both the interior of the home and the office as factory outside her purview. The activities that she observes so carefully, from taking a walk to window-shopping, are largely activities that do not have a single purpose or that have no conscious purpose in the narrow sense
-Seeing Like a State (p.138)
This passage, and the book in general, provided some concrete examples of ‘different ways of knowing’ that I could wrap my head around. Going forward, I will take claims to the importance of researcher identity a bit more seriously in certain fields (ie urban planning and agriculture, but not in mathematics and CS).
This seems to point to a weaker form of intersectionality/identity-focused theories that makes a lot more sense: ‘researcher identity has distinct effects on research in complex and/or culturally charged fields’ vs the orthodox strong form, ‘researcher identity is the primary lens through which research must be judged in all fields.’
I experienced a similar nudge reading David Chapman, who insists on the importance of early postmodern philosophers such as Foucault. I previously dismissed both groups out of hand, now I take a moment to assess individual claims and expect that some have validity.
Has anyone experienced similar nudges, or have particular comments on this subject?
To me, intersectionality feels like one of those “motte and bailey” things. Yes, seeing things from other people’s perspective can be very useful, and yes, it is often better to invite an X to participate in the project than trying to guess how things might seem from X’s perspective. This is definitely worth paying attention to!
But it also comes with the political baggage, the official list of “groups that matter” which suggests that it is useful to consider people’s gender or sexual orientation, but not that useful to consider e.g. people’s social class or degree of autism. Unless you discuss the latter from the perspective of the former. (You don’t discuss poverty, unless you discuss e.g. poverty of women, or poverty of LGBT; and the correct solution is always a support of given group, not a support of poor people in general. The other causes exist only to serve the important causes.)
It also considers people within the groups replaceable. If Alice and Betty have the same gender, same race, same sexual orientation, then Alice is assumed to also speak in Betty’s name, especially if Alice is politically on “the right side of history”. (On the other hand, if Betty is conservative, she is not even allowed to speak for herself. Alice knows better what is best for her. You should listen to Alice and ignore Betty, otherwise you are “against women”.) There is a somewhat related concept of “token” person, which kinda admits that having one representative of a group is not enough, but the main concern is about choosing Betty as that representative.
Plus the usual “critical” bias, where one person being unhappy about something is more important than ten people being happy and opposing the change. (Because the true reason for the fight is promoting social change towards “the right side of history”, not solving specific problems of specific people. Individuals only exist to serve the cause.)
So I am in favor of listening to different perspectives, but if you do it with an open mind, chance is that you may ask ten X’s and receive ten different answers. The answers will probably have something in common, so hopefully you can work with that, but can be frustratingly different at the parts where you hoped to get one unified “X perspective” as an answer. (You can’t make everyone happy, and you can’t even make all X happy.) Therefore, you can get better data by asking people different from you for a perspective, but at the end of the day, you have to apply your own judgment to the somewhat contradictory answers you have received.
Good points. Perhaps ‘intersectionality’ isn’t the right term. I also considered ‘positionality,’ trying to refer to ′ ideology that emphasizes identity over reasoning.′ Or maybe I’m thinking of the ‘motte’ form, so that [whatever the Scott quote represents] is a weaker form of motte!intersectionality is a weaker form of bailey!intersectionality.
Though I think the Scott quote represents something stronger than ‘paying attention to identity X’s perspective’. It looks more like ‘identity X may provide information and insights in unpredictable ways.’
This is not compatible with reflexively applying a narrative to an identity group, as so often happens. If identity X’s insights line up perfectly with your preexisting beliefs, there’s something else going on.
Perhaps more specifically, I newly endorse the proposal, “Identity has distinct and unpredictable effects on research,” but not the more extreme proposals:
“Identity group members are replaceable.”
“Identity groups have a ‘correct’ position.”
“Problems must be examined first in relation to identity groups.”
I’m personally coming into this with a heavy bias against intersectionality and critical theory, so I’m trying to steelman where possible.
Considering that anyone can provide an unpredictable insight, and you can’t invite everyone to the debate, so you need to use some heuristic to get maximum insight per number of people invited… the social justice heuristic (focusing on gender, race, sexual orientation) is actually quite good.
It can be further improved by also considering social class and religion/politics.
I hadn’t considered that angle. Still, that heuristic assumes
a) that the field is one where those differences are salient (I maintain mathematics at least is exempt) and
b) that the people you’re inviting have sufficient background to make meaningful contributions, contra the orthodox intersectional considerations you mentioned before.
I’m tempted say that this heuristic (diversity of identity) is strictly less effective than diversity of thought/ideology, but that seems to be what Scott runs against. It would indicate that there are insights not available just through ideology but through (to use an abused phrase) lived experience.
As to how these cross over and whether they’re intersectional, that’s another can of worms I’m not going to open.
I recently encountered a local policy that made me realize nobody with experiences similar to mine could possibly have been involved in the planning process. In my rural area, the policy went from no permit requirements around burn barrels or home fire pits, to asking everyone to fill out an online form before every use of fire outdoors. The web form required the address, the planned time of burning, a contact phone number, and the full name of the adult in charge. They didn’t mention who would have access to the submitted data, how long it would be kept, whether users would be notified if a data breach leaked their addresses and phone numbers to attackers, what consequences would result from burning without having filled out the form, whether there was an alternative way to get a permit without the form, or what regulations gave them the authority to make the change of requiring it. As a highly online millennial, this made me ask some questions which seemed blindingly obvious:
What about people who lack internet access? How are they to find out about the new requirement, and how are they expected to file for permits when public libraries are shut due to a global pandemic?
What about the form being used to dox people? People in positions of power where they’d be expected to have access to the form’s results aren’t immune to harassing others, and if a victim is staying with a friend to avoid for instance domestic violence, requiring them to link their full name to their current address makes using the form dangerous to them.
What about the form being used to swat people? If some jerk on the internet finds my name and address, they could impersonate me in filing permits and likely have fire services or law enforcement sent to my house if they used the form to claim they planned to burn on a high fire danger day
I have these reactions without personally having lacked internet, or being doxed, or being swatted, because I perceive those threats as “things which happen to people like me”.
Of course I escalated these concerns, and to their credit they’ve fixed many of the issues, but the fact that the policy made it to being publicly announced with all those issues still in it was a shocking reminder of the difference between what authorities assume people want and need, and what I do.