Critical Conversations: Intersectionality and Sociology – Professor Patricia Hill Collins

[Laughter] so my name is Monica whatever fearlessly lecturing sociology here in Cambridge and I'm gonna it is my absolute pleasure and delight to welcome professor buttress in the colleagues distinguished University professor of sociology at the University of Maryland in the United States she's a social theorist located at the heart of the discipline of sociology and whose research and scholarship happened has made huge and key contributions to this theory of oppression and his interlocking systems which he has called the matrix of domination she has also so incisively highlighted the relevance of knowledge production and with that veinous notice the potential hispanic privilege of certain subjects particularly of black women to remind us of the relevance of somewhere amazing theater mythological contributions and how far her work has reached i want to briefly quote of her very things for spoke black feminist thought published in 1990 and this is a quote black feminist thought fosters a fundamental and to shift that rejects additive approaches to oppression instead of starting with gender and then adding in other variables such as a of sexual orientation race social class and religion black feminists thoughts in thesis inter systems of oppression as being part of one overarching structure of domination buing relations of domination for black women for any given social historical context as the in structure we acquire a system of interlocking race class and gender oppression expands the focus of analysis formerly describing the similarities and differences distinguishing the systems of oppression and focuses greater attention on how they interconnect assuming that each system needs the others in order to function create a distinct ethical stance that stimulates the rethinking of basic social science concepts so this book black feminists thought one the Jessie burner award of the American Sociological Association so significant scholarship in gender and the sea rightness award of the Society for the study of social problems her second book race class and gender published in 92 edited with Margaret understand is widely using rather testily over 200 colleges and universities another 40 takes black sexual politics received the American Sociological Association 207 2007 distinguished publication award in 2008 professor Collins became the hundredth president of the American Sociological Association the first african-american woman elected to this position in these organizations a hundred and four years history so professor research professor Collins current research interests are why are really relevant for us and I'm just going to name a few that we collected just you have a sense of the spread of hands of her work and her ideas so one of course is entomology intersectionality specifically allows analyzing how a brain class gender sexuality ethnicity nation and age neutrally construct one another assistance of power and a theoretical constructs a second project of knowledge project is exploring these technologies of emancipatory knowledge 'as for example critical race theory nationalism and feminism in another knowledge project is examining how african-american male and female youth experiences with social issues such as education and employment popular culture and political activism articulate with global phenomenon specifically complex social inequalities global capitalist development just nationalism a political activism so I will stop here in just saying we are delighted as – here is a way in and help me welcome professor Hill colleagues because we're delighted to welcome her on her first visit to Cambridge look forward to hearing her insights into sociology as a discipline and as a means of social transformation [Applause] I thought this was just gonna be a few people's meetings over the years and it's a field I've been with for some time so it's clearly something I care a lot about but today I think what I really want to do I didn't bring you the fancy PowerPoint so some of you may be disappointed that's an expensive fancy PowerPoint but what I did today was bring you me and who me that I'm bringing you today is someone who wants to talk with you about being fairly candid about the kind of work that I do so this in some ways is a backstage view of what it's like to get to there all of the things that I've accomplished it's kind of almost sounds like another person but the nature of doing the work itself is quite it's hard but it's quite exciting my topic today is critical conversations intersectionality in sociology and what I want to talk about are to knowledge projects that are dear to my heart and what it takes to do knowledge that is different than what's already there in some ways I would be critical of sociology I would be critical of intersectionality because I think both of these areas need to cast the self reflexive lens on their own ideas and practices but at the same time stand on their own strengths as they move forward so I think really unusual view on the floor and standing this seems to my work has been centered on one core question what will it take for black people to be free that simple it started young it's starting when I was a teenager someone asked me yesterday when did you become recognized I think them that is a core question that has shaped my life and the life of people around me but that does not mean that I am only interested in black people because obviously for black people to be free lots of other people are going to get free too and it also does not mean that this some homogeneous mass of something called black people that's kind of a peculiar category because within that category of black people you have women you have gender you have age of sexuality and all of that all that has to be taken into consideration if you are thinking about the connection of critical inquiry ideas and critical practice doing the question what will it take so what will it take for black people and notice I said I love black people but I love all people but none of them are in this room Yeah right to be free now I think this is something we often don't think about as part of our scholarship aspirational aspect to it that our scholarship and our ideas and our work are tied to bigger ideas than just the truth the truth is important make no mistake particularly during these times when truth is so much under assault but thinking beyond the here now looking into the future reading the past to move into the future to decide what to do in the present is an aspirational project those of you who might be familiar with afrofuturism they're a whole group of young black folk in the u.s. who are dealing with this notion of time and space differently because they understand the significance of a signal of a aspirational project of goal something bigger than yourself you are here for a short amount of time you make a contribution you leave it different than you found it so notice that all of that is packed into that question now I don't want to give you the impression that I was sitting around as a faithful fourteen year old girl in Philadelphia Pennsylvania saying no it took me quite some time to understand that that was my question and to really see the various dimensions of my question and why I could not let certain things go why I had to hang on to certain ideas and practices it wasn't just enough to fit it because you see when you have a question like that you're never going to fit in because it's a question that is talking about not just institutional reform but institutional transformation but where you have to reconcile yourself so the fact that you may never arrive in your own lifetime my ancestors didn't see freedom the ones who were enslaved the ones who considered less than human I'm building on what they gave me and what they given me is more freedom but freedom to do what with and I see my contribution it's doing the same for those who come later on are you still with me I got a Linscott you I wasn't planning on saying any of that all right so we will see how this goes now the next question is how does one go about pursuing a question like this because the issue is you can't just look for the ready-made fields I've had students who are like this dr. Collins can you give me this eerie that I can use for my dissertation well you know it's kind of a Walmart version of theory where you go to the big superstore and you have all the theories up on the shelf all right and you get your big cart and you suck out some data in Matar and I need a theory to help explain my data all right well my question whatever it is and you walk down the aisle so it's not just uses the theory well it is constantly for me been a process of diligent and sustained study by moving among various discourses recognizing that I was unlikely to find the answer to a big question within any one discourse or within any one knowledge project or within any one set of political activists or social movement settest so for me it's been embracing what I would consider to be a new way of doing intellectual work which I would refer to myself as an intellectual no mat or traveler sometimes traveling is hard this particular trips a little bar just I got a cold but I'm having ready now all right I'm thinking about what it meant to do work when you may not be fully accepted if accepted at all by the fields or fields that you think have the answers to your questions outside within the sociological significance of black feminist art and I had to write that piece to create space to give myself license to do the kind of work that I've done rather than spending my whole career feeling bad about myself because I couldn't fit into sociology or I couldn't fit in here I had to say what are the strengths the potential creative possibilities of the space of movement of moving among discourses in that case sociology that piece was about sociology and it was about home communities I wrote a piece about black women domestic workers and how the knowledge that they games came from moving back and forth from one setting to the other in the middle of the white power structure by claiming somebody's house you know so much about people that's what you've been able to do and back into black communities and seeing the needs there and not fitting comfortably within even one because once you see something you know something you can't unknown you can't unsee it you cannot hear it you can't I'm thinking it's in them all right so writing that particular piece in saying I needed the space so I could do this kind of intellectual work and I would say that my path has been one of moving among different projects carrying the same question deepening the question deepening various aspects of the question but going respectfully into other people's intellectual spaces to learn what I could write assuming that would let me in now I'm one of the fortunate ones who was let in I was able to go to school I got a degree I study hard I have titles so it was easier for me to get in and in some ways throughout my career it's been easier as it's going along to be accepted but that doesn't mean you lose sight of what it is you're working on can I tell you my porter stories I've been at Cambridge two days traveling once you see what you don't see then I'm going to tie this to these two discourses in a minute but basically what I'm doing is setting this up for you in terms of the big ideas well I had a lovely lunch today with a group of really smart women I mean seriously smart I have to go home and sit in my hotel room and take a little one to a sophomore it's the only you know like really smart all right get back out there we're talking about the differential truth is black people buy quarters that Cambridge University are you aware of this so I thought well that certainly sounded familiar to me because no matter how many degrees I get I'm always ever vigilant for differential treatment to see what that would be like okay but also because I've been out here a while I have some skills about how to handle it so I had trouble finding the building today I was walking over here and I ended up at some wall that said you cannot pass any further well I do parently use a lot of those too yes and I wanted to the quarters off Rome whatever you have two older white gentlemen there and they were very friendly I said you know I'm trying to find wherever we are what does in English build anything no we are so I said I'm looking to write the auditorium in whatever it is really and they said oh we know where it is but you have to go out you gotta go around and you're gonna do this and you gotta push a button to get some easy then you've got a run through traffic riding this I said to him oh my goodness this sounds really difficult I wish one of you could come with me and one of them did an distorted me across the lawn around the building of this push-button we look both ways for the traffic and then he said there's the building right there and he said I'm a porter I said well you know this is really nice since you're giving porters a good thing I'm thinking about my lunch and he said that I'm a porter of training so apparently he hasn't been thoroughly socialized yet I walk in there in two Porter's and one kind of looked at me I knew look what are you doing here I said I'm looking for Reilly auditorium and he said to me well you won't get in it's full because I'm sort of guessing he didn't like the you know the Imperial Porter very cheerful circumstances but I didn't learn not to let these things bother me because I'm frequently going places where I do not belong and or where I am presumed not to belong and that can be a physical space as I've just described it to you or it can be an intellectual base because I've entered many intellectual spaces where the wisdom is we can't think women can't write black women can't count but we'll let them in any out for a little bit color that's a real uphill battle when you're talking about Western knowledge and on us which is kind of a baby country when I come here I kind of I'm thinking my god this is all older than my entire country which has its own special history obviously but it really you realize what you're really going up against if you are attempting to develop new arguments new ideas that will in fact transform institutions transform people bring about change or in my case that's a big question given the weight of this history so let me talk a little bit about so I really don't want to talk on endlessly and I want to leave time for a fair amount of discussion and conversation all right so that's basically the setup now I want all of these projects that I going through to see what how they each informed the questions that I took with me today I'm talking about sociology and intersectionality there are many other projects one can go into the literature on nationalism one can travel into political science as much as possible and learn about fascism because they know a lot about that that's something I'm gonna be interested in one can go into cognitive psychology because I'm very interested in the notion of how ideas are structured cognitively having work things like my metaphors heuristics those kinds of things that the literature people do there are lots of places where I've had to go to find the answers not to mention an ogee cultural studies there's so many directions that in some ways my work is travel without my trying to make it travel there all right I don't quite know how that's happening but I'm just gonna go going along with the ride but today looking at sociology and intersectionality in some ways sociology my first intellectual love if I could say that and the intersectionality theology my first love okay well I know you're not used to hearing sociology and love together alright work with me on this all right and intersectionality as the most recent and newest one so in some ways sociology propelled me to intersectionality and intersectionality informed how I did this analogy before I had even when I would consider a comprehensive grasp on either one but what I liked about sociology if I know you all were talking maybe earlier about the 60s hopefully and perhaps a nostalgic and romantic ways you know oh the 60s my god that's what it was really happening today must be like the 60s again whoa I mean yes come on let's get on the Elgin all right all right junior in 1968 I remember this quite well all the things sociology during that period of time on the campus where I was going to school was quite significant in those political struggles it was helpful but that was fine what I was interested in was race and sociology was the only place that was talking about race it wasn't necessarily talking about black people hmm might there be a difference between black people and race but it was talking about race in some ways a sanitized version of power racism as a system of power what race was there so that's where I went and I very much liked sociology's perspectives in looking for structured in society that we cannot see and that common sense might actually serve us and wrong if we just go with our common sense let's go with our experiences or go with all of that I like the whole idea of developing a vocabulary for understanding the structured patterns of racial inequality on its own limitations at that point because you see if you're interested in inequality or if you're interested in black women if you're interested in black people well it's not just race just to see and it's not just class and there were no women apparently I don't quite know how sociology got away with that all right in terms of gender but you know they weren't they were kind of cooking them in the family somewhere all right I'm some of the family studies it was not a category analysis so they were serving gaping holes when it came to social inequality that in some ways gave sociology license to elevate class and stratification as the penultimate framework but at the time this was so useful because I was tired of hearing people talk about black people had bad culture and that's why they were born it's black people at that families they wouldn't be born if the daddy stayed home they wouldn't be poor if they were better behaved white people would like them it's okay if I talk why people don't write with you all right I do this it doesn't bother me but it might bother you in which case you might have a chance your self all right even reporters look different reporter and the Imperial Porter you realize we have to redefine the category reporter so I hope listen in sociology during this period of time it's really very useful for me but as is the case with most discourses or most knowledge projects you see their limitations and the issue is can you remedy their limitations within the framing assumptions of the knowledge projects itself and that would be the question I would ask for sociology damn it clearly has an established track record but its challenge now is how much it is willing to leave behind what it is defended so staunchly for over 100 years now it was quite an experience to be you know the first black woman elected today essay in this 104 year history and I just thought that's a long time organization without any black women at the top Wow what was in that history that's a lot to defend and that doesn't mean it's all good or bad it means what's worth defending so the time is now for a self reflexive discussion the kind that you're starting here now about what to keep and what are the cherished beliefs that you simply have to let go and I'm not gonna here to answer that question I'm gonna raise that as really the challenge that confronts this particular discourse at this particular time because if sociology is not careful the British sociopath right okay I don't have to say the British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has this book though what uses sociology if any of you've taken a look at that because they're interviews with him about it and he makes the case that if sociology becomes irrelevant if it's not useful he's not just talking power in the implications he's really saying speaking to the issues of our time looking outside of sociology's borders speaking to the issues of our time which are issues of racism sexism colonization environment if sociology it's not speaking to the issues of the time there will be many people who will say what good is sociology what uses sociology so I'm not saying sociology should become as activist program it sort of runs around you know the batteries and all that although those of you who are inspired to move in that direction please feel free right but I think there's a big place for thinking about one's own ideas and one's own praxis that is difficult to do within the confines of neoliberal universities that is what I'd be definitely saying you can't speak to the specifics of this particular institution but the pressures are mighty for a field that is established to reproduce the status quo to turn out little sociologists like this like the ones from 10 years ago 20 years ago 30 years ago 50 years ago 80 years whatever so you know just to be replicas of one another because that benefits somebody and not necessarily those who are outside so I'm saying that sociology needs to look outside of itself and engage in dialogues with fields that are quite different than itself now this may be different if one envisions sociology to the Imperial field or if you envision sociology is so under assault that works like mine are incredibly threatening and I'm the one who's bringing the field down but and that's where I could find class what's the other places all right that's where I could find income I could find um inequality that had to do with money and wealth I'm from a working-class family right I understand what it means to work for a job for a wage and how that affects your life intergenerationally and what fascinating all the kids have came in I'm sure you're familiar with that here some of you may be that kid that's okay okay to learn all right but I knew that no one was talking about classic everyone was talking about everything was racist it was all reduced to racism somehow racism were conquered all of the problems that black people had I guess that elusive freedom would be soft but I didn't see it that way because what I saw was a lot of invisible class privilege and disadvantage that was prominent in my school and the people who taught me that surprisingly well the white working-class kids from South Boston who had a different struggle in the school where we both attended I was interested in the intersections of race and class without knowing that I was and I could also see how the way sociology was set up meant that it was going to be difficult for me to think about that particular intersection a little-known thing about black people because sociology at that time black people were data but sociological theories I wasn't gonna be data all right I want to be an ancient of knowledge not an object of knowledge so in looking to other fields looking to Black Studies which at that time what didn't exist it was being formed as being founded it was completely interdisciplinary and realizing there was a space in Black Studies for the kind of question that I was bringing wasn't getting it right either it was doing a better job with race and racism and it certainly understood so what was happening is the critique within the field sociology is really pushed back against the kinds of work that I do and other people like myself done but black studies it was mine opening it appeared to be wide open but perhaps it was not as open as it appeared to be meeting up questions of gender you would have thought I was simply the trainer of the black race why can't we talk about black women you're bringing down the black man you can't have that don't do that it's down the other really an alliance with those white women yes you know the white with a little further brother down that kind of thing you may think that don't think of it make most ourselves as you want but the point here is that even emerging kinds of experiences that lay a foundation for intersectionality because I don't see intersectionality has a finished product it's not a Walmart social theory that you just say tell me what it is so I can tell you whether I can tie it to my whatever my question is it's a theory in the making the notion of critical analysis within sociology critical analysis within black studies critical analysis within feminism because the difficulty there was one foot in Black Studies and one foot in feminism and my gosh you look to be really steady knowing what it is you're trying to do how you like my steady and black studies and intamin ISM all right and don't even add sexuality in there because I'm always organized around particular projects like a feminist project or particular projects of sexuality LGBTQ all the things we have now we all those letters it really was something was basic all right a lot of this period of time was a product of desegregation and decolonization all of the groups that have been locked up in separate knowledge projects and developing some of them is resistance projects and in sociology kind of ambivalent about what kind of project that wanted to be they didn't want to work for social change they didn't want to work for social spaces stasis and change not sure what do you want you wanted to wait huh oh that kind of thing but these other projects Black Studies young people have anti-militarism and all the stuff these are all resistant knowledge projects versus some that are somehow dealing with inequality and are coming to terms with the fact that they're mono categorical analyses of the thing they're dealing with in the case for example of feminism it's all about gender someone would say but which women do you mean because if you say white women black women or no indigenous women you get a very different feminism don't you how do you handle them so feminism was involved with its internal criticism and during this period of time I thank this to the post-world War two period when it became possible for the first time for all of these existing projects some of them quite new black feminism for example was actually Sharon Collins it became possible for those projects to find one another and that becomes the space the meeting place of intersectionality so rather than describing intersectionality is something that sprang full-blown from the imagination of a particular finger somebody like in Crenshaw who coined the term intersectionality in 1999 and people take up that term happily because at that time all of these projects were looking for a common language to talk with one another they were engaged in dual critiques the internal criticisms of one's own discourse and the criticism of other discourses other resistant knowledge projects that were different than many of them are attached to activist praxis but they are projects where analysis occurs in the context of social action now we like to think of theory is something that happens in institutions like this one and it does under the theory happens in institutions like this one but it is a new idea for many people to think that you can theorize through social action the doing of trying to bring about social change can be an impetus for analysis of social change so you don't need to sit and wait for someone to come and raise your consciousness the actions in fact trying to solve those problems is a way of theorizing many of these projects were engaged in trying to figure out ways to theorize and to act upon the social problem they were encountering now if I return to black people for you this is where you get the civil rights movement you get the plaque power you get the blush feeling you got black feminism you get the emergence of black poor women talking about we talk about sexuality you know a lot of stuff going on in that space it's not all about 1968 tearing up the cobblestones in Paris all right other things what happened that were quite significant during that time so where are we early intersectionality very energetic time the promise of that time there's something about traveling I these when I did when an idea travels from one setting to the other it can be changed for the better or for the worse but it will be changed when other people start speaking your language your language sounds different when it comes through their mouths to your ears that's really what has been happening with intersectionality for quite simply first of all it's grown so now we know that their national projects we know that there's s Missa tee that's become significant the area of ability is something that we all need to really pay attention today I think that's quite significant in terms of the percentage of folks who'll be living with disabilities of some kind age is something that we don't necessarily think about because they're very young do not have social movements the very young but young people have social movements in fact a lot of the social movements the major people in those movements for young people that's exceeding a lot of discussion and of course the always the elderly senior folk so age as a category of analysis has emerged under the banner of intersectionality so it now faces the job of being an umbrella term for a constellation of projects that are dynamic and ever-changing and what does that mean does it lose its way is everything intersectionality and if it everything is intersectionality and intersectionality because meaningless but how do you make draw the boundaries around intersectionality when you can move the sociology and you can see how intersection excuse me how sociology disciplines its practitioners and protective discipline germs programs departments various degrees Awards all those kinds of things text books you know intimate text books that introduced peoples in the field but when you have a new field that is still dynamic and under construction how does it grapple with the questions of social change and how does it grapple with the issues of remaining critical or being critical and I think that's really the core question right now for intersectionality and this is a question that I've been involved in writing about now cuz I sort of thought about it pretty aggressively for the past five six years publishing the thinking about it a lot more sip of tea is needs can I have license to take you I'm talking you all they're just sitting there like this is not liquor this is green tea all right but I think the issue is one of letting go of the privilege that it thinks it has and putting that in the field of sociology and dialogue with many other discourses that has something to say about the questions that it holds dear for intersectionality the project is one of protecting the energy it's almost a protective project against commodification against misrepresentation against people who don't really care about intersectionality but they think it's hot it's in you know that thing the intersectionality it's hot about it I'm being way to make can't we move beyond it the people who are making a meeting today by driving about let's move beyond it but I presented this dude hasn't business what is the it you all right that's you're moving beyond to actually get to something else that means you have something on this particular field is so expansive that is very important to begin to develop a language that encompasses it but that doesn't preclude what it is and that would be three three projects that work going on just mention each one of them briefly because this is an ongoing nature of the work of the criticism the internal criticism on the fields the first is an article called intersectionalities definitional dilemmas and that was in the annual review of sociology they have to publish it because I was the president and the president gets an automatic publication in the and review of sociology you can write about anything you want to what appears in almost a new section of work that might be standard and that was going to tentative peace where I was thinking through things the next major project was the 2000 2016 book called intersectionality that I co-authored with Sarah bills now I knew that I needed to work with somebody who was different than me and when we brought complementary ideas to the same project Sarah was very passionate about intersectionality she grew up in Turkey she's french-speaking she was trained in France she lives in Montreal and she's completely dedicated to the issue we can do that so working together was really an interesting process because it demonstrates collaborative work rather than just saying to you I think sociology should go out and talk with other fields a writer I think it hurt em what is involved in actually doing the kind of work when you have dialogues with people who are in very different places than you but who may be committed to the same thing well we ended up with this notion of intersectionality as critical inquiry and praxis those are the three big things it's not just practice because we both can see all these all the activists who are really putting forward lots of ideas but we can also see the academics who thought that intersectionality was just ideas in curry and neither of them engaging sufficiently in the meaning of what it meant to be stressful are we talking critical as criticize are we talking critical as essential and then you're critical to me I need you I need these ideas for my own survival so we got alright so the book that I'm finishing now we had to draw that big circle around intersectionality not to shut it down but to show people who were actually doing this work the scope of the project they were involved in to really identify four different people who were doing race and gender and class or whatever that there were many other people doing similar things that weren't the same they were doing so to generalize about intersectionality from one case from one discipline from law or from the west or from whatever it is may be a problem all right so that gave me a little space to come back and say but then what really is at the heart of this field right and I as you know do this social theory so the books that I'm finishing now is called not just ideas intersectionality that's critical social theory and I'm really taking on the question of is this a theory I'm arguing it is not I'm arguing it is a analytical framework but I'm taking on the whole question of what does it mean to theorize and what can theory do for people and what can explanations do for people without shutting them down and turning into reified social theory how do you keep it alive right so I'm in my house it's a really strange place as I'm working on this particular book because me talking to me at least you're here should I know they're human beings here but when I talk to myself about all this you get a little strange and it always sounds really I'm talking to myself so it's so much of that kind of feeling in terms of the intellectual work always taking your ideas and cycling them around different people and realizing that what sounded so wonderful here you know feels different sounds different reads different works different we're in a different place but that's an is the nature of the work that we need to be doing whether it is a theology or whether it is a new section allottee it's this notion of dialogical engagements which is already well underway even if it's not respected or recognized in some circles because these are the new social relations that have been made is dialogical engagement possible and these are the ones on which we must build in order to move ourselves forward [Applause]

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