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Article

Intersectionality and Political Ambition  

Shauna Lani Shames

Understanding political ambition in an intersectional way requires some familiarity with both subjects. Intersectionality is first explored as a concept and practice, and then the discussion turns to an explanation of political ambition (in multiple forms). In addition, intersectionality can be applied to the theory and research on political ambition, particularly in the context of candidate emergence. Since Crenshaw’s article, and especially after 2000, the term intersectionality and the concept that it defines have become a central part of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies in academic circles and of feminist movement organizations in the real world. Although the term originally referred to the intersection of race with gender, it has expanded to include other forms of identity. The central metaphor for the concept as it has come to be used could be seen as the asterisk; each of us has a multiplicity of identities (race and gender, but also age, class, religion, sexual orientation, ability/disability, and more). The “self,” or subject, lies at the intersection of these many axes of identity. Difficulties continue to arise, however, in finding coherence in both theoretical and empirical works adopting an intersectional perspective. Should the concept be tied to its original understanding of the overlap between race and gender? Which race? With each additional axis of identity that we examine in a scholarly way, we gain specificity, but perhaps lose some generalizability. Taking into consideration all aspects of identity that define a whole person would be nearly impossible across any group. (Even a collection of young gay male Native Americans, say, would likely have all kind of differences that go far beyond their initial similarities.) Pushed to its logical extreme, the concept of intersectionality can threaten a feminist politics that seeks to take the “women” group as its subject. Turning to women as political candidates, a growing number of studies examine gender and political ambition, particularly in the context of candidate emergence (with a smaller but also growing subset looking at a second type of political ambition, progressive, referring to the decision to run for higher office once someone is already in office. Multiple works agree that women’s initial and progressive political ambition are lower than their comparable male counterparts’ levels, and such works give us valuable hypotheses and evidence about the reasons for this gender gap. Recent studies have begun to examine race as well as gender in order to perform studies of political ambition that are intersectional in approach and methodology, although these are limited in number, often due to the small numbers of women of color as candidates and elected officials. However, this article profiles some of the excellent work being done on this topic. By first looking at previous thinking and empirical work on intersectionality, doing the same for political ambition, and then bringing together these two fields of study, this article addresses the theoretical and empirical issues involved in studying political ambition in an intersectional way. In particular, at this point in the study of political ambition, it is crucial that we see more studies examining the different types of identification that make up intersectionality, how they can fit together, and how this overlap can affect women’s political ambition. Although this article is focused on American women, as they are the subject of much of the intersectionality and political ambition literature, this framework can be used more broadly by scholars studying women outside of the United States, who would certainly face many of the same challenges and questions.

Article

What’s a “Norm” After Queer Movements?  

Antoine Idier

The question of “norm” is central to queer theory. As this reading of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990), regarded as one of the pioneering texts in queer theory, shows, queer theory has consistently discussed the actual power of the norm, how it works, and how it is appropriate for minority movements to position themselves in relation to norms to abolish them. As many writings and discussions on this subject suggest, the reflection on the norm is based on an internal feminist discussion of identity. Just as there is no naturalness of sex, there is also no natural, preexisting identity. Denaturalizing identity by asserting that identities do not preexist when they are invoked calls for strategic use of identity while at the same time conducting a critique of how identities are produced. More fundamentally, the discussion of norms is linked to a reflection on “priority.” By asserting that there is no being or ontology that precedes socialization and the application of social norms, Butler denies any relevance to the project of reconnecting with practices and identities that have not been shaped by these norms and are thus considered free, escaping power. Postulating that there is no state prior to law, norm, and power calls for strategies of resistance and subversion. There is a need to place oneself within the normative devices and structures produced by power to subvert them. The notion of “performativity” condenses this conclusion by describing the possibility of producing acts that, within the normative system, displace normative meanings. Resistance and subversion lie in the parodic game, in the displacement of gender norms within the structure that produces them. The assertion that “there is no political position purified of power, and perhaps that impurity is what produces agency as the potential interruption and reversal of regulatory regimes” leads to a radical redefinition of politics. All subversive politics thus remain dependent on prevailing norms and structures, within which it acts to contest them. Subversion can only ever be local and never total, as much temporally as geographically. It can only intervene in a place, at a given moment, with reference to a given normative apparatus. Insofar as it remains necessary always to draw on a norm in order to challenge and resignify it, it will never be possible to contest all social norms definitively; it will only be possible to weaken certain ones from time to time. It then remains to identify, at some point, the power with which one wishes to fight, and the most effective strategies to weaken it.

Article

The Rise of Transgender Social Movements: Narrative Symbolism and History  

B. Lee Aultman

Trans is both an umbrella term for heterogeneous identities and a discrete collective identity type unto itself. It now encompasses a wide range of binary and nonbinary identifications like transsexual and transgender. Social movements arising that take up trans issues do so with certain caveats. Many make the important distinction that “trans” describes human practices and social identities preceding the construction of its modern name and meaning. Furthermore, social movements and activism advance the argument that trans embodiments are not confined to Western or medical imaginaries. Indeed, what is expressed within trans identity narratives have gone by other cultural names, with diverse histories all their own. The rise and ongoing role of American trans activism within social and political domains are careful to consider the narrative histories being summoned. Trans social movements are generally aware of the risks that analytic terms like movement or protest might imply. For better or worse, scholars often associate the rise of social and political protest movements of the 20th century in broadly fantastic terms. The emergence of trans communities, however, unfolded over the course of a century. The episodic ruptures that mark historical events (Compton’s Cafeteria or the Stonewall riots) tend to spur organizational consolidation. Indeed, many of the most recent trends in trans activism then consolidated into organized interests. On that many scholars can agree. But the historical process that led to this point of trans politics is not clear-cut. Often eclipsed by the twin narrative of queer liberation, trans social movements linger among a number of narrative histories. Three periodizations help identify how trans narratives of identity and social justice are deployed, by whom, and for what purpose. The nominal period marks the rise of transsexual identities as they emerged within the space of medical currents in the early 20th century. Trans people in mid-century America may have participated in the power of medical discourse in their own lives. For example, autobiographical texts describe psychic pain, depression, and suicidal ideation that were alleviated only through transition. Naming provides intelligibility to an otherwise opaque set of phenomena. The symbolic period moves away from privileging the medical archive to highlight the connections made between radical identity groups and the growth of organized resources by and for trans activists. Narratives here are socially symbolic and detail how terms like transsexual and transgender(ist) entered a complex cultural milieu. Many activists would permanently shape the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and agender (LGBTIA) communities for decades. The symbolic emphasizes a politics of narrative origins. Identifying the events and voices that shaped the mainstream conception of trans issues is critical to contemporary movements for social justice. The pluralist period reflects upon the various institutional interventions that shaped popular discourse around sex and gender in everyday life for trans people. It typically recasts the last three decades of the 20th century as a crucial epoch in trans activism (for both social and political forces). Between 1980 and 1990, new energy emerged that ran on the heels of a new posttranssexual politics. What emerged in the early 2000s was a rapid growth of organized advocacy and interest-group formation. Many of the organizations are still active and continue to shape national, state, and local policies. They represent one form of a blend of movement-related strategies for participating in the construction and durability of trans politics.