“Speaking into the Void”? Intersectionality Critiques and Epistemic Backlash

Hypatia 29 (1):94-112 (2014)
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Taking up Kimberlé Crenshaw's conclusion that black feminist theorists seem to continue to find themselves in many ways “speaking into the void” (Crenshaw 2011, 228), even as their works are widely celebrated, I examine intersectionality critiques as one site where power asymmetries and dominant imaginaries converge in the act of interpretation (or cooptation) of intersectionality. That is, despite its current “status,” intersectionality also faces epistemic intransigence in the ways in which it is read and applied. My aim is not to suggest that intersectionality cannot (or should not) be critiqued, nor do I maintain that celebratory applications/interpretations are immune from epistemic distortion when it comes to interpreting intersectionality. Rather, my goal is to demonstrate that critiques of intersectionality are one important site to examine hermeneutic marginalization and interpretive violence; the politics of citation; and the impact of dominant expectations or established social imaginaries on meaning-making. In so doing, I aim to consider more fully how entrenched ways of thinking are frequently relied upon to interpret and critique intersectionality, even as these are often the very frameworks that intersectionality theorists have identified as highly problematic tools of misrepresentation, erasure, and violation. This slippage away from intersectionality's outlooks, whether in critical or laudatory contexts, is a pivotal site of epistemic negotiation we must examine more closely



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