Taru Leppänen and Milla Tiainen
The concept of intersectionality helps to analyze interconnections of gender, race, sexuality, class, and other social categories and differentiations in the formation of individual and group identities, social practices, and associated power relations. The term intersectionality was coined by critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Since then, it has been an indispensable notion in feminist theory for highlighting the limitations of gender as the only or unquestionably primary analytical perspective (e.g. Lykke 2010; Herrera, Lutz & Supik 2011; Carbin & Edenheim 2013; McKibbin & al. 2015). This indispensability notwithstanding, new materialist theories, and theoretical projects that have inspired new materialisms, can both challenge and enrich our understandings of the interactions of different aspects of identity entailed by intersectionality.
Feminist philosopher Elizabeth Grosz, whose work on the dynamic materiality of human bodies and sexualities, environments and art has provided remarkable inspiration for new materialist research (see e.g. Kontturi & Tiainen 2007), has, however, doubted the usefulness of the notion of intersectionality. As Grosz states, this is because "[e]ach oppression, while perhaps sometimes invisible to some, is ultimately assumed to be determinable, recognizable, and separable from the other forms of oppression with which it engages" (2011, p. 92). Thus, in Grosz's view, intersectional analysis is needed to recognize relations of power and oppression that are based on social divisions linked to gender, race, age, and so on. Yet what she finds problematic is that while intersectional analysis examines the categorization or subjection of people under various classifications, it simultaneously tends to perpetuate these same classifications. This helps to maintain the assumption that identities or their different components are distinct and that these differences are conclusively determinable. To contest this tendency, Grosz (ibid., p. 88–98) argues that it is important to pay attention to the constant becomings or the temporal and situational complexities of individual and group existence, which overflow clear-cut and predefined categories. Grosz's suggestion is underpinned by the process ontological thinking of Gilles Deleuze, Henri Bergson, and other philosophers, whose work has influenced the development of new materialisms.
Elaborating on Karen Barad's theory of intra-action concerning the relation-bound emergence of phenomena, feminist theorist Sari Irni maintains, in turn, that, "[t]o be completely consistent, in an agential realist approach, a more proper term would be int_ra_sectionality rather than intersectionality" (2010, p. 113). In a reminiscent vein, queer theorist Jasbir Puar (2007, p. 211) has proposed a shift from the notions of intersectionality and identity politics prevalent in today's feminist and cultural theory to the idea of assemblage. Following cultural theorist and philosopher Brian Massumi, she claims that "intersectional identities are byproducts of attempts to still and quell the perpetual motion of assemblages, to capture and reduce them, to harness their threatening mobility" (ibid., p. 213). Thus, similarly to Grosz, Puar also emphasizes the constantly temporal, situation-bound, and multidimensional dynamism of (human) modes of being. With the concept of assemblage, she points out how the different dimensions of these modes of being (gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.) are not fully knowable attributes, but continually (re-)forming features, which take shape in relation to one another during a given occasion. It is the co-emergence and variation of these dimensions that make identities mobile assemblages irreducible to simplistic assignments of gender, age, and other characteristics. Hence, Barad's new materialist notion of intra-action and the concept of assemblage derived from the thinking of Deleuze and several contemporary theorists, provide new means of understanding the intersections of different aspects of being in ways that give primacy to process and relations (Dolphijn & van der Tuin 2013; Geerts & van der Tuin 2013; Gunnarsson 2017; Weheliye 2014).
Considered from new materialist perspectives, another issue with theories of intersectionality is that they tend to restrict their focus on human experiences of identity and power, and on practices and divisions that are assumed to pertain principally, if not exclusively, to humans. What has largely remained outside the scope of these approaches is, first, the way that classifications and the inherent hierarchical values attached to them also concern non-human animals and entities. Second, intersectional analysis needs to pay increasing attention to how material processes, including non-human material beings and forces, affect the formation of human experiences and identifications of gender, race, and so forth (Flatschart 2017). To overcome the restricting of intersectional thinking to human experience, some scholars have added speciesism into the relevant perspectives of intersectional research (Deckha 2008). Speciesism refers to the assignment of different value and rights to individuals based on their respective species membership. It all but always privileges humans over other species, or, more precisely, specific members of the human species (white, adult, socioeconomically dominant men) over other kinds of being.
A recent gesture in the direction of acknowledging the constitutive impact of other-than-human beings and material processes on human identities has been the notion of middle. This notion has been used to draw attention to the ways in which human characteristics - whether they concern race, bodily capacity, profession, or other aspects - constantly emerge from within rich networks of relations and interdependences involving human and other-than-human elements: for instance, human body parts, movements and perceptions, objects, technologies, non-human animals, and wider-than-human physical milieux (Tiainen, Hongisto & Kontturi 2015; Leppänen & Tiainen 2016; Manning & Massumi 2010). These processes of relatedness, which underlie and give rise to human experiences and behaviours, can be called productive "middles". They concern the ways that terms involved in particular relations are shaped by and re-emerge in those relations, affected by them. Thus, middles comprise a dimension of being within which relations reign. Categories such as human and non-human, bodily and artifactual, white and coloured, male and female are not yet neatly distinguishable. Instead, they figure as relationally existing and moving features within assemblages of connection among heterogeneous elements.
Understood in this manner, the notion of middle encourages scholars to extend theories of intersectionality by further stressing the contingent relationality of gender and other differences, and emphasizing the involvement of other-than-human elements in their formation. Insofar as researchers wish to pay increasing heed to these aspects, it is important to develop specific methods of "middling", in the sense of "to middle", into these relational formation processes (Tiainen, Hongisto & Kontturi 2015; Leppänen & Tiainen 2016, p. 35–36).
Synonyms: intra-action, relational becoming
Antonym: discrete identities, determinable differences
Hyponym: middle, to middle
Hypernym: relationality, process ontology
Carbin, Maria & Edenheim, Sara. (2013). The Intersectional Turn in Feminist Theory: A dream of a Common Language? European Journal of Women's Studies
Crenshaw, Kimberle. (1989). "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics," University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989, Article 8.
Dolphijn, Rick & van der Tuin, Iris. (2013). A Thousand Tiny Intersections: Linguisticism, Feminism, Racism and Deleuzian Becomings. In Arun Saldanha & Jason Michael Adams (eds), Deleuze and Race. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 129–143.
Flatschart, Elmar. (2017). Feminist Standpoints and Critical Realism. The Contested Materiality of Difference in Intersectionality and New Materialism. Journal of Critical Realism 16(3), 284–302
Geerts, Evelien & van der Tuin, Iris. (2013). From intersectionality to interference: Feminist onto-epistemological reflections on the politics of representation. Women's Studies International Forum 41, 171–1
Grosz, Elizabeth. (2011). Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art. Durhan amd London: Duke University Press.
Gunnarsson, Lena. (2017). Why We Keep Separating the Inseparable: Dialecticizing Intersectionality. European Journal of Women's Studies, 24(2): 114–127.
Herrera Vivar, Maria Teresa, Lutz, Helma & Supik, Linda (eds). (2011). Framing Intersectionality: Debates on a Multifaceted Concept in Gender Studies. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Irni, Sari. (2010). Ageing apparatuses at work: transdisciplinary negotiations of sex, age and materiality. Åbo: Åbo Akademi University.
Kontturi, Katve-Kaisa & Tiainen, Milla. (2007). Feminism, Art, Deleuze and Darwin: An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz. NORA - Nordic Journal of Women's Studies, 15 (4): 246–256.
Leppänen, Taru & Tiainen, Milla. (2016).Feministisiä uusmaterialismeja paikantamassa: Materian toimijuus etnografisessa taiteen- ja kulttuurintutkimuksessa [Locating Feminist New Materialisms: Agential Materiality in Ethnographic Studies of Art and Culture]. Sukupuolentutkimus [Gender Studies]3: 27–44.
Lykke, Nina. (2010). Feminist Studies: A Guide to Intersectional Theory, Methodology and Writing. New York: Routledge.
Manning, Erin & Massumi, Brian. (2010). Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
McKibbin, Gemma et al. (2015). The Intersectional Turn in Feminist Theory: A Response to Carbin and Edenheim (2013). European Journal of Women's Studies, 22(1): 99–103.
Puar, Jasbir. (2007). Terrorist Assemblages. Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durhan and London: Duke University Press.
Tiainen, Milla, Hongisto, Ilona & Kontturi, Katve-Kaisa. (2015).Framing, Following, Middling: Towards Methodologies of Relational Materialities, Cultural Studies Review 21(2): 14-46.
Weheliye, Alexander G. (2014). Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
COST Action IS1307 New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on 'How Matter Comes to Matter'.
Here you will find background material, current activities, calls for papers, working group information, and project outputs.
With the changing of societies on local, national and international scales owing to economic, ecological, political and technological developments and crises, a reorganized academic landscape can be observed to be emerging. Scholarship strives to become increasingly interdisciplinary in order to grasp and examine the unfolding complexity of ongoing ecological, socio-cultural and politico-economic changes. Additionally, academics forge... Read more or find out Who's Who
Information relating to activities undertaken, including conferences, training schools, short-term scientific missions, and annual meetings, are archived here.
Working Groups focus on four key areas of research
Working Group One
Genealogies of New Materialisms; examines and intervenes in canonization processes by compiling a web-based bibliography, coordinating the OST 068/13 8 EN... Read more
Working Group Two
New Materialisms on the Crossroads of the Natural and Human Sciences; seeks to develop new materialisms at the boundaries of the human and natural sciences. The group focuses on how European new materialisms can rework the ‘Two Cultures' gap... Read more
Working Group Three
New Materialisms Embracing the Creative Arts; brings together European researchers, artists, museum professionals, and other activists with a keen interest in the material... Read more
Working Group Four
New Materialisms Tackling Economical and Identity – Political Crises and Organizational Experiments... Read more
The Almanac comprises contributions from members of working groups, and participants in related activities, delineating key terms, more esoteric neologisms, and short provocations. Read more
New Materialism —
Networking European Scholarship on 'How matter comes to matter’
Website by Second Cousins