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Politics of Identity:

Dorothy E. Smith,
Patricia Hill Collins,
and Cornel West
n the first edition of this book, the previous chapter with Foucault and
Baudrillard was last, and this chapter came before it. On many levels, shifting
the places of two chapters seems insignificant; and, truth be told, it probably is.
But it gives me the opportunity to explain the shift, and I think that has importance.
Over the past few years, Ive been thinking !uite a bit about modernity and democ
racy. "s Ive studied and thought and interacted with my students, Ive become
deeply impressed with some powerful changes that have been building over the last
couple of decades but appear to be coming to fruition. #he tenor of the entire book
reflects this sense, as Ive repeatedly brought us back to the foundations of the age
we live in and the place the social disciplines have in it. Ive also brought us back
numerous times to consider the person in modernity.
#hings are different today than they were in $%%& when this social experiment
called democracy began. #he world has changed since the emancipatory move
ments of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. "nd things are different
today than they were during the upheavals of the $'&(s. #he social world that
weve seen painted over the last few chapters is the new one; at the very least these
artists have given us glimmers of what is happening. In the words of )tephen
*ing, the worlds moved on. "nd in the moving, the person and the politics of the
person have changed. +hile you may not be black or female, the social thinkers
in this chapter outline a different kind of politics than was first conceived at the
birth of democracy. #hey tell us more about the political person hinted at in
,iddens and -astells theories. Its a politics of knowledge and identities. +hile I
wouldnt say that everybody in this chapter fits into .atricia /ill -ollins defini
tion of identity politics, it nonetheless captures an essence that I think they all
share2 Identity politics encompasses 3a way of knowing that sees lived experiences
as important to creating knowledge and crafting group4based political strategies.
"lso, 5it is6 a form of political resistance where an oppressed group re7ects its
devalued status3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 9'':.
#he point in ending the book with this chapter is that you matter. +ho you are
and how you express your existence in the world around you matters. It matters
because in modernity its always mattered. "s Ive said, modernity was founded on
a specific idea of the citi;en. "nd I think that the same is true whatever world were
moving into; in fact, if the glimmers of the last few chapters are an indication, then
I would say its even truer today. "nd the exciting, frightening thing is that I think
,iddens is right2 #here arent the same kinds of guideposts that traditional and
early modern societies provided. +e need to find our way together, which is, after
all, the meaning behind democracy. #he voices in this chapter are powerful. I hope
youll listen and critically think about what they say.
Gendered Consciousness:
Dorothy E. Smith (1926-)
Theorist&s Di'est
Conce(ts and Theory: The Pro)lem With *acts
Not Theory-Method!
Facts and Texts: The New Materialism
Defining Standpoint
Conce(ts and Theory: The Stand(oint of Women
Sociology and the Relations of Ruling
The Fault ine
Stand(oint and Te+t,Mediated Po-er
ender ine!uality has been studied by sociologists ever since the time of
/arriet <artineau. In $=1% she published her study of "merica. For
<artineau 8$=1%>9((0:, one of the key tests of civili;ation and democ
racy in a society is the condition of women2 3If the test of civili;ation be sought,
none can be so sure as the condition of that half of society over which the other half
has power3 8p. 9'$:. ,ranted, since that time the topic of gender has come in and
out of favor with the discipline as a whole. ?evertheless, its safe to say that gender
ine!uality as a topic of study has been a central concern since the $'%(s, and soci
ologists have done countless studies and published innumerable articles, books,
and essays on the sub7ect since then.
But, what if a good many of them actually worked to suppress women rather
than liberate them@ Aorothy B. )mith asks us to consider this possibility. )he argues
that the way in which women are dominated isnt solely through the social struc
tures with which Canet )alt;man -hafet; told us about in -hapter $(. ?o, gender
ine!uality also works through the social and behavioral sciences as they create
knowledge about women in opposition to women's knowledge. #his body of knowl
edge claims ob7ectivity and thus authority 3not on the basis of its capacity to speak
truthfully, but in terms of its specific capacity to exclude the presence and experi
ence of particular sub7ectivities3 8)mith, $'=%, p. 9:. )mith wants to begin with and
center social and behavioral research on the actual lived experiences of people and
their encounter with texts, rather than on the texts that deny the very voices they
claim to express.
Brief Biography
Dorothy E. Smith -as )orn in Northallerton, "or/shire, 0reat 1ritain, in 2345. She earned her
.nder'rad.ate de'ree in 2366 from the 7ondon School of Economics. In 2358, Smith recei9ed
her PhD from the %ni9ersity of California at 1er/eley. She has ta.'ht at 1er/eley, the %ni9ersity
of Esse+, and the %ni9ersity of 1ritish Col.m)ia. She is c.rrently !d:.nct Professor at the
%ni9ersity of #ictoria. In reco'nition of her contri).tions to sociolo'y, the !merican Sociolo'y
!ssociation ;!S!< honored Smith -ith the =essie 1ernard !-ard in 2338 and the Career of
Distin'.ished Scholarshi( !-ard in 2333. Her )oo/ The Everyday World as Problematic has
recei9ed t-o a-ards from the Canadian Sociolo'y and !nthro(olo'y !ssociation: the
O.tstandin' Contri).tion !-ard and the =ohn Porter !-ard, )oth 'i9en in 233>.
Central Sociological Questions
7i/e *o.ca.lt, Smith sees that /no-led'e (rod.ced thro.'h the social sciences can contain
and th.s re(licate relations of r.lin'. Smith is centrally concerned -ith ho- the daily li9es of
men and -omen are ?.ite often different. "et, -hen 'ender is st.died from a social
scientific (ers(ecti9e, the distinct e+(eriences and /no-led'e of -omen are -ritten o.t. The
relations of r.lin', then, contin.e to )e e+erted e9en .nder the '.ise of 'ender ine?.ality. @My
research concern is to ).ild an ordinary 'ood /no-led'e of the te+tAmediated or'aniBation
of (o-er from the stand(oint of -omen in contem(orary ca(italism@ ;Smith, 2334, (. 3C<.
Simply Stated
Smith ar'.es that the social and )eha9ioral sciences ha9e systematically de9elo(ed an o):ecti9e
)ody of /no-led'e a)o.t the indi9id.al, social relations, and society in 'eneral. This )ody of
/no-led'e claims o):ecti9ity and th.s a.thority @not on the )asis of its ca(acity to s(ea/
tr.thf.lly, ).t in terms of its s(ecific ca(acity to e+cl.de the (resence and e+(erience of
(artic.lar s.):ecti9ities@ ;Smith, 23DC, (. 4<. 1eca.se ofthis e+cl.sion, social scientific te+ts are
nothin' more than an e+(ression of the relations of r.lin' that contin.e to o((ress -omen.
Smith -ants to center research on the act.al li9ed e+(eriences of -omen, and their enco.nters
-ith these te+ts.
{Continued} )
#ey !de$s
(ractices of (o-er, ne- materialism, te+ts, facticity, stand(oint, constit.ti9e -or/, relations of
r.lin', fa.lt line, relations of r.lin', instit.tional ethno'ra(hy
Conce%ts $nd Theory: The &ro'(em +ith )$cts
"s Ive done with others, Im putting )miths perspective upfront rather than at the
end of the chapter. #he main reason Im doing this with )mith is because in many
ways her theory and perspective are the same; as youll see, its hard to talk of one
apart from the other. .lus, she gives us a different account of how gender ine!ual
ity is achieved than did -hafet; 8-hapter $(:, again, because she sees the world a
bit differently.
*ot Theory-+ethod,
In $''9, ociological Theory! the premier theoretical 7ournal of the "merican
)ociological "ssociation, presented a symposium on the work of Aorothy B. )mith.
#hough )mith had been publishing for !uite some time, her dramatic impact on
sociology came with the publications in $'=% of The Everyday World as Problematic
and in $''(, The Conce"tual Practices o# Power. Being the sub7ect of a special issue
in ociological Theory so soon after the publication of two ma7or works attests to the
impact that )miths perspective was having on sociology. "mong the commentators
in that special issue were .atricia /ill -ollins, Dobert -onnell, and -harles Eemert,
each a significant theorist in her or his own right. /owever, )mith 8 $''9: criti!ued
each of these theorists as having misinterpreted her work, saying 3each constructs
her or his own straw )mith3 8p. ==:.
Of course, -ollins, -onnell, and Eemert had their own individual issues, but
)mith 8$''9: argues that they universally misconstrued her work as theory rather
than method. @It is not ... a totali;ing theory. Dather it is a method o# in$uiry!
always ongoing, opening things up, discovering3 8p. ==, emphasis original:. #his is
obviously an important point for us to note at the beginning of our discussion of
)miths work. )he doesnt give us a general theory, not even a general theory of gen
der oppression. )mith gives us a method, but it isnt a method in the same sense as
data analysis4)miths is a theoretical method. Its a method grounded in a theoret
ical understanding of the world that results in theoretical insights. Further, for
)mith these theoretical insights are themselves continually held up to evaluation
and revision.
In general, )miths work is considered 3standpoint theory.3 "s well see below,
thats a fairly accurate description of what she does. But )mith argues that thinking
about standpoint theory theoretically makes the idea too abstract and it defeats the
original intent. Eike .ierre Bourdieu, )mith is very interested in the practices of
power. )he is interested in what happens on the ground, 3where the rubber meets
the road,3 in the lived experiences of women, more than the abstract words of soci
ological theory.
Eet me give you an example that might help us see the distinction that )mith is
making. ?ot long ago I was talking to a friend of mine who plays and builds drums.
+e were talking about the special feeling that comes from building the instrument
you play. #heres a kind of connection that develops between the builder and the
wood, a connection that is grounded in the physical experience of the wood. I
agreed with what he said and told him that kind of knowledge is called 3kines
thetic.3 But I was painfully aware that there was a real difference between what we
were each talking about. /e has actually worked with the wood out of which he
builds his drum kits; though I play guitar, I have never experienced that kind of
connection with my instrument. I had the word for what he was talking about, but
he had the actual experience.
)mith is arguing that something happens when we formali;e and generali;e our
concepts. +e can !uickly move out of the realm of real experience. "s such, it is
possible for concepts to play a purely discursive role. Cust like in my example of
kinesthetic knowledge, we can talk about things of which we only have discursive
or linguistic knowledge. #hus, I can talk about the intuitive connection that exists
between a musician and an instrument that he or she has built, but I have no actual
knowledge of it. Its purely theoretical for me.
Obviously, there are no significant conse!uences of my woodworking example.
But in the social world, there can be important ramifications, and thats the point
that )mith wants us to see. )tandpoint theory isnt a theory per se; its a method of
observation that privileges the point of view of actual people over theoretical,
abstract knowledge. #hat may sound commonsensical and you may agree with it,
but )mith would contend that most of what you and I know about the social world
is like my knowledge of building a musical instrument.
In thinking about )miths approach, it is important to note that she doesnt see
herself as arguing against abstractions. #o one degree or another, theory is usually
abstracted. +hen we talk about theory being abstract, we mean that it is not simply
a statement or restatement of the particulars. In a fundamental way, then, most the
ories and theoretical terms exist outside of the actual situation as generali;ations.
For example, there is a significant difference between saying 3Ea#oya went to Food
Eion to do the food shopping3 and 3+omen generally do the grocery shopping.3
#he first statement is particular; it refers to the behaviors of a specific person at a
definite location and time. In that sense, the statement is limited and not theoreti
cally powerful. #he second statement, because it is abstract, is more theoretically
powerful. <ost theory is at least somewhat abstract; its the best way for us to say
something significant about what is going on. Because she focuses on the actuali
ties of lived experience, )miths standpoint theory can be read to mean that abstrac
tions are themselves bad. But that isnt her intent.
?or is she interested in simply discrediting or deconstructing the knowledge or
relations of ruling. Fuite a bit of critical theory is aimed at these issues. For
example, chances are good that much of what youve learned in other classes about
gender or race is a historical account of how patriarchy or racism came about and
how it functions to oppress people. #he intent in these courses is to discredit sex
ism or racism by deconstructing its ideological and historical basis. But discredit
ing isnt )miths specific intent either.
)mith argues that in both these cases, abstractions and ideological deconstruc
tion, the criti!ue by itself isnt enough; it doesnt tell the actual story. #heory in
both forms plays itself out in the everyday, actual world of people, and that is
)miths concern. Insofar as theory and ideology mean anything, they mean some
thing in everyday life, whether that life is the researchers or that of ordinary
women. Eike I said, )mith is interested in where the rubber meets the road. In this
case, the 3rubber3 is made up of theoretical abstractions and ideological knowledge
that governs, and the 3road3 is the actual experiences of women. #hus, )mith isnt
interested in doing away with abstractions per se, nor is she simply interested in
exposing the relations of ruling; doing so is not enough and it runs the risk of repli
cating the problem, as we will soon see.
)$cts $nd Te-ts: The *e. +$teri$(ism
"s weve seen in previous chapters, <arxs materialism argues that there is a
relationship between ones material class interests and the knowledge one has.
)mith proposes a new materialism! one where facts and texts rather than commod
ification produce alienation and ob7ectification. +ith <arx, commodities and
money mediate the relationships people have with themselves and others. #hat is,
we relate and come to understand our self and others through money and products.
<arxs theory was specific to industriali;ed capitalism4the economies of more
technologically advanced societies may be different. )ome of the important changes
include shifts from manufacturing to 3service3 economies, increases in the use of
credentials and in the amount and use of expert knowledge, advances in commu
nication and transportation technologies, exponential increases in the use of adver
tising images and texts, and so on. In such economies, relationships and power are
mediated more through texts and 3facts3 than commodities and money. Further,
7ust as people misrecogni;ed the reality in back of money and commodities, so
today most people misrecogni;e the relations of power in back of texts and facts.
#exts and the facticity that text produces are the primary medium through which
power is exercised in a society such as the Gnited )tates.
#hough the idea of text is gaining usage and popularity, it, like culture, is one
of the more difficult words to define. +infried ?oth 8$'=0>$''0:, in her
%andbook o# emiotics! says that given that textuality is defined by the researcher,
@It is not surprising that semioticians of the text have been unable to agree on a
definition and on criteria of their ob7ect of research3 8p. 11$ :. )mith, however,
gives us a broad, clear, and useful definition of 3text3 that includes three elements2
Ch$%ter 2C E Politics of Identity: Smith, Collins, and West 7
the actual written words or symbols, the physical medium through which words
and symbols are expressed, and the materiality of the text4the actual practices of
writing and reading.
)mith is specifically concerned with texts that are officially or organi;ationally
written and read. )he gives us the example of two different texts that came out of
an incident in $'&= involving police and street people in Berkeley, -alifornia. One
text came in the form of a letter to an underground newspaper and was written by
someone who was marginally involved in the altercation. /is text was 3written from
the standpoint of an actual experience3 8)mith, $''(, p. &1: and contained specific
references to people, places, times, and events. It was embedded in and expressed
actual life experiences as they happened. #his was a personal account of a personal
experience that reflexively situated the writer in the event.
#he other text was the official incident report that came from the mayors office.
#he standpoint of this second text is organi;ational. Dather than being an account
of a personal experience, it is written from the point of view of anonymous police
officers who are portrayed as trained professionals and organi;ational representa
tives. In addition, the official report embedded the text within 3se!uences of orga
ni;ational action extending before and after them3 8)mith, $''(, p. &H: using
reports from police, courts, and probation officers. In other words, the official text
brought in many elements that exist outside of the actual situation and experience.
In the end, every element of the actual experience was given meaning through these
extra4local concepts rather than the experience itself.
#he obliteration of the historical and specific sources is part of the process of
creating facts 8)mith, $''(, p. &&:. #he facticity of a statement is thus not a prop
erty of the statement itself. " statement simply proposes a state of affairs such as
3#he earth is t$at.3 For a statement to become fact, there must be a corresponding
set of practices that provide its plausibility base4a group of people, beliefs, and
practices that give substance to the statement. Facticity, then, 3is essentially a prop
erty of an institutional order mediated by texts3 8p. %':. Facts and texts are organi
;ational achievements, not independent truths of the world. #hese are the texts and
facts in which )mith is interested2 the ones that are written and read as part of orga
ni;ational method and relations of power. #hey create an ob7ective reality whose
existence is dependent upon specific institutionali;ed practices.
De/inin0 St$nd%oint
In general, stand"oint theory addresses the issue of which kind of knowledge car
ries the greatest value. <ost people have a tendency to accept knowledge in a
taken4for4granted manner2 *nowledge may be incorrect, but those mistakes can
be fixed and knowledge progresses onward. )tandpoint theory, like <arxian and
other critical theories before it, points out that knowledge is specific to social
structure and position. In other words, there are many forms of knowledge, but
some of them are privileged over others. Obviously, the privileged forms of knowl
edge benefit the power elite and serve to suppress others.
)tandpoint theory argues that groups standing outside the place of privilege
actually have a more authentic knowledge of the social system. #his is true first
because they are in a better position to see the whole system at work. For
example, most white people arent aware that they are not the sub7ect of police
scrutiny. <ost blacks, on the other hand, have firsthand knowledge of how sur
veillance works in the shopping malls and streets of "merica. #he second reason
it is more authentic is that it intrinsically recogni;es the political nature of all
knowledge and ways of knowing. Dather than seeing information as pure and
free from ethical considerations, standpoint recogni;es that all knowledge exists
because of a specific kind of sociopolitical configuration of social structures and
interests. Further, the use to which information is put is always tainted by values
and politics.
"s a form of critical knowledge, then, standpoint theory seeks to2
I .rivilege the lived experiences of those who are outside the relations of ruling
I Depresent the social world from the standpoint of the oppressed
I <ake the studies and accounts of disenfranchised groups accessible to those
who are the sub7ects of the studies
I -reate knowledge that can be used by the oppressed to subvert and change
their social world
Conce%ts $nd Theory: The St$nd%oint o/ 1omen
)mith argues that the distinction between abstract knowledge 8or text: and lived
experience holds for all people, whether male, female, black, white, -hicano, or any
one else. /owever, womens experience and knowledge is specifically important.
,enerally speaking, there are a few reasons why this would be accurate. First, as
weve already seen, knowledge of oppressed peoples is in some ways truer than that
of the ruling groups. Because it crosscuts all other social categories, the oppressive
system par excellence is gender. #hus, womens knowledge is uni!uely suited to help
us see an oppressive structure for what it is.
"nother reason to favor womens knowledge is that women are particularly
embodied. For example, the beginnings of gender stratification are undoubtedly
linked to the control of womens sexuality and bodies. Obviously, these beginnings
are clouded by time and are fairly complex. Jet, we can get a sense of how womens
ine!uality and their bodies became linked by looking at a few of these issues. One
of the most important factors in establishing this link is the control of wealth. In
order to dominate wealth, men had to control inheritance. Gntil A?" paternity
testing became a reality, a mans ability to legitimate his lineage was largely depen
dent upon exclusive access to the woman; thus, men had to regulate womens sex
ual behaviors in order to control wealth.
+omens bodies also became important politically in at least two other ways.
First, women were used to form political alliances through marriage. Obviously, a
man was involved in this marriage, but in +estern civili;ations it was generally the
woman who left her home and became part of her husbands realm. In exchange
terms, she was the 3good3 that was traded, and the !uality of that good, in terms of
sexual purity, was of utmost importance. )econd, womens bodies were used in war
fare as a way of demorali;ing the enemy, through such things as systematic rape, a
practice termed 3rape warfare3 by Beverly "llen 8$''&: and 3mass rape3 by
"lexandra )tiglmayer 8$''H: in their analyses of incidents in Bosnia4/er;egovina.
#here is no doubt that womens bodies continue to be a primary site of gender
inscription, as countless studies and films 8such as Cean *ilbournes &illing 's o#tly
series: document. For )mith 8$'=%:, a womans body is significant because it 3is
also the place of her sensory organi;ation of immediate experience; the place where
her coordinates of here and now, before and after, are organi;ed around herself as
center3 8p. =9:. #hus, women are likely more aware of and more centered in their
bodies than are men.
" third reason for privileging womens experiences is the position they play rela
tive to men and mens relationship to ob7ective text. +ell consider this again in the
section on the fault line, but it bears mentioning here. +hile what )mith is saying
about ob7ective knowledge on one hand and sub7ective experience on the other is
true about men, it is also true that women by and large take care of most of the
details of life 8such as cooking, cleaning, childrearing, and so on:. #hese 3details3 are
what allow 3mens life3 to be lived. Because women take care of the actualities, men
are allowed to think that life is really about the abstract, general knowledge they con
struct and believe. +omen thus typically provide a buffer between men and the
actual demands of life, and thus, womens knowledge is more materially real.
Because of her emphasis on standpoint, )mith argues that her pro7ect is not an
ideological representation or movement. Often when we think of feminism, we
think of a social movement with a specific agenda and ideology. +hile liberation
from oppression is certainly part of what )mith 8$'=%: wants to attain, she doesnt
offer us 3an ideological position that represents womens oppression as having a
determinate character and takes up the analysis of social forms with a view to dis
covering in them the lineaments of what the ideologist already supposes that she
knows3 8pp. $(&4$(%:. KLK#hether it comes from social science or feminism, )mith is
concerned about knowledge that ob7ectifies, that starts from a position outside the
everyday world of lived experience, as generally sociology does.
)mith gives us an example of walking her dog. KLK#hen walking her dog, she needs
to be careful that he doesnt 3do his business3 in places that are inappropriate. )mith
points out that her behavior in this situation would generally be understood in
terms of norms. From the normative perspective, she would simply be seen as con
forming to the social norms of walking a dog. /owever, )mith 8$'=%: contends that
the idea of norm 3provides for the surface properties of my behavior, what I can be
seen to be doing3 8p. $00:. In other words, the normative approach can only give us
a surface or simplistic understanding of what is going on. +hat is ignored in seeing
the norm is 3an account of the constitutive work that is going on3 8p. $00:.
In this case, 3constitutive work3 refers to the efforts )mith must put forth in con
forming to the norm. "nd in the process of conforming, there are any number of
contingencies, including the kind of neighborhood, the type of neighbors, the kind
of leash, the breed of dog, the weather, her sub7ective states, and so on. "ll of the
contingencies re!uire practical reasoning that in turn produces a specific kind of
reaction to the norm. #he issue for )mith is that the normative account ignores the
actual experiences of the person2 how, when, and why the individual conforms to,
negotiates, or ignores the demands made by the norm.
Aisregarding the site of constitutive work is how 3the very intellectual successes
of the womens movement have created their own contradictions3 8)mith, $''9,
p. ==:. #he contradictions arise, according to )mith, as feminism becomes its own
theory4a theory that is seen to exist apart from the lived experiences of the women
it attempts to describe. For )mith, resistance and revolution do not4indeed,
cannot4begin in theory or even sociology. )uch a beginning would simply replace
the ruling ideas with another set of ruling ideas. In order to create a sociology of
women, or to bring about any real social change, it is imperative to begin and con
tinue in the situated perspectives of the people in whom we are interested.
#hus, )miths intent is to open up the space of actual experience as the site of
research. #his is exactly what )mith means by the title of her $'=% book, The
Everyday World as Problematic. <ost social research takes on problems that are
guided by the literature, the researchers career, or by the availability of funds.
"ccording to )mith, this practice results in a body of knowledge that more often
than not only references itself or the relations of ruling that fund it. In )miths work,
it is the everyday world of women that is problemati;ed. Its the actual experience
of women that sets the problems and !uestions of research and provides the
answers and theory. 3In!uiry does not begin within the conceptual organi;ation or
relevances of the sociological discourse, but in actual experience as embedded in
the particular historical forms of social relations that determine that experience3
8)mith, $'=%, p. H':.
"nother way to put this issue is that most social research assumes a reciprocity
of perspectives. One of the things that ethnomethodology 8see -hapter $9: has
taught us about the organi;ation of social order at the micro level is that we all
assume that our way of seeing things corresponds fairly closely to the way other
people see things. <ore specifically, we assume that if another person were to walk
in our shoes, they would experience the world 7ust like we do. #his is an assump
tion that allows us to carry on with our daily lives. It lets us act as if we share a com
mon world, even though we may not and we can never know for sure if we do.
"ccording to )mith, social science usually works in this way, too, but she wants us
to problemati;e that assumption in sociology. )he wants us to ask, 3+hat is it like
to be that person in that body in those circumstances@3
Socio(o0y $nd the e($tions o/ u(in0
)mith 8$''(: talks about the practices, knowledge, and social relations that are
associated with power as relations of ruling. )pecifically, relations o# ruling include
Ch$%ter 2C e Politics of Identity: Smith, Collins, and West 11
3what the business world calls management! it includes the professions, it includes
government and the activities of those who are selecting, training, and indoctrinat
ing those who will be its governors3 8p. $H, emphasis original:. In technologically
advanced societies that are bureaucratically organi;ed, ruling and governing take
place specifically through abstract concepts and symbols, or text. "s <ichel
Foucault explains, knowledge is power; it is the currency that dominates our age.
"uthority and control are exercised in contemporary society through different
forms of knowledge4specifically, knowledge that ob7ectifies its sub7ects.
#he social sciences in particular are !uite good at this. #hey turn people into
populations that can be reduced to numbers, measured, and thus controlled.
#hrough abstract concepts and generali;ed theories, the social sciences empty the
person of individual thoughts and feelings and reduce him or her to concepts and
ideas that can be applied to all people grouped together within a specific social type.
#he social sciences thus create a textual reality, one that exists in 3the literature3
outside of the lived experience of people.
<uch of this literature is related to data generated by the state, through such
instruments as the G.). -ensus or the FBIs Gniform -rime Deporting 8G-D:
.rogram. #hese data are accepted without !uestion as the authoritative representa
tion of reality because they are seen as hard data(data that correspond to the
assumptions of science. #hese data are then used to 3test3 theories and hypotheses
that are generated, more often than not, either from previous work or by academics
seeking to establish their names in the literature. Bven case histories that purport to
represent the life of a specific individual are rendered as documents that substanti
ate established theoretical understandings.
#hus, most of the data, theory, and findings of social science are generated by a
state driven by political concerns, by academics circumscribed by the discipline of
their fields, by professors motivated to create a vita 8resume: of distinction, or by
professionals seeking to establish their practice. "ll of this creates 3textual surfaces
of ob7ective knowledge in public contexts3 that are 3to be read factually ... as evi
dences of a reality in back of the text3 8)mith, $''(, pp. $'$, $(%:. #herefore, a
sociology that is oriented toward abstract theory and data analysis results in a dis
cipline that 3is a systematically developed consciousness of society and social
relations ... 5that6 claims ob7ectivity not on the basis of its capacity to speak truth
fully, but in terms of its specific capacity to exclude the presence and experience of
particular sub7ectivities3 8)mith, $'=%, p. 9:.
#hese concepts, theories, numbers, practices, and professions become relations
of ruling as they are used by the individual to understand and control her own sub
7ectivity, as she understands herself to be a sub7ect of the discourses of sociology,
psychology, economics, and so on. +e do this when we see ourselves in the socio
logical articles or self4help books we read, in the written histories or newspapers of
society, or in business 7ournals or reports. +ith or without awareness of it, we mold
ourselves to the picture of reality presented in the 3textual surfaces of ob7ective
)mith points out that this process of molding becomes explicit for those people
wanting to become sociologists, psychologists, or business leaders. Aisciplines
sociali;e students into accepted theories and methods. In the end, these are specific
guidelines that determine exactly what constitutes sociological knowledge. For
example, most of the professors youve had are either tenured or on a tenure track.
+hether an instructor has tenure or not is generally the chief distinction between
assistant and associate professors. "nd when a sociology professor comes up for
tenure and promotion, one of the most important !uestions asked about his or her
work is whether or not it !ualifies as sociology. ?ot everything we do is necessarily
sociology4it has to conform to specific methodologies, assumptions, concepts,
and so on to !ualify as sociology.
#here is something reasonable about this work of exclusion. If I wrote an article
with nothing but math concepts in it, it probably shouldnt be considered sociol
ogy. Otherwise there wouldnt be any differences among any of the academic disci
plines. /owever, )miths point is that there is more going on than simple
definitions. Aefinitions of methods and theory are used by the powerful to exclude
the powerless. +hat counts as sociology and the criteria used to make the distinc
tions are therefore reflections of the relations of ruling. )ociology and all the social
sciences have historically been masculinist enterprises, which means that what con
stitutes sociology is defined from the perspective of ruling men. #he !uestions that
are deemed important and the methods and theories that are used have all been
established by men2 3/ow sociology is thought4its methods, conceptual schemes,
and theories4has been based on and built up within the male social universe3
8)mith, $''(, p. $1:.
Eet me give you an example to bring this home, one that has to do with race, but
the illustration still holds. In the latter part of the $''(s, two colleagues and I were
untenured in our department. One of those colleagues is black. "ll three of us were
worried about tenure and promotion4there was !uite a bit of contradictory infor
mation circulating about how we could get tenure. )o we had a meeting with the
man who was department head at the time. Bach of us had specific concerns. <y
black colleagues concern was about race. "s a result of some of the things the
department head said, I asked him point blank2 3+ill the articles that 5my black col
league6 has published count for tenure and promotion or not@3 #he head answered
that he wasnt sure because the articles were published in black 7ournals and may
not therefore 3count as sociology.3 "s you can see, what counts as 3sociology3 is
defined by those in power.
The )$u(t (ine
)mith argues that since the motivations, !uestions, and data come out of the con
cerns of those that govern and not the actual experiences of those living under the
relations of ruling, masculinist knowledge is by default ob7ective and ob7ectifying
from beginning to end, it stands outside of the actual experience of those other than
the ruling. )miths sociology is thus not specifically concerned with what usually
passes as pre7udice or sexism, that expressed through negative stereotypes and
discrimination. Dather, 3+e are talking about the conse!uences of womens
exclusion from a full share in the making of what becomes treated as our culture3
8)mith, $'=%, p. 9(:.
Ch$%ter 2C E Politics of Identity: Smith, Collins, and West
One of those conse!uences is the experience of a fault line for those women
training as social scientists. #he idea of a fault line comes from geology where it
refers to the intersection between a geologic fault 8a fracture in the earths crust:
and the earths surface. <any fault lines are dramatically visible. 8If youve not seen
one, use an Internet search engine to find an image of a fault line.: )miths analogy
is !uite striking. )he is arguing that the fault line for women is conceptual; it occurs
between the kind of knowledge that is generally produced in society, specifically
through the social sciences, and the knowledge that women produce as a result of
their daily experiences. #here is a decisive break between the two.
+e generally think there are some differences between ob7ective culture or
knowledge and the lives that people live. But because the current relations of ruling
produce masculinist knowledge, men do not sense a dis7uncture between what they
live and what they know of the world. .art of the reason for this is that many of the
activities of men match up with or correspond to abstract, ob7ectifying knowledge.
! male sociologist 3works in the medium he studies3 8)mith, $''(, p. $%:. But even
for men, there is still a clear distinction between ob7ective knowledge, 3the govern
ing mode of our kind of society3 8p. $%:, and daily life. #hus, while there may be a
correspondence for men, there is also a place 3where things smell, where the irrele
vant birds fly away in front of the window, where he has indigestion, where he dies3
8p. $%:. In other words, )mith is arguing that even for men there is a break between
ob7ective forms of knowledge and daily life as it is sub7ectively experienced. #he dif
ference is that generally men dont sense the dis7unction. But why dont men sense
or experience it@
#he reason, )mith informs us, is that women have traditionally negotiated that
break for men. Eets think about the usual distinction between boss and secretary.
,enerally speaking, the secretary is there to do the menial labor, to take care of the
mundane details through which an organi;ation functions, and to keep the boss
free from intrusions from the outside world by screening all calls and letters. #hink
also about the traditional division of labor in the home. <en go to work while
women take care of the 3small details3 of running a household2 grocery shopping,
cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids. Both of these examples picture the
mediation role that )mith tells us women play4women intervene between men
and the actual lived world and they take care of the actualities that make real life
possible. In doing so, they shelter men from the 3bifurcation of consciousness3 that
women experience 8)mith, $'=%, p. =9:.
St$nd%oint $nd Te-t-+edi$ted &o.er
Bringing all this together, we end up with a rather new way of doing sociology,
one that focuses on the experience of women as it is mediated through various
texts, particularly those produced through the relations of ruling. Ive diagrammed
my take on )miths ideas in Figure $%.$. "s with any such model, especially one con
structed to reflect a critical perspective, it is a simplification. But in some ways I
think that a simplification is exactly what )mith is after. /er argument entails
elements from existentialism, phenomenology, symbolic interactionism, ethno
methodology, and <arxist theory. #he argument is thus not simplistic. It is !uite
Smith&s Stand(oint In?.iry
elations of
Social Scientific
eaders and
!ct.al 7i9ed E+(erience
Translators and
complex and nuanced and it can and will inspire intricate and subtle thought and
research. But her point is rather straightforward4social research and theory need
to be grounded in the actual lived experiences of people, particularly women.
#he first thing Id like for you to notice about Figure $%.$ is the central position
of both actual lived experience and text. )mith 8$''9: argues that text forms 3the
bridge between the actual and discursive. It is a material ob7ect that brings into
actual contexts of reading a fixed form of meaning3 8p. '9:. ?otice the distinction
that )mith is making between the 3fixed form3 of the text and the 3actual context of
reading.3 #he actual context is our place of lived experiences. Its a place where life
is unfixed, spontaneous, meaningful, and sub7ective. #he text, however, is fixed.
+hen we become aware of the texts that surround our lived reality, they form the
bridge that )mith is talking about. #here are two ways through which these texts can
influence us. First, we may become directly aware of them, generally through higher
education but also through the media. "t this point, the discursive text directly
enters the everyday life of people. #his kind of text is generally authoritative; it
claims to be the voice of true knowledge gained through scientific or organi;ational
in!uiry. /owever, as )mith points out, social scientific research is based outside of
actual lived experience. Its position outside is in fact what makes this knowledge
appear legitimate, at least in a culture dominated by scientific discourse. It is this
appearance that prompts us to privilege the ob7ective voice above our own. But there
is more to these texts, as you can see from the left side of Figure $%.$.
#he relations of ruling have a reciprocal relationship with social scientific
in!uiry, as noted by the double4headed arrow. +e believe that legitimate research
produces the only real knowledge, and government finances, directs, and thus
defines the kinds of research that are seen as legitimate. )ocial scientific in!uiry
then produces the kinds of data and knowledge that reinforce and legitimate the
ruling. #he single4headed arrow from relations of ruling to text implies the top
down control of knowledge that <arx spoke of2 #he ruling ideas come from the
ruling people, in this case men. #he arrow between scientific in!uiry and text,
however, is two4headed. #his means that the !uestions and theories that social
scientific research uses come from the literature rather than the real lives of
people. It also implies that social science is in a dialogue with itself, between its
texts and its in!uiry.
#he second way we can become aware of these texts is through social scientific
in!uiry itself. /ave you ever answered the phone and found that someone wanted
you to respond to a survey@ Or have you ever been stopped in a mall and 3asked a
few !uestions3 by someone with a clipboard@ /ave you ever filled out a census sur
vey@ #hrough all these ways and many others, we are exposed to ob7ectifying texts
by social scientific in!uiry.
?otice that the arrow coming from social scientific in!uiry has only one head,
going toward the actual world of women, and notice that the arrow has two nouns2
readers and ob)ects. #his one4way arrow implies that social scientific research pro
duces both readers and ob7ects. #he readers are the researchers; they are trained to
read or impose their text onto the actual world. #hey see the lived experience of
women through the texts and methods of scientific research. #hey come to real,
actual, embodied life with a preexisting script, one that has the potential to blind
them to the actualities of women. Further, when the !uestions and methods of
science are used to understand women, women are made into ob7ects, passive recip
ients of social sciences categories and facts.
#he right side of the model depicts Aorothy )miths approach. #here are two
important things to notice. First, there are no relations of ruling controlling stand
point in!uiry. .art of this is obvious. "s Ive mentioned, )mith says that this way of
seeing things is applicable to all types of people, but it is particularly salient for
women. #he reason for its importance for women is that the relations of ruling are
masculine in a society such as ours. <en control most of the power and wealth and
thus control most of the knowledge that is produced. "nd while there is a difference
between ob7ective knowledge on the one hand and the lived experience of men on
the other, women mitigate that discrepancy.
But this issue of ruling isnt !uite that clear4cut for )mith. Delations of ruling
are obviously associated with men. /owever, there is a not4so4obvious part as well.
#he work of women or feminists 8who can be either men or women: can fall prey
to the same problem that produces social scientific in!uiry. #his can happen when
women reif:r the ideas, ideology, or findings of feminist research. "ny time research
begins outside of the lived experience of embodied people, it assumes an ob7ective
perspective and in the end creates abstract knowledge. #his is how womens move
ments 3have created their own contradictions.3 Its possible, then, for womens
knowledge to take on the same guise as mens. In )miths approach, there are no
relations of ruling, whether coming from men or women. )tandpoint in!uiry
must continually begin and end in the lived experiences of people.
#he other thing Id like to call your attention to is that all the arrows associated
with standpoint in!uiry are double4headed. Dather than producing readers and
ob7ects, standpoint in!uiry creates space for translators and sub7ects. In standpoint,
the lives of women arent simply read; that is, they arent textually determined. "
researcher using standpoint in!uiry is situated in a never4ending dialogue with the
actual and the textual. #here is a constant moving back and forth among the voice
of the sub7ect, the voice of authoritative text, and the interpretations of the
researcher. )mith 8$''9: sees this back4and4forth interplay as a dialectic2
#he pro7ect locates itself in a dialectic between actual people located 7ust as
we are and social relations, in which we participate and to which we con
tribute, that have come to take on an existence and a power over against us.
8pp. 'H4'0:
?otice that the dialectic is between actual experience and social relations. )mith
I) arguing that in advanced bureaucratic societies, our relationships with other
people are by and large produced and understood through text. For example, you
have a social relationship with the person teaching this class. +hat is that relation
ship@ #o state the obvious, the relationship is that of professor4student. +here is
that relationship produced@ Jou might be tempted to say that it is produced
between you and your professor, but you would be wrong, at least from )miths
point of view. #he relationship is "racticed between you and your professor, but it
is "roduced in the university documents that spell out exactly what !ualifies as a
professor and a student 8remember, you had to apply for admittance: and how pro
fessors and students are supposed to act.
#his textuality of relationships is a fact of almost every single relationship you
have. Of course, the relations become individuali;ed, but even your relationship
with your parents 8/ow many books on parenting do you think are available@: and
with the person youre dating 8/ow many articles and books have been written
about dating@ /ow many dating4related surveys have you seen in popular maga
;ines@: are all controlled and defined through text. /owever, as weve already seen,
)mith argues that even in the midst of all this text, there is a reality of actual, lived
experience. )mith is explicitly interested in the dialectic that occurs between
abstract, ob7ectifJing texts on the one hand, and the lived actualities of women on
the other.
+e thus come to the core of )miths pro7ect. Decently 89((0:, )mith has
termed this pro7ect 3institutional ethnography.3 #he 3ethnography3 portion of
the term is meant to convey its dependence upon lived experience. )miths
pro7ect, then, is one that emphasi;es in!uiry rather than abstract theory. But,
again, remember that )mith isnt necessarily arguing against abstractions and
generali;ations. )he herself uses abstractions. ?otice this !uote from )mith
8$'=%: concerning the fault line2 3#his in!uiry into the implications of a sociol
ogy for women begins from the discovery of a point of rupture in my>our expe
rience as woman>women within the social forms of consciousness3 8p. H':. In it
she uses both abstractions and particulars2 my>our, woman>women. #o say any
thing about women4which is a universal term4is to already assume and use a
theoretical abstraction. #hus, )mith uses abstract concepts, so she isnt saying that
in and of themselves they are problematic4the issue is what we do with them.
/er concern is for when abstractions are reduced to 3a purely discursive function3
8)mith, $''9, p. =':. #his happens when concepts are reified or when in!uiry
begins in text2 3#o begin with the categories is to begin in discourse3 8p. '(:.
#here are, I think, two ways that )mith uses and approaches abstractions. First,
in standpoint in!uiry, concepts are never taken as if they represented a static real
ity. Eived experience is an ongoing, interactive process in which feelings, ideas, and
behaviors emerge and constantly change. #hus, the concepts that come out of
standpoint in!uiry are held lightly and are allowed to transform through the never
ending !uest to find out 3how it works.3
#he second and perhaps more important way that )mith approaches theoretical
concepts is as part of the discursive text that constitutes the mode through which
relations of ruling are established and managed. "s weve seen, 3#he ob7ectification
of knowledge is a general feature of contemporary relations of ruling3 8)mith, $''(,
p. &%:. " significant principle of standpoint in!uiry is to reveal how texts are put
together with practices at the level of lived experience. 3<aking these processes vis
ible also makes visible how we participate in and incorporate them into our own
practices3 8)mith, $''9, p. '(: and how we involve ourselves in creating forms of
consciousness 3that are properties of organi;ation or discourse rather than of indi
vidual sub7ects3 8)mith, $'=%, p. 1:.
Its at this point that )miths use of the word institutional is relevant. It signals
that this approach is vitally concerned with exploring the influences of institution
ali;ed power relations on the lived experiences of their sub7ects. Institutional
ethnography is like ethnomethodology and symbolic interactionism in that it
focuses on how the practical actions of people in actual situations produce a mean
ingful social order. But neither of these approaches gives theoretical place to
societys ruling institutions, as )miths method does. In that, it is more like a con
temporary <arxist account of power and text. #hus, institutional ethnography
examines the dialectical interplay between the relations of ruling as expressed in
and mediated through texts, and the actual experiences of people as they negotiate
and implement those texts.
)mith uses the analogy of a map to help us see what she is getting at. <aps assist
us to negotiate space. If Im in a strange city, I can consult a map and have a fair
idea of how to proceed. <aps, however, arent the city and they arent our experi
ence. )mith 8$''9: wants sociology to function like a map4a map that gives an
account of the person walking and finding his or her way 8lived experience:
through the ob7ective structures of the city 8text:. #his kind of sociology 3would
tie peoples sites of experience and action into accounts of social organi;ation
and relations which have that ordinarily reliable kind of faithfulness to how it
works3 8p. 'H:.
)pecifically, )mith is interested in finding out 7ust how the relations of ruling
pervade the lives of women. #hese relations, as weve seen, come through texts and
researchers. But in most cases, the relations of ruling are misrecogni;ed by women.
#hey are rendered invisible by the normalcy of their legitimacy. .art of what these
maps can do, then, is make visible the relations of ruling and how they impact the
lived experiences of women.
)mith is also interested in how actual women incorporate, respond to, see, and
understand the texts that are written from a feminist or standpoint perspective.
#his is an important issue. Eooking at Figure $%.$, we might get the impression that
standpoint in!uiry automatically and always produces translators and sub7ects.
#hat is, it appears as if standpoint in!uiry is a static thing, as if once done, the
in!uiry stands as the standpoint forever. #his is certainly not what )mith is argu
ing. ?otice again that double4headed arrow between 3)tandpoint In!uiry3 and
3#exts.3 Once standpoint in!uiry is expressed in text, there is the danger that it will
be taken as reality and become discursive. )miths is thus an ongoing and ever
changing pro7ect that takes seriously the ob7ectifying influence of text.
For me, then, the standpoint of women locates a place to begin in!uiry before
things have shifted upwards into the transcendent sub7ect. Once youve gone
up there, settled into text4mediated discourse, irremediably stuck on the
reading side of the textual surface, you cant peek around it to find the other
side where youre actually doing your reading. Jou can reflect back, but youre
already committed to a standpoint other than that of actual peoples experi
ence. 8)mith, $''9, p. &(, emphasis original:
I )mith argues that in contemporary society, power is exercised through text.
)mith defines text using three factors2 the actual words or symbols, the physical
medium, and the materiality of the text. It is the last of the three with which )mith
is most concerned4the actual practices of writing and reading. <ost, if not all, of
the texts produced by science, social science, and organi;ations achieve their
facticity by eliminating any reference to specific sub7ectivities, individuals, or
I #hese texts are gendered in the sense that men by and large constitute the
ruling group in society. <en work and live in these texts and thus accept them as
taken4for4granted expressions of the way things are. +omens experience and
consciousness, on the other hand, are bifurcated2 #hey experience themselves
within the text, as the ruling discourse of the age, but they also experience a
significant part of their lives outside of the text. "nd it is in this part of womens
lives where the contingencies of actual life are met, thus giving these experiences a
firmer reality base than the abstract, ruling texts of men. Further, men are enabled
to take ob7ective, ruling texts as true because women provide the ma7ority of the
labor that undergirds the entire order.
I #he bifurcated consciousness becomes particularly problematic for those
women trained in such disciplines as business, sociology, psychiatry, psychology,
and political science. In these professions, women are trained to write and read
ruling texts, ignoring the lived experiences of women at the fault line.
I )mith proposes a theoretical method of investigation 8standpoint in!uiry, or
institutional ethnography: that gives priority to the lived experiences of women. In
this scheme, texts are not discounted or done away with; rather, they are put into the
context of the embodied, actual experiences of women. )mith thus opens up a site of
research that exists in the dialectic interplay between text and womens experience.
$ce $nd +$trices o/ Domin$tion:
&$trici$ Hi(( Co((ins (1923-)
Theorist&s Di'est
Conce(ts and Theory: The Stand(oint of 1lac/ Women
*lack +eminist E"istemology
Eurocentric Positivism
+our Tenets o# *lack +eminist E"istemology
,m"lications o# *lack +eminist Thought
*lack ,ntellectuals
Conce(ts and Theory: lntersectionality and Matrices of
*lack +eminist Thought! lntersectionality! and -ctivism
atricia /ill -ollins will ask us to see two things. First, ine!uality in society
is a complex matter. It cant simply be reduced to considerations of race or
gender. Bvery person stands at a crossroads that distinguishes him or her
from most others. For example, being black, female, middle class, and heterosexual
is !uite different than being black, female, working class, and lesbian. -ollins wants
us to see deeper into the workings of ine!uality than ever before. #he second thing
that -ollins will ask us to see is standpoint. Of course, Aorothy B. )mith asked us
to do the same, but -ollins wants us to see the value in the standpoint of black fem
inists. In -ollins scheme, a single system isnt enough to explain ine!uality.
)tratification works through matrices of domination, not single systems, and one
of the most powerful intersectional standpoints is black women. Its at that point
that race and gender meet. "s such, it is probably the most powerful beginning
point for intersectional analysis.
4rie/ 4io0r$%hy
Patricia Hill Collins -as )orn on May 2, 23FD, in Philadel(hia, Pennsyl9ania. Collins
recei9ed her )achelor&s de'ree and PhD in sociolo'y from 1randeis %ni9ersity and a
master&s de'ree in social science ed.cation from HaNard. Collins seNed as director of the
!frican !merican Center at T.fts %ni9ersity )efore mo9in' to the %ni9ersity of
Cincinnati, -here she -as named the Charles Phel(s Taft Distin'.ished Professor of
Sociolo'y in 2335. She is c.rrently at the %ni9ersity of Maryland and holds the Wilson
El/ins Professor of Sociolo'y (osition. Her )oo/, !lac" Feminist Thought# recei9ed the
!ssociation for Women in Psycholo'y&s Distin'.ished P.)lication !-ard, the Society for
the St.dy of Social Pro)lems& -. Wri'ht Mills !-ard, and the !ssociation of 1lac/ Women
Historians& 7etitia Woods 1ro-n Memorial 1oo/ PriBe.
Centr$( Socio(o0ic$( 5uestions
Collins, li/e *o.ca.lt, sees a stron' connection )et-een (o-er and /no-led'e. Certain forms of
/no-led'e can )e dominatin'G other forms of /no-led'e can )e li)eratin'. Collins ;4>>><
-ants to @em(o-er !fricanA!merican -omen@ thro.'h /no-led'e and chan'in' @an indi9id.al
1lac/ -oman&s conscio.sness concernin' ho- she .nderstands her e9eryday life@ ;(. +<.
Sim%(y St$ted
Collins criti?.es (ositi9ism&s o):ecti9e stand, emotional di9estment, the idea of 9al.eAfree
research, and 'ro-th in /no-led'e )ased on de)ate. In the end, this a((roach denies ethical
considerations and a.thentic in9ol9ement. ! )lac/ feminist a((roach to /no-in' and /no-led'e
co.nters each of these iss.es. Collins& research and theory is )ased on intersectionality,
reco'niBin' that (eo(le sit at crossroads of m.lti(le systems of (o-er or'aniBed aro.nd fo.r
'eneral domains of (o-er: str.ct.ral ;the interrelationshi(s of social str.ct.res<, disci(linary
;).rea.cratic or'aniBation and (rotocol<, he'emonic ;c.lt.ral le'itimations<, and inter(ersonal
;(ersonal relationshi(s<.
#ey Conce%ts
intersectionalityG E.rocentric (ositi9ismG )lac/ feminist e(istemolo'yG common challen'esH
di9erse res(onsesG safe (lacesG selfAdefinitionG reartic.lationG )lac/ feministintellect.alsG matri+
of dominationG str.ct.ral, disci(linary, he'emonic, and inter(ersonal domains of (o-er
Conce%ts $nd Theory: The St$nd%oint o/ 4($c6 1omen
.atricia /ill -ollins is centrally concerned with the relationships among empower
ment, self4definition, and knowledge, and she is particularly concerned with black
women4it is the oppression with which she is most intimately familiar. But -ollins
is also one of the few social thinkers who are able to rise above their own experiences
and to challenge us with a significant view of oppression and identity politics that
not only has the possibility of changing the world but also of opening up the
prospect of continuous change.
For change to be continuous, it cant be exclusively focused on one social group.
In other words, a social movement that is only concerned with racial ine!uality, for
example, will end its influence once e!uality for that group is achieved. +hat
.atricia /ill -ollins gives us is a way of transcending group4specific politics that is
based upon black feminist epistemology. /owever, it is vital to note that her intent
is to place 3G.). Black womens experiences in the center of analysis without privi
leging those experiences3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 99=:. -ollins is saying that there is
something significant we can learn from black womens knowledge that can be
applied to social issues generally.
Black women sit at a theoretically interesting point. -ollins argues that black
women are uni!uely situated in that they stand at the focal point where two excep
tionally powerful and prevalent systems of oppression come together2 race and gen
der. -ollins refers to this kind of social position as intersectionality: a place where
different systems of domination crisscross. #here are obviously other systems that
-ollins talks about, such as class, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, and age, but it is with
black women where these different influences get played out most clearly. )eeing
this intersectional position of black women, then, ought to compel us to see and
look for other spaces where systems of ine!uality come together.
Cust as important to this possibility of continuous change are the !ualities of
what -ollins variously terms alternative or black #eminist e"istemology. #his notion
implies that one of the things that has hindered social reform is the emphasis on
social, scientific knowledge. In this sense, -ollins is a critical theorist who argues
that all knowledge is political and can be used to serve specific group interests.
)ocial science is particularly susceptible to this because it simultaneously ob7ectifies
its sub7ects and denies the validity of lived experience as a form of knowing.
4($c6 )eminist E%istemo(o0y
E"istemology is the study of knowledge, and weve been thinking a lot about
knowledge in this chapter. <arx 8l=0'>$'%=e: gave us eyes to see that epistemology
is a sociological concern2 @It is not the consciousness of men that determines their
being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness3
8p. H:. .atricia /ill -ollins argues that the politics of race and gender influence
knowledge. In <arxian terms, race and gender are part of our 3social being.3 In
order to talk about this issue, and specifically about black feminist knowledge,
-ollins 7uxtaposes it with Burocentric, positivistic knowledge4the kind of knowl
edge in back of science. But before we get to that, I need to point out that there is
more to knowledge than simply information. *nowledge4information and
facts4can only exist within a context that is defined through specific ways of
knowing and validation.
For example, the 3fact3 that ,od created the heavens and earth only exists within
the context of a specific religious system. #he same is true for any other 3facts; sci
entific or otherwise. #hus, what we know is dependent upon how knowledge is
produced and how it is validated as true. #he !uestion here becomes, what are the
ways of knowing and methods of validation that are specific to Burocentric, posi
tivistic knowledge@ -ollins gives us four points. ?ote that sociology is generally
defined as a social science, and insofar as it is a scientific in!uiry into social life, it
espouses these four points.
Eurocentric &ositi7ism
First, according to the positivistic approach, true or correct knowledge only
comes when the observer separates himself or herself from that which is being stud
ied. Jou undoubtedly came across this idea in your methods class2 #he researcher
must take an ob7ective stand in order to safeguard against bias. )econd, personal
emotions must be set aside in the pursuit of pure knowledge. #hird, no personal
ethics or values must come into the research. )ocial science is to be value4free, not
passing 7udgment or trying to impose values on others. "nd, fourth, knowledge
progresses through cumulation and adversarial debate.
Decall our discussion of scientific theory in the introduction to )ection II.
-umulation is that process by which theories are built up through testing and
re7ecting elements that dont correspond to the empirical world. #he ideas that pass
the test are carried on, and theory cumulates in abstract statements about the gen
eral properties of whatever is being investigated. #he goal is to disassociate ideas
from the people who spawned them and to end up with pure theory. #hus, scien
tific knowledge is validated because it is tested and argued against from every angle.
#he belief is that only that which is left standing is truth, and it is upon those rem
nants that ob7ective, scientific knowledge will be built.
)our Tenets o/ 4($c6 )eminist E%istemo(o0y
-ollins gives us four characteristics of alternative epistemologies, ways of know
ing and validating knowledge that challenge the status !uo. "s we discuss these,
notice how each point stands in opposition to the tenets of positivistic knowledge.
#he first point is that alternative epistemologies are built upon lived experience,
not upon an ob7ectified position. )ocial science argues that, to truly understand
society and group life, one must be removed from the particulars and concerns of
the sub7ects being studied. In this way, sub7ects are turned into ob7ects of study.
.atricia /ill -ollins 89(((: alternative epistemology claims that is it only those
men and women who experience the conse!uences of living under an oppressed
social position who can select 3topics for investigation and methodologies used3
8p. 90=:. Black feminist epistemology, then, begins with 3connected knowers,3 those
who know from personal experience.
#he second dimension of -ollins alternative epistemology is the use of dialogue
rather than adversa rial debate. "s weve seen, knowledge claims in social science are
assessed through adversarial debate. Gsing dialogue to evaluate implies the presence
of at least two sub7ects4thus, knowledge isnt seen as having an ob7ective existence
apart from lived experiences; knowledge ongoingly emerges through dialogue. In
alternative epistemologies, then, we tend to see the use of personal pronouns such
as &T& and 3we3 instead of the ob7ectifying and distancing language of social science.
Dather than disappearing, the author is central to and present in the text. In black
feminist epistemology, the story is told and preserved in narrative form and not
3torn apart in analysis3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 90=:.
-entering lived experiences and the use of dialogue imply that knowledge is
built around ethics of caring, -ollins third characteristic of black feminist knowl
edge. Dather than believing that researchers can be value4free, -ollins argues that
all knowledge is intrinsically value4laden and should thus be tested by the presence
of empathy and compassion. -ollins sees this tenet as healing the binary break
between the intellect and emotion that Burocentric knowledge values. "lternative
epistemology is thus holistic2 It doesnt re!uire the separation of the researcher
from his or her own experiences nor does it re!uire separation of our thoughts
from our feelings, or even assume that it is possible to do so. In addition, .atricia
/ill -ollins 89(((: argues that the presence of emotion validates the argument2
3Bmotion indicates that a speaker believes in the validity of an argument3 8p. 9&1:.
Fourth, black feminist epistemology re!uires personal accountability. Because
knowledge is built upon lived experience, the assessment of knowledge is a simul
taneous assessment of an individuals character, values, and ethics. #his approach
puts forth that all knowledge is based upon beliefs, things assumed to be true, and
belief implies personal responsibility. #hink about the implications of these two
different approaches to knowing, information, and truth2 On the one hand, infor
mation can be ob7ective and truth exists apart from any observer, while on the
other hand, all information finds its existence and 3truth3 within a preexisting
knowledge system that must be believed in order to work. #he first allows for,
indeed demands, the separation of personal responsibility from knowledge
knowledge exists as an ob7ective entity apart from the knower. #he second places
accountability directly on the knower. -ollins would ask us, which form of know
ing is more likely to lead to social 7ustice, one that denies ethical and moral
accountability or one that demands it@
!m%(ic$tions o/ 4($c6 )eminist Thou0ht
By now we should see that, for -ollins, ways of knowing and knowledge are not
separable or sterile4they are not abstract entities that exist apart from the politi
cal values and beliefs of the individual. /ow we know and what we know have
implications for who we see ourselves to be, how we live our lives, and how we treat
others. -ollins sees these connections as particularly important for black women in
at least three ways.
First, there is a tension between common challenges and diverse experiences.
#hink for a moment about what it means to center the idea of lived experience.
+eve already touched upon several implications of this idea, but what problem
might arise from this way of thinking@ #he notion of lived experience, if taken to
an extreme, can privilege individual experience and knowledge to the exclusion of
a collective standpoint. #he possibility of this implication is particularly probable
in a society like the Gnited )tates that is built around the idea of individualism.
/owever, this isnt what -ollins has in mind. One doesnt overshadow the other in
intersectionality. +ell explore this idea further later, but for now we want to see
that each individual stands at a uni!ue matrix of crosscutting interests. #hese inter
ests and the diverse responses they motivate are defined through such social posi
tions as race, class, gender, sexual identity, religion, nationality, and so on.
#hus, the lived experience of a middle class, pagan, single, gay black woman liv
ing in Eos "ngeles will undoubtedly be different from that of an impoverished,
-atholic, married black woman living in a small town in <ississippi. "s .atricia
/ill -ollins 89(((: says, @It is important to stress that no homogeneous Black
woman's standpoint exists3 8p. 9=, emphasis original:. /owever, there are core
themes or issues that come from living as a black woman such that 3a Black women's
collective standpoint does exist, one characteri;ed by the tensions that accrue to dif
ferent responses to common challenges3 8p. 9=, emphasis original:. In other words,
a black womens epistemology recogni;es this tension between common challenges
and diverse responses, which in turn is producing a growing sensibility that black
women, because of their gendered racial identity, 3may be victimi;ed by racism,
misogyny, and poverty3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 9&:. #hus, even though individual
black women may respond differently based on different crosscutting interests,
there are themes or core issues that all black women can acknowledge and integrate
into their self4identity.
"nother implication of black feminist epistemology is informed by this growing
sensibility of diversity within commonality2 Gnderstanding these issues leads to the
creation of safe spaces. a#e s"aces are 3social spaces where Black women speak
freely3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. $((:. #hese safe spaces are of course common occur
rences for all oppressed groups. In order for an oppressed group to continue to exist
as a viable social group, the members must have spaces where they can express
themselves apart from the hegemonic or ruling ideology.
-ollins identifies three primary safe spaces for black women. #he first is black
womens relationships with one another. #hese relationships can form and function
within informal relationships such as family and friends, or they can occur within
more formal and public spaces such as black churches and black womens organi
;ations. In this context, .atricia /ill -ollins 89(((: also points to the importance
of mentoring within black womens circles, mentoring that empowers black women
3by passing on the everyday knowledge essential to survival as "frican4"merican
women3 8p. $(9:.
#he other two safe spaces are cultural and are constituted by the black womens
blues tradition and the voices of black women authors. )uch cultural expressions
have historically given voice to the voiceless. #hose who were denied political or
academic power could express their ideas and experiences through story and
poetry. "s long as the political ma7ority could read these as 3fictions34that is, as
long as they werent faced with the facts of oppression4blacks were allowed these
cultural outlets in 3race markets.3 /owever, these books, stories, and poetry allowed
oppressed people to communicate with one another and to produce a sense of
shared identity.
#here are several reasons why the musical form known as the blues is particu
larly important for constructing safe spaces and identities for black women. #he
blues originated out of the 3call and response3 of slaves working in the fields. It was
Ch$%ter 18 E Politics of Identity Smith, Collins, and West 25
born out of misery but simultaneously gave birth to hope. #his hope wasnt
simply expressed in words; it was also more powerfully felt in the rhythm and
collectivity that made slave work less arduous. #he blues thus expresses to even the
illiterate the experience of black "merica, and it wraps individual suffering in a
transcendent collective consciousness that enables the oppressed to persevere in
hope without bitterness2
#he music of the classic blues singers of the $'9(s4almost exclusively
women4marks the early written record of this dimension of G.). Black
oral culture. #he songs themselves were originally sung in small commu
nities, where boundaries distinguishing singer from audience, call from
response, and thought from action were fluid and permeable. 8.. /. -ollins,
9(((, p. $(&:
#he importance of these safe spaces is that they provide opportunities for self
definition, and self4detlnition is the tlrst step to empowerment4if a group is not
ddining itself, then it is being detlned by and for the use of others. #hese safe
spaces also allow black women to escape and resist 3ob7ectification as the Other3 8
.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. $($ :, the images and ideas about black women found in the
larger culture.
#hese safe spaces, then, are spaces of diversity, not homogeneity2 3#he resulting
reality is much more complex than one of an all4powerful vMhite ma7ority ob7ecti
fying Black women with a unitled G.). Black community staunchly challenging
these external assaults3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. $($:. /owever, even though these
spaces recogni;e diversity, they are nonetheless exclusionary 8here we can clearly see
the tension that -ollins notes:. If these spaces did not exclude, they would not be
safe2 @1y detlnition, such spaces become less safe if shared with those who were not
Black and female3 8p. $$(:. "lthough exclusionary, the intent of these spaces is to
produce 3a more inclusionary, 7ust society3 8p. $$(:.
#his idea leads us to our third implication of black feminist thought2 #he strug
gles for self4identity take place within an ongoing dialogue between group knowl
edge or standpoint and experiences as a heterogeneous collective. /ere -ollins is
reconceptuali;ing the tension noted above between common challenges and diverse
responses. #his is important to note because one of the central features of -ollins
approach is complexity. -ollins wants us to see that most social issues, factors, and
processes have multiple faces. Gnderstanding how the different facets of ine!uality
work together is paramount for understanding any part of it. In this case, on the
one hand we have a tension between common challenges and diverse responses, and
on the other hand we have a dialogue between a common group standpoint and
diverse experiences.
-ollins is arguing that changes in thinking may alter behaviors, and altering
behaviors may produce changes in thinking. #hus, for G.). black women as a col
lective, 3#he struggle for a self4defined Black feminism occurs through an ongo
ing dialogue whereby action and thought inform one another3 8.. /. -ollins,
9(((, p. 1(:. For example, because black "mericans have been racially segregated,
black feminist practice and thought have emerged within the context of black
community development. Other ideas and practices, such as black nationalism,
have also come about due to racial segregation. #hus, black feminism and nation
alism inform one another in the context of the black community, yet they are
both distinct. <oreover, the relationships are reciprocal in that black feminist and
nationalist thought influences black community development.
-ollins also sees this dialogue as a process of rearticulation rather than
consciousness4raising. Auring the $'&(s and $'%(s, consciousness4raising was a
principal method in the feminist movement. -onsciousness4raising groups would
generally meet weekly, consist of no more than $9 women, and would encourage
women to share their "ersonal e."eriences as women. #he intent was a kind of
<arxian class consciousness that would precede social change, except that it was
oriented around gender rather than class.
/earticulation! according to -ollins, is a vehicle for re4expressing a conscious
ness that !uite often already exists in the public sphere. In rearticulation, we can see
the dialogic nature of -ollins perspective. Dather than a specific, limited method
designed to motivate women toward social movement, -ollins sees black feminism
as part of an already existing national discourse. +hat black feminism can do is to
take the core themes of black gendered oppression4such as racism, misogyny, and
poverty4and infuse them with the lived experience of black womens taken4for
granted, everyday knowledge. #his is brought back into the national discourse
where practice and ideas are in a constant dialogue; 3Dather than viewing con
sciousness as a fixed entity, a more useful approach sees it as continually evolving
and negotiated. " dynamic consciousness is vital to both individual and group
agency3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 9=0:.
4($c6 !nte((ectu$(s
+ithin this rearticulation, black feminist intellectuals have a specific place.
#o set ourselves up for this consideration, we can divide social intellectuals or
academics into two broad grou"s0 pure researchers and praxis researchers. .ure
researchers hold to value4free sociology, the kind we noted above in considering
Burocentric thought. #hey are interested in simply discovering and explaining the
social world. .raxis or critically oriented researchers are interested in ferreting out
the processes of oppression and changing the social world. Black feminist intellec
tuals are of the latter kind, blending the lived experiences of black women with the
highly speciali;ed knowledge of intellectualism.
#his dual intellectual citi;enship gives black feminist scholars critical insights
into the conditions of oppression. #hey both experience it as a lived reality and can
think about it using the tools of critical analysis. Further, in studying oppression
among black women, they are less likely to walk away 3when the obstacles seem
overwhelming or when the rewards for staying diminish3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((,
p. 10:. Black feminist intellectuals are also more motivated in this area because they
are defining themselves while studying gendered racial ine!uality.
Finally, .atricia /ill -ollins 89(((: argues that black feminist intellectuals 3alone
can foster the group autonomy that fosters effective coalitions with other groups3
Ch$%ter 18 E Politics of Identity: Smith, Collins, and West 27
8p. 1&:. In thinking about this, remember that -ollins recogni;es that intellectuals
are found within all walks of life. Intellectual status isnt simply conferred as the
result of academic credentials. Black feminist intellectuals think reflexively and
publicly about their own lived experiences within the context of broader social
issues and ideas.
Black feminist intellectuals, then, function like intermediary groups. On the one
hand, they are very much in touch with their own and their peers experiences as a
disenfranchised group; on the other hand, they are also in touch with intellectual
heritages, diverse groups, and broader social 7ustice issues.
By advocating, refining, and disseminating Black feminist thought, individu
als from other groups who are engaged in similar social 7ustice pro7ects
Black men, "frican women, +hite men, Eatinas, +hite women, and members
of other G.). racial>ethnic groups, for example4can identify points of con
nection that further social 7ustice pro7ects. 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 1%:
-ollins notes, however, that coalition building with other groups and intellectu
als can be costly. .rivileged group members often have to become traitors to the
3privileges that their race, class, gender, sexuality, or citi;enship status provide
them3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 1%:.
Conce%ts $nd Theory:
(ntersection$(ity $nd +$trices o/ Domin$tion
-ollins is best known for her ideas of intersectionality and the matrix of domination.
Intersectionality is a particular way of understanding social location in terms of criss
crossing systems of oppression. )pecifically, intersectionality is an 3analysis claiming
that systems of race, social class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, and age form
mutually constructing features of social organi;ation, which shape Black womens
experiences and, in turn, are shaped by Black women3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 9'':.
#his idea goes back to <ax +eber and ,eorg )immel. #o refresh our memories,
+ebers concern was to understand the complications that status and power
brought to <arxs idea of class stratification. "ccording to +eber, class conscious
ness and social change are more difficult to achieve than <arx first thought2 )tatus
group affiliation and differences in power create concerns that may override class
issues. "nd, as youll remember, )immel was interested in the way the motivations
for and patterns of group memberships changed as a result of living in urban rather
than rural settings. )immel noted that people living in cities tend to have greater
freedom of choice and the opportunity to be members of more diverse groups than
people in small towns. /e was specifically concerned with the psychological and
emotional effects that these different social network patterns have on people.
#here is a way in which -ollins blends these two approaches while at the same
time going beyond them. Eike )immel, -ollins is concerned with the influences of
intersectionality on the individual. But the important issue for -ollins is the way
intersectionality creates different kinds of lived experiences and social realities. )he
is particularly concerned with how these interact with what passes as ob7ective
knowledge and how diverse voices of intersectionality are denied under scientism.
Eike +eber, she is concerned about how intersectionality creates different kinds of
ine!ualities and how these crosscutting influences affect social change. But -ollins
brings +ebers notion of power into this analysis in a much more sophisticated way.
-ollins sees intersectionality working within a matrix of domination.
#he matrix of domination refers to the overall organi;ation of power in a
society. #here are two features to any matrix. First, any specific matrix has a partic
ular arrangement of intersecting systems of oppression. Cust what and how these
systems come together is historically and socially specific. )econd, intersecting sys
tems of oppression are specifically organi;ed through four interrelated domains of
power2 structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal.
#he structural domain consists of such social structures as law, polity, religion,
and the economy. #his domain sets the structural parameters that organi;e power
relations. For example, prior to February 1, $=%(, blacks in the Gnited )tates could
not legally vote. "lthough constitutionally enabled to vote after that date, voting
didnt become a reality for many "frican "merican people until almost a century
later with the passage of the Moting Dights "ct of $'&0, which officially ended Cim
-row laws. -ollins point is that the structural domain sets the overall organi;ation
of power within a matrix of domination and that the structural domain is slow to
change, often only yielding to large4scale social movements, such as the -ivil +ar
and the upheavals of the $'0(s and $'&(s in the Gnited )tates.
#he disci"linary domain manages oppression. -ollins borrows this idea from
both +eber and <ichel Foucault 8see -hapter $&:2 #he disciplinary domain con
sists of bureaucratic organi;ations whose task it is to control and organi;e human
behavior through routini;ation, rationali;ation, and surveillance. /ere the matrix
of domination is expressed through organi;ational protocol that hides the effects of
racism and sexism under the canopy of efficiency, rationality, and e!ual treatment.
If we think about the contours of black feminist thought that -ollins gives us,
we can see that the "merican university system and the methods of financing
research are good examples. )exism and racism never raise their ugly heads when
certain kinds of knowledge are systematically excluded in the name of science and
ob7ectivity. #his same kind of pattern is seen in the G.). economy. "ccording to the
Bureau of Eabor )tatistics 89((0:, in the first !uarter of 9((0, the average weekly
income for white men was N%1$.((, for white women N&($.((, for black men
N0%'.((, and for black women N0(&.((. In a country that has outlawed discrimi
nation based on race and sex, black women still make on average about 1$O less
than white men.
In this domain, change can come through insider resistance. -ollins uses the
analogy of an egg. From a distance, the surface of the egg looks smooth and seam
less. But upon closer inspection, the egg is revealed to be riddled with cracks. For
those interested in social 7ustice, working in a bureaucracy is like working the
cracks, finding spaces and fissures to work in and expand. "gain, change is slow and
#he hegemonic domain legitimi;es oppression. <ax +eber was among the first
to teach us that authority functions because people believe in it. #his is the cultural
sphere of influence where ideology and consciousness come together. #he hege
monic domain links the structural, disciplinary, and interpersonal domains. It is
made up of the language we use, the images we respond to, the values we hold, and
the ideas we entertain. It is produced through school curricula and textbooks, reli
gious teachings, mass media images and contexts, community cultures, and family
histories. #he black feminist priority of self4definition and critical, reflexive educa
tion are important steppingstones to deconstructing and dissuading the hegemonic
domain. "s .atricia /ill -ollins 89(((: puts it, 3Dacist and sexist ideologies, if they
are disbelieved, lose their impact3 8p. 9=H:.
#he inter"ersonal domain influences everyday life. It is made up of the personal
relationships we maintain as well as the different interactions that make up our
daily life. -ollins points out that change in this domain begins with the intra"er
sonal, that is, how an individual sees and understands his or her own self and expe
riences. In particular, people dont generally have a problem identifying ways in
which they have been victimi;ed. But the first step in changing the interpersonal
domain of the matrix of domination is seeing how our own 3thoughts and actions
uphold someone else's subordination1 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 9=%, emphasis added:.
.art of this first step is seeing that people have a tendency to identify with an
oppression, most likely the one they have experienced, and to consider all other
oppressions as being of less importance. In the persons mind, his or her oppression
has a tendency then to take on a master status. #his leads to a kind of contradiction
where the oppressed becomes the oppressor. For example, a black heterosexual
woman may discriminate against lesbians without a second thought, or a black
)outhern Baptist woman may believe that every school classroom ought to display
the #en -ommandments. 3Oppression is filled with such contradictions because
these approaches fail to recogni;e that a matrix of domination contains few pure
victims or oppressors3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 9=%:.
4($c6 )eminist Thou0ht9 (ntersection$(ity9 $nd :cti7ism
#here are a number of implications for activism that -ollins draws out from
black feminist thought and the notions of intersectionality and the matrix of dom
ination. #he first that I want to point out is the most immediate2 -ollins approach
to epistemology and intersectionality conceptuali;es resistance as a complex inter
play of a variety of forces working at several levels4that is, resistance in the four
interrelated domains of power that weve 7ust discussed.
#his point of -ollins isnt an incidental issue. Demember that part of what is
meant by modernity is the search for social e!uality. In modernity, primary paths for
these social changes correspond to -ollins first domain of power. For example, the
G.). Aeclaration of Independence, -onstitution, and Bill of Dights together provide
for principal mechanisms of structural change2 the electoral process within a civil
society guaranteed by the twin freedoms of press and speech and the upheaval or
revolutionary process. #hough we dont usually think of the latter as a legitimated
means of social change, it is how this nation began and it is how much of the more
dramatic changes that surround e!uality have come about 8for example, the social
movements behind womens suffrage and civil rights:.
One of the ideas that comes out of postmodernism and considerations of late
modernity is the notion that guided or rational social change is no longer possible.
+hat -ollins gives us is a different take on the issues of complexity and fragmen
tation. +hile recogni;ing the complexity of intersectionality and the different levels
of the matrix of domination, -ollins also sees the four domains of power as inter
related and thus influencing one another. By themselves, the structural and disci
plinary domains are most resilient to change, but the hegemonic and interpersonal
domains are open to individual agency and change. Bringing these domains
together creates a more dynamic system, wherein the priorities of black feminist
thought and understanding the contradictions of oppression can empower social
7ustice causes.
-ollins approach also has other important implications. /er ideas of inter
sectionality and the matrix of domination challenge many of our political
assumptions. Black feminist epistemology, for example, challenges our assump
tions concerning the separation of the private and public spheres. +hat it means
to be a mother in a traditional black community is very different from what it
means in a white community2 3Black womens experiences have never fit the logic
of work in the public sphere 7uxtaposed to family obligations in the private
sphere3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 99=:. Intersectionality also challenges the assump
tion that gender stratification affects all women in the same way; race and class
matter, as does sexual identity.
In addition, -ollins approach untangles relationships among knowledge,
empowerment, and power, and opens up conceptual space to identify new con
nections within the matrix of domination. #he idea of the matrix emphasi;es
connections and interdependencies rather than single structures of ine!uality.
#he idea itself prompts us to wonder about how social categories are related and
mutually constituted. For example, how do race and sexual preference work
together@ "sking such a !uestion might lead us to discover that homosexuality is
viewed and treated differently in different racial cultures4is the lived experience
of a black gay male different from that of a white gay male@ If so, we might take
the next step and ask how does class influence those differences@ Or, if these lived
experiences are different, we might be provoked to ask another !uestion2 "re
there different masculinities in different racial or class cultures@
"s you might be able to surmise from this example, -ollins approach discour
ages binary thinking and the labeling of one oppression or activism as more
important or radical. From -ollins point of view, it would be much too simplistic
to say that a white male living in poverty is en7oying white privilege. In the same
way, it would be one4dimensional to say that any one group is more oppressed
than another.
-ollins entire approach also shifts our understanding of social categories from
bounded to fluid and highlights the processes of self4definition as constructed in
con7unction with others. Intersectionality implies that social categories are not
bounded or static. Jour social nearness or distance to another changes as the matrix
of domination shifts, depending on which scheme is salient at any given moment.
Jou and the person next to you may both be women, but that social nearness may
be severed as the indices change to include religion, race, ethnicity, sexual practices
or identities, class, and so forth.
,roups are also constructed in connection to others. ?o group or identity stands
alone. #o state the obvious, the only way 3white3 as a social index can exist is if
3black3 exists. Intersectionality motivates us to look at 7ust how our identities are
constructed at the expense of others2 3#hese examples suggest that moral positions
as survivors of one expression of systemic violence become eroded in the absence
of accepting responsibility of other expressions of systemic violence3 8.. /. -ollins,
9(((,p. 9H%:.
/ere is one final implication of -ollins approach2 Because groups histories and
ine!ualities are relational, understanding intersectionality and the matrix of dom
ination means that some coalitions with some social groups are more difficult and
less fruitful than others. ,roups will more or less align on the issues of 3victimi;a
tion, access to positions of authority, unearned benefits, and traditions of resis
tance3 8.. /. -ollins, 9(((, p. 9H=:. #he more closely aligned are these issues, the
more likely and beneficial are the coalitions. -oalitions will also ebb and flow,
3based on the perceived saliency of issues to group members3 8p. 9H=:. +e end,
then, with the insight that ine!ualities and dominations are complex and dynamic.
I -ollins argues that black women represent a powerful place to begin
theori;ing about social ine!uality. )tudies and theories in ine!uality generally focus
on one specific issue, such as race or gender. #o understand the ine!uality of black
women, however, forces us to be concerned with at least two systems of ine!uality
8gender and race: and their intersections.
I "ccording to -ollins, the four !ualities of Burocentric positivism hamper
our understanding of how systems of ine!uality work. #hese four characteristics
are 8l: the ob7ective stand, 89: emotional divestment, 81: value4free theory and
research, and 8 H: progress through cumulation and adversarial debate. #he four
characteristics of black feminist knowledge counter each of these points. Black
feminist knowledge is 8 $: built upon lived experience, 89: emphasi;es emotional
investment and accountability, 81: honors ethically driven research and theory,
and 8 H: understands intellectual progress through dialogue.
I #here are three primary implications of black feminist thought2 first, the
recognition of the tension between common challenges and diverse responses;
second, the creation of safe places that honor diversity; and third, self4identity
formed within a continuing dialogue between common challenges and varied
experiences. #his last implication has importance for rearticulating the public
discourse surrounding black women.
I Black feminist intellectuals have a specific place in the construction of black
womens identities and the rearticulation of the public sphere. )pecifically, black
feminists hold a kind of dual intellectual citi;enship2 #hey are trained in positivistic
methods yet they also have the lived experience of black women. #his dual
citi;enship gives black feminists greater opportunities to forge coalitions with other
social 7ustice groups.
I -ollins approach to studying ine!uality is based on the concepts of
intersectionality and a matrix of domination. Intersectionality captures the
structured position of people living at the crossroads of two or more systems of
ine!uality, such as race and gender. #he different intersectionalities of a society
influence the overall organi;ation of power4what -ollins refers to as the matrix of
domination. #hese matrices are historically and socially specific, yet they are
organi;ed around four general domains of power2 structural 8the interrelationships
of social structures:, disciplinary 8bureaucratic organi;ation and protocol:,
hegemonic 8cultural legitimations:, and interpersonal 8personal relationships:.
I #here are various implications of -ollins approach. First, activism is a
complex enterprise that links together different practices in the four domains of
power. In other words, activism can involve more than social movements aimed at
changing the institutional arrangements of a society. Because there are four
domains of power, there can be four fronts of activism. )econd, her approach
challenges many of the existing political assumptions and opens up new conceptual
space for understanding how ine!ualities work. #he ideas of intersectionality and a
matrix of domination discourage simple, binary thinking in politics and research.
#hird, -ollins ideas sensiti;e us to the fluid nature of social categories, identities,
and relations. "nd, fourth, political coalitions can ebb and flow as different groups
align to varying degrees on the issues of power, victimi;ation, and resistance.
$ce $nd Democr$cy:
Corne( 1est (19;<-)
Theorist&s Di'est
Conce(ts and Theory: 1lac/ E+istence in !merica
*lack 2ihilism
Crisis in *lack 3eadershi"
3eadershi" #or E$uality
Conce(ts and Theory: The Postdemocratic !'e
Three -ntidemocratic 4ogmas
Putting on the 4emocratic -rmor
heres a way in which -ornel +est picks up from where +illiam Culius
+ilson left off. +ilson argued that since the civil rights movement in the
$'&(s, the black population in the Gnited )tates has been split as never
before by class. <ost of the changes that have occurred with reference to race
have thus benefited rising middle class blacks and have left those "frican
"mericans at the poverty level and beiow as the 3truly disadvantaged.3 +est
picks up +ilsons theme but moves it more into the realm of culture. )ince the
$'&(s, the upwardly mobile black population in the Gnited )tates has increas
ingly become the target of capitalist markets. ?ot only did capitalists discover a
new market when "frican "mericans entered the middle class, they also in a
sense tried to make up for lost time. -apitalists have had over two centuries of
marketing to whites, but blacks have constituted a strong and viable market for
only the past H( years or so. ,iven the historical background of the black com
munity in the Gnited )tates, this concentrated market force has had uni!ue
effects on "frican "mericans of all classes.
Brief Biography
Cornel West -as )orn in T.lsa, O/lahoma, in 2368. He )e'an attendin' Har9ard %ni9ersity at
se9enteen and 'rad.ated three years later, ma'na c.m la.de. His de'ree -as in Near Eastern
lan'.a'es and literat.re. West o)tained his PhD at Princeton, -here he st.died -ith ichard
orty, a -ellA/no-n (ra'matist. West has ta.'ht at %nion Theolo'ical Seminary, "ale Di9inity
School, the %ni9ersity of Paris, Har9ard, and is c.rrently at Princeton. !mon' his most
si'nificant -or/s are /ace 5atters and 4emocracy 5atters0 Winning the +ight -gainst
,m"erialism. His recent -or/s incl.de &ee"ing +aith0 Philoso"hy and /ace in -merica and a
ra( CD, 2ever +orget0 - 6ourney o# /evelations.
Central Sociological Questions
Cornel West&s life is committed to not only the race ?.estion in !merica, ).t to the democratic
ideals of o(en and critical dialo'.e, the freedom of ideas and information, and com(assion for
and acce(tance of di9erse others. His (assion, then, is to e+(ose antidemocratic ener'ies -here9er
they may )e fo.nd. In this cha(ter he s(ecifically as/s t-o ?.estions: @Ho- has ca(italist
mar/etin' affected )lac/ !mericansJ@ and @Ho- has 3H22 affected democracy in !mericaJ@
Simply Stated
West is concerned a)o.t race and democracy in the %nited States. Since the ci9il ri'hts era of
the 235>s )lac/s ha9e e+(erienced 'reater (olitical (artici(ation and economic .(-ard
mo)ility than e9er )efore. While these chan'es ha9e had o)9io.s (ositi9e effects, they ha9e
also -or/ed to -ea/en traditional )lac/ comm.nity and create a crisis in )lac/
Since the 235>s !frican !mericans ha9e )een s.):ected to intense mar/etin' -ith an e9er
e+(andin' n.m)er of commodities. !s a res.lt mar/et moralities ha9e re(laced traditional
)lac/ c.lt.ral armor and ha9e created a sense of )lac/ nihilism. In res(onse to these
threats, West calls for a reener'iBin' of moral reasonin', coalition strate'y, and mat.re )lac/
identity. West is also foc.sed on 'reater democratic 'ood in the %nited States. He ar'.es that
this has )een threatened as a res.lt of 3H22. The threat isn&t terrorism ).t, rather, the
!merican res(onse to terrorism, -hich has (rod.ced antidemocratic do'mas that threaten the
9ery core of democracy. Here West calls for res.rrectin' Socratic ?.estionin', commitment to
(ro(hetic :.stice, and a tra'icomic commitment to ho(e.
#ey !de$s
false conscio.sness, (ra'matism, e+istentialism, democratic faith, modern ca(italist mar/ets,
mar/et sat.ration, )lac/ c.lt.ral armor, mar/et moralities, ontolo'ical -o.nds, e+istential an'st,
)lac/ nihilism, (olitics of con9ersion, crisis in )lac/ leadershi(, three /inds of leadershi( styles,
racial reasonin', moral reasonin', mat.re )lac/ identity, coalition strate'y, (ostdemocratic a'e,
Constantinian Christianity, Pro(hetic Christianity, freeAmar/et f.ndamentalism, a''ressi9e
militarism, escalatin' a.thoritarianism, Socratic ?.estionin', democratic armor, commitment to
(ro(hetic :.stice, tra'icomic commitment to ho(e
Conce%ts $nd Theory: 4($c6 E-istence in :meric$
+est gives us two basic structural influences on blacks in the Gnited )tates2 the eco
nomic boom and expansion of civil rights for blacks in the $'&(s, and the satura
tion of market forces. In terms of the economic and political well4being of blacks
in the Gnited )tates, +est is simply saying that they both increased, particularly
during the boom of the $'%(s. For example, the G.). -ensus Bureau 8n.d.: reports
that black, male, median income increased from N',0$' in $'0( to N$%,(00 in $'%(,
as measured in 9((1 dollars. #hese changes helped define blacks as a viable market
group, one with disposable income and market4specific products. In some obvious
ways, these changes have benefited the black experience in "merica. /owever, the
development of black economic markets has also had significant negative effects.
"s a way of distributing goods and services, markets have been a part of human
history for millennia. 5odern! ca"italist markets! however, have a couple of uni!ue
characteristics. <odern capitalism, youll remember, is defined by the endless
accumulation of capital to create more capital. Because capital is its own goal, its
never achieved 8capital to generate capital to generate capital and so on endlessly:.
#his drive implies that the need for profit is insatiable and thus continues to
increase. Because markets are the mechanism through which profit and capital are
gained, modern capitalist markets are intrinsically expansive2 #hey expand verti
cally 8through accessories for an existing product:, hori;ontally 8producing new
products within a market:, and geographically 8extending existing markets to new
social groups:.
" second uni!ue characteristic of modern capitalism is related to the factor of
expanding markets2 -apitalists are driven to create a never4ending stream of new or
different commodities. *eep in mind that commodification is a process that con
verts more and more of the human lifeworld into something that can be bought
and sold, and it creates new 3needs3 within the consumer. /uman beings are not
7ust the only animal capable of economic production; we are also the only species
able to create new psychological drives and needs for the new products. #heres a
sense in which markets are without any morals whatsoever2 #hey arent restricted
by any kind of ethic4they can be used to sell Bibles or guns to terrorists. #his !ual
ity makes them applicable to any situation or product. /owever, as we will see, the
absence of any ethical restrictions implies and creates a morality of its own. "nd
these market moralities are particularly destructive for black "mericans.
4($c6 *ihi(ism
vMest characteri;es this market expansion into the black community as a kind of
market saturation. /e first argues that the market saturation of the black popula
tion has stripped away community4based values and substituted market moralities.
Barlier I mentioned that markets are amoral. But this is in a restricted sense only
markets can be used for anything. <arkets do, however, convey some specific cul
tural ideas and sensibilities. In classical theory, for example, <ax +eber was
extremely interested in how markets and bureaucracies create rational rather than
affective culture, and ,eorg )immel saw markets as contributing to cultural signs
becoming frivolous.
+est argues that being a focus for market activity, commodification, and adver
tising has changed black culture in "merica. .rior to market saturation, blacks had
a long history of community and tradition. #hey were e!uipped with a kind of
black cultural armor that came via black civic and religious institutions. #his armor
consisted of clear and strong structures of meaning and feeling that 3embodied val
ues of service and sacrifice, love and care, discipline and excellence3 8+est,
$''1>9(($, p. 9H:. vMhile this is specific to black "mericans, its important to note
that this general shift from community4based traditional culture to less meaning
ful and more pliable culture was a concern of many social theorists of modernity.
+e find this idea of cultural shift repeatedly in classical theory. #he basic idea is that
culture has dramatically changed through processes accompanying urbani;ation
and commodification. Dather than being meaningful, normative, and cohesive, cul
ture is triviali;ed, anomie, and segmented.
+est is making this same kind of argument, so he follows a strong theoretical tra
dition. +est, however, is pointing out that while the dispersion of community and
the emptying of culture may have affected much of modern society during the
beginning and middle stages of modernity and capitalism, the black community in
"merica wasnt strongly influenced by these changes until after the $'&(s. Gntil then,
blacks continued to rely on community4based relations and religiously influenced
culture. "s a result of the twin structural influences of civil rights and upward mobil
ity, blacks moved out of black communities and churches. #he structural bases for
cultural armor were weakened as a result.
In place of cultural armor, blacks have since been inundated with the market
moralities of conspicuous consumption and material calculus. #he culture of con
sumption orients people to the present moment and to the intensification of plea
sure. #his culture of pleasure uses seduction to capitali;e 3on every opportunity to
make money3 8+est, $''1>9(($, p. 9&:. It overwhelms people in a moment where
the past and future are swallowed up in a never4ending 3repetition of hedonistically
driven pleasure3 8p. 9&:. Further, the material calculus argues that the greatest value
comes from profit4driven calculations. Bvery other consideration, such as love and
service to others, is hidden under the bushel of profit.
"s Ive mentioned, most of these cultural ramifications of markets and com
modification have also been present in other groups. But in +ests 8 $''1>9(( l:
opinion, two issues make these effects particularly destructive for blacks. First,
black upward mobility and the presence of the black middle class concern only a
small sliver of the pie. <ost of the black citi;ens of the Gnited )tates still suffer
under white oppression. #he other issue that makes the black experience of market
saturation distinct is the 3accumulated effect of the black wounds and scars suffered
in a white4dominated society3 8p. 9=:. In other words, there is a historical and cul
tural heritage, no matter how much the immediacy of market saturation and plea
sure tries to deny it4much of the history of the Gnited )tates was built on the
oppression of blacks over the $== years from $%%& to $'&H.
Obviously, these two factors influence one another. /ealing from past wounds
can only take place in a present that is both nurturing and repentant, a place that
does not replicate hurts from the past. "ccording to +est 8$''1>9(($:, this isnt
happening for blacks in "merica2 -ultural beliefs and media images continue to
attack 3black intelligence, black ability, black beauty, and black character in subtle
and not4so4subtle ways3 8p. 9%:. "nd, as noted earlier, black upward mobility is
still limited. For example, in 9((9 over 1(O of black children lived under the
poverty line, compared to $9.1O of white children 8)tatistical "bstract of the
Gnited )tates, 9((9:.
In the abstract, +ests argument so far looks like this2 black upward mobilityP
increased civil rights weakening of civic and religious community base sub
stitution of market moralities for cultural armor4all of which takes place within
the framework of the black legacy in the Gnited )tates and continued oppression.
3Gnder these circumstances black existential angst derives from the lived experi
ence of ontological wounds and emotional scars3 8+est, $''1>9(($, p. 9%, empha
sis original:. #he ontological wounds that +est is speaking of come from the ways
in which black reality and existence have been denied throughout the history of
the Gnited )tates.
In general, e.istential angst refers to the deep and profound insecurity and dread
that comes from living as a human being. #his idea comes from existentialism.
Bxistentialism starts with the problem of being or existence and argues that the very
!uestion or problem creates existence. "s far as we know, human beings are the only
animal that !uestions its existence2 +hy am I here@ +hats the meaning of life@ "ll
other animals simply exist. But human beings ask, and in asking we create human
existence as a uni!ue experience. #hat uni!ue experience is existential angst, wor
rying over the great !uestions of life. But this angst can lead to the great transcen
dences of human life; it can lead to community as we share our existential existence.
+est employs the idea of angst to describe the uni!uely black experience of liv
ing under "merican capitalism and democracy4under slavery blacks were denied
existence as human beings and werent given civil rights until the $'&(s. Further,
black experience is deeply historical, yet the past and the future are now buried
under the market4driven pleasures of the moment; and black experience is funda
mentally communitarian, yet that civic and religious base is overwhelmed by mar
ket individualisms; black experience is painfully oppressive, yet it is countered only
by increasing target marketing and consumerism. #hus, +est argues that the result
of market saturation and morality for blacks is a deeply spiritual condition of
despair and insecurity. Because blacks no longer have the necessary culture, com
munity, or leadership, this angst cannot be used productively. It is instead turned
inward as anger. "nd this anger is played out in violence against the weak.
Dighteous anger, turned against the oppressor in hopes of liberation, becomes
increasingly difficult to express. Black nihilism denies the hope in which this anger
is founded. +ith no viable path, this anger is turned inward and found in black
against4black violence, especially against black women and children.
Crisis in 4($c6 (e$dershi%
/owever, nihilism can be treated. +est argues that it is a disease of the soul, one
that cannot be cured, as there is always the threat of relapse. #his disease must be
met with love and care, not arguments and analysis. +hat is re!uired is a new kind
of politics, a "olitics o# conversion! which reaches into the subversive memory of
black people to find modes of valuation and resistance. .olitics of conversion is
centered on a love ethic that is energi;ed by concern for others and the recognition
of ones own worth. #his kind of politics re!uires prophetic black leaders who will
bring 3hope for the future and a meaning to struggle3 8+est, $''1>9(($, p. 9=:.
#here is, however, a crisis in black leadershi".
For +est, there is a relationship between community and leadership. )trong
leaders come out of vibrant communities. +ith the breakdown of the black com
munity, black leaders dont have a social base that is in touch with the real issues.
#here is thus no nurturing of critical consciousness in the heart of black "merica.
Dather, much of the new black leadership in "merica comes out of the middle class.
"nd black middle4class life is 3principally a matter of professional conscientious
ness, personal accomplishment, and cautious ad7ustment3 8+est, $''1>9(($, p. 0%:.
+est maintains that what is lacking in contemporary black leadership is anger
and humility; what is present in overabundance is status anxiety and concerns for
personal careers.
+est divides contemporary black leaders into two general types4politicians
and academics4with three kinds o# leadershi" styles0 race4effacing managerial
leaders, race4identifying protest leaders, and race4transcending prophetic leaders.
#here are some differences between politicians and academics, but by and large
they e."ress the same leadership styles. #he managerial>elitist model is growing
rapidly in the Gnited )tates. #his style of leadership is one that has been co4opted
by bureaucratic norms. /e or she navigates the political scene through political
savvy and personal diplomacy. Dace is downplayed in the hopes of gaining a white
constituency. In academia, the elitist sees himself or herself as having a kind of
monopoly over the sophisticated analysis of black "merica. But the analysis is flat
and mediocre because of the intellectuals desire to fit into the university system. In
both cases, whether under political savvy or academic abstraction, race is effaced.
#he second type of leader, the protest leader, capitali;es on the race issue but in
a very limited way, in a kind o#1one(note racial analysis3 8+est, $''1>9(($, p. &=:.
%ere 3Black3 becomes all4powerful. West characteri;es these leaders as 3confining
themselves to the black turf, vowing to protect their leadership status over it, and
serving as power brokers with powerful nonblack elites3 8p. &(:. In this context,
racial reasoning reigns supreme.
/acial reasoning is a way of thinking that is concerned with e!uality more as a
group right rather than a general social issue. For West! racial reasoning begins with
an assumption of the black experience. #he discourse of race then centers on black
authenticity2 the notion that some black experiences and people are really black while
others arent. Dacial reasoning results in blacks closing ranks, but again it is around a
one4note song rather than a symphony of color. Dacial reasoning results in black
nationalist sentiments that 3promote and encourage black cultural conservatism,
especially black patriarchal 8and homophobic: power3 8+est, $''1>9(($, p. 1%:.
-losing the ranks thus creates a hierarchy of acceptability within a black context2
the black subordination of women, class divisions, and sexual orientation within
black "merica.
(e$dershi% /or E=u$(ity
These two kinds of black leaders have promoted political cynicism among black
people and have dampened 3the fire of enraged local activists who have made a dif
#erence1 8+est, $''1>9(($, p. &=:. .art of black nihilism, or nothingness, is this
sense of ineffectuality, of being lost in a storm too big to change. vMhat is needed,
according to West! are black leaders founded on moral reasoning rather than racial
reasoning. 5oral reasoning is the stock and trade of race4transcending prophetic
leaders. .rophetic leadership does not rest on any kind of racial supremacy, black
or white. It uses a coalition strategy! which seeks out the antiracist traditions found
in all peoples. It re#uses to divide black people over other categories of distinction
and re)ects patriarchy and homophobia. )uch an approach promotes moral rather
than racial reasoning.
#his framework of moral reasoning is also based on a mature black identity of
self4love and self4respect that re#uses to put 3any group of people on the pedestal or
in the gutter3 8+est, $''1>9(($, p. H1:. <oral reasoning also uses subversive mem
ory, 3one of the most precious heritages 5black people: have3 8+est, $''', p. 99$:.
It recalls the modes of struggling and resisting that affirmed community, faith,
hope, and love, rather than the contemporary market morality of individualism,
conspicuous consumption, and hedonistic indulgence.
Both the coalition strategy and mature black identity are built at the local level.
+est 8$''': sees local communities as working 3from below and sometimes
beneath modernity3 8p. 99$ :, as if local communities can function below the radar
of markets and commodification. It is within vibrant communities and through
public discourse that local leaders are accountable and earn respect and love. )uch
leaders merit national attention from the black community and the general public,
according to 9:9Test.
In this framework, the liberal focus on economic issues is re7ected as simplistic.
Eikewise, the conservative criti!ue of black immorality is dismissed as ignoring
public responsibility for the ethical state of the union. In their places, +est proposes
a democratic, pragmatically driven dialogue. "s I mentioned earlier, +est doesnt
propose absolutes. /is is a prophetic call to radical democracy and faith, to finally
take seriously the declaration that all people are created e!ual.
#ogether, moral reasoning, coalition strategy, and mature black identity create
the black cultural armor. +ests use of3armor3 is a biblical reference. -hristians are
told in Bphesians &2$1 8?ew International Mersion: to 3put on the full armor of
,od, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and
after you have done everything, to stand.3 #here the threat was the powers of dark
ness in heavenly places; here the threat is black nihilism in the heart of democracy.
#hese two battles are at least parallel if not identical for +est. #he fight for true
democracy is a spiritual battle for the souls of humankind that have been dulled by
market saturation, especially the souls of black "merica. +est 8$''1>9(($: exhorts
black "merica to put on its cultural armor4a return to community life and moral
reasoning along with coalition strategy and mature black identity4so as to 3beat
back the demons of hopelessness, meaninglessness, and lovelessness3 and create
anew 3cultural structures of meaning and feeling3 8p. 91:.
Conce%ts $nd Theory: The &ostdemocr$tic :0e
Qwests 89((H: newest work is an indictment of "merican democracy in the wake of
'>$$. /e argues that the terrorist attacks on )eptember $$, 9(($, provided the spark
to an already existing fire bed of antidemocratic dogmas and an emasculated polit
ical process. +est notes that the political scene in the Gnited )tates has recently
been dominated by an illicit marriage of corporate and political elites 8a plutoc
racy: and the -hristian Dight. "mong the plutocratic elite, 3salesmanship to the
demos has taken the place of genuine democratic leadership3 8p. 1:. ,iven the
choice between two political alternatives that are both dependent upon corporate
favor, people are increasingly choosing to opt out of the democratic process, both
in terms of voting and critical dialogue. +est characteri;es this as a postdemocra
tic age43the waning of democratic energies and practices in our present age of the
"merican empire3 8p. 9:.
+est 89((H: sees the emptiness of the "merican political culture, created by
market saturation and a dearth of leadership, as giving place to the -hristian
Dight. .eople are reaching out for a sense of meaning and purpose. #he -hristian
Dight provides that, but its righteousness is misguided and its perspective 3narrow,
exclusionary, and punitive3 8p. &&:. )pecifically, the rhetoric of -hristian funda
mentalism is used to legitimate three antidemocratic dogmas2 free4market funda
mentalism, aggressive militarism, and authoritarianism. In addition, +est 89((H:
argues that the -hristian Dight is perverting the soul of "merican democracy,
3because the dominant forms of -hristian fundamentalism are a threat to the tol
erance and openness necessary for sustaining any democracy3 8p. $H&:.
+est is a -hristian. But he sees vast differences between what he calls
-onstantinian -hristianity and prophetic -hristianity. Constantinian Christianity
is named after the Doman emperor -onstantine, who converted to -hristianity in
1$9 -B. #he various accounts differ on some of the specifics, but all agree that
-onstantine received a vision of -hrist 7ust before the Battle of the <ilvian Bridge.
"s a result, -onstantine commanded that a purple silk banner hanging from a
crosspiece on a pike 8representing -hrist: be placed as his new battle standard.
Bventually, because of -onstantine, -hristianity became the official religion of the
Doman Bmpire. #he state then used the church as an instrument of imperial pol
icy, and the church used the state as a means of imposing its religious rule.
-onstantinian -hristianity, then, is a 3terrible co47oining of church and state3
8+est, 9((H, p. $H=: that robs the church 3of the prophetic fervor of Cesus and the
apocalyptic fire of that other Cew4turned4-hristian named .aul3 8p. $H%:.
+est 89((H: argues that as a result of the marriage between church and state,
-hristianity has been invested with an 3insidious schi;ophrenia.3 On the one hand,
there are the -onstantinian elements occupied with power, privilege, and posses
sion, a -hristianity that has 3been on the wrong side of so many of our social trou
bles, such as the dogmatic 7ustification of slavery and the parochial defense of
womens ine!uality3 8p. $H':. +est argues that the -hristian Dight, including the
-hristian -oalition and the <oral <a7ority, is the shining example of
-onstantinian -hristianity in "merica.
On the other hand are the elements of prophetic -hristianity, most clearly seen
in )ocial ,ospel churches. Pro"hetic Christianity holds up wisdom, 7ustice, and free
dom for all humanity as its virtues. It isnt concerned with power; it is concerned
with promoting e!uality and respecting and supporting every cultural groups
uni!ue heritage and way of life. In making his case for the differences between
-onstantinian and prophetic -hristianity, +est 89((H: argues that the strongest
movements for e!uality have been led $y prophetic -hristians, including 3the abo
litionist, womens suffrage, and trade4union movements in the nineteenth century
and the civil rights movement in the twentieth century3 8p. $09:.
I do not want to be numbered among those who sold their souls for a mess
of pottage4who surrendered their democratic -hristian identity for a com
fortable place at the table of the "merican empire while, like Ea;arus, the least
of these cried out and I was too intoxicated with worldly power and might to
hear, beckon, and heed their cries. #o be a -hristian is to live dangerously,
honestly, freely.... #his is the kind of vision and courage re!uired to enable
the renewal of prophetic, democratic -hristian identity in the age of the
"merican empire. 8+est, 9((H, p. $%9:
Ch$%ter 2C @ Politics of Identity: Smith, Collins, and West 41
Three :ntidemocr$tic Do0m$s
Before we begin this section, we should take a moment to define what +est
means $y democracy. 4emocracy is not simply the freedom to vote4the freedom
to vote democratically is based on the presence of at least three elements. #ogether,
these elements give democracy a forward vision4the hope of future progress
gained through re7ecting the shackles of the past and the continual process of
enlightenment. #he first element of democracy is open and critical dialogue. #he
democracy of the Gnited )tates is built upon such dialogue, as is evident in the
Aeclaration of Independence and the First "mendment to the -onstitution.
#he second element is necessitated by the first2 the freedom of ideas and informa
tion necessary for democratic dialogue and !uestioning. Aemocracy cannot exist in
an environment where knowledge and thought are hidden in darkness.
#hird, the necessity of dialogue and the freedom of ideas imply compassion for
and acceptance of diverse others. " democratic government exists in order to pre
serve the freedoms and rights of diverse others. "ny kind of government can pro
tect its borders and provide infrastructure, but K.Mest argues that a democratic
government is especially well4suited to guard the freedoms of its citi;ens in the face
of oppression. #his protection is the defining feature of a democratic government
and its sole reason for existence. ?ote that acceptance is not the same as tolerance.
#L:lerated voices arent allowed an e!ual footing in dialogue. But "merican democ
racy goes further than acceptance. In the roots of "merican democracy there is
desire for alternative voices.
+est takes seriously the idea that culture can exist and act like a structure. #his
position implies first that culture can develop autonomously and second that cul
ture can have its own set of effects in concert with or independent of other social
structures. In this case, the social structural issues that concern +est are the rising
plutocracy and the -hristian Dight. +est is also still concerned with the saturation
of market forces. In addition, +est sees the terrorist attacks of '>$$ as a key event
in pushing the Gnited )tates toward a postdemocratic society.
#here are three cultural dogmas with which +est is concerned2 free4market fun
damentalism, aggressive militarism, and escalating authoritarianism. +ell talk
about each of these in a moment, but first notice +ests use of religious terms. First,
these cultural issues are dogmas. vMhile dogma can have a more general meaning,
in religious circles it is a technical term with a very specific meaning. Aogmas are
otlicially established religious doctrines. #hey serve not only to distinguish one
belief system from another, but they are also the guiding lights for religious prac
tice. +est is telling us that these cultural elements function like religious dogma2
#hey dictate and legitimate certain beliefs and practices. "nd these beliefs, prac
tices, and legitimations are held to be fundamental to a certain way of life4in this
case, the "merican way of life.
#he second religious term that vMest uses is fundamentalism, and it is used in
reference to the first cultural belief2 free markets. Interestingly enough, though we
may now talk about Islamic fundamentalists, the term was first used in reference
to .rotestant -hristianity. -hristian fundamentalism began in the Gnited )tates
during the nineteenth century in response to several millennialist movements
8belief in the second coming and $,(((4year reign of -hrist:. It spread during the
latter part of the nineteenth century because of .rotestant concerns over -atholic
immigration, labor unrest, and biblical criticism. #here are several beliefs that are
common to fundamentalism, including the literal interpretation of the Bible, the
physical second coming of -hrist, physical resurrection, and so on. But what
"eo"le believe is not as im"ortant as how "eo"le believe4fundamentalism is char
acteri;ed by absolute certainty and militant conservatism.
In terms of free markets, +est 89((H: is arguing that "merican culture has
developed a militant belief in them4a #ree(market #undamentalism. Free markets
are perceived to be the mechanism for bringing about international cooperation,
moderni;ation, happiness, true competition, the good life, and so forth. #his glo
rification of the market leads to a corporate4dominated society where the interests
of capitalism are e!uated with democracy and corporate leaders are seen as the
highest expression of democratic good. #he current idea of free markets seems to
be shielded by a faith that borders on worship; little is done in the face of the esti
mated N1(( billion cost of white collar crime 8Eegal Information Institute, n.d.:.
<arket fundamentalism also 3redefines the terms of what we should be striving
for in life, glamori;ing materialistic gain, narcissistic pleasure, and the pursuit of
narrow individualistic preoccupations3; in the end, it 3triviali;es the concern for
public interest3 8p. H:.
+ests 89((H: point is that this dogmatic belief in free4market fundamentalism
blinds people to any other concern except market moralities. Because of this single
sightedness, individuals caught up in this belief are willing to make any sacrifice
necessary to 3succeed at any cost3 8p. 9%:. #he irony of this blind chase for profit is
that it is based on faith in free markets, which implies that even 3corporate elites are
not fully in control of market forces3 8p. 9%: and market forces are a power unto
themselves. #he effects of unfettered market forces are beginning to show in terms
of environmental pollution and the emptying out of democratic energies.
.art of the drain on democratic energies comes from nihilism. Cust as +est
89((H: saw black nihilism as a result of the saturation of market forces and market
moralities, he also argues that "mericans as a whole are suffering from 3psychic
depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair3 8p. 9&:. ?ihilism comes
about because 8a: people are caught in the ambivalence of believing in free markets,
while recogni;ing their inevitable costs 8such as white collar crime:; 8b: unceasing
market expansion and market moralities create a situation where meaning and
knowledge are continually overturning and are stripped of any continuity or sta
bility; 8c: market moralities are void of any sense of right or wrong 8which is the
definition of moral:; and 8d: market moralities have corrupted the principles of
representative democracy all the way to the top2
Our politicians have sacrificed their principles on the altar of special interests;
our corporate leaders have sacrificed their integrity on the altar of profits;
and our media watchdogs have sacrificed the voice of dissent on the altar of
audience competition. 8+est, 9((H, p. 9=:
Ch$%ter 2C E Politics of Identity: Smith, Collins, and West 43
#he next antidemocratic dogma that +est explains is aggressive militarism.
"lthough the roots of both this and the next dogma 8authoritarianism: go deeper,
the immediate stimulus is the terrorist attacks of '>$$. +est 89((H: sees '>$$ as a
watershed moment for "merican democracy2 3#he ugly events of '>$$ should have
been an opportunity for national self4scrutiny3 8p. $9:. +hy did the terrorists
attack the Gnited )tates@ +hat ideas are so meaningful that men would not only
kill but lay down their own lives to communicate@ +hat are the social, political,
and historical backgrounds@ Aid G.). imperialist behavior play a role@ But rather
than becoming positively responsive, +est points out, the citi;ens of this nation
either killed any hope of communication in a 3simplistic and aggressive with us or
against us stance3 8p. $9: or were silenced by the single4note dogmatism of "merican
#hus, rather than democratic !uestioning, the Gnited )tates turned to the
dogma of aggressive militarism. #he new national policy of war became defined
in terms of the 3preemptive strike,3 where in the presence of even faulty intelli
gence it is in the nations best interest to attack first. In practice, this policy is evi
denced by unilateral intervention, colonial invasion, and armed occupation of
foreign soil and people. +est clarifies the costs of such actions2 "t the interna
tional level, the use of unmasked violence tends to create further instability; at the
national level, the dogma of militarism results in expanded police power, further
development of the prison4industrial complex, and increased legitimation of
male power and violence; at the ethical level, such elite4driven war actions are
always paid for most dearly in the disproportional deaths of youth coming from
lower classes and populations of color.
#he third member of this trinity of antidemocratic dogma is escalating authori
tarianism. +est argues that the "merican belief in authoritarianism is rooted in the
understandable paranoia about terrorism, the longstanding fear of individuals hav
ing too many liberties, and the deep4seated distrust of any social or cultural differ
ences. #he events of '>$$ rekindled and deepened these fears. #he results have gone
in the exact opposite direction from democracy2 dramatic increases in governmen
tal surveillance, especially within schools and universities, and decreases in legal
protections of individual citi;ens4these two are coupled with and amplified by
decreases in the oversight of government activities.
+est sees an analogy here. In "merica, he sees black people as having been 3nig
geri;ed2 #o be niggeri;ed is to be dehumani;ed, and blacks in this country have
been designated and treated as 3nigger3 for over 10( years. #hey have been made 3to
feel unsafe, unprotected, sub7ect to random violence, and hated3 8p. 9(:. In short,
blacks have been terrori;ed by white "merica. ?ow, the entire Gnited )tates has
been niggeri;ed. "s a result of the terrorism of '>$$, "mericans in general feel
unsafe, unprotected, sub7ect to random violence, and hated. #he comparison +est
wants to make is between the black response to terrorism and the current "merican
response to terrorism.
+est 8$''': characteri;es the current response to '>$$ as the gangsteri;ation
of "merica. " gangster mentality is one that makes things a 3!uestion of getting
over ... instead of getting better, and that gangster mentality promotes a war
against all3 8p. 9$=:. #his gangsteri;ation of "merica not only concerns aggres
sive militarism and escalating authoritarianism, it also involves market morali
ties and fetishes that come out of free4market fundamentalism. #hese dogmas
have produced 3an unbridled grasp at power, wealth, and status3 that have
snuffed the democratic light from the very nation that is its chief advocate2 3+e
are experiencing the sad "merican imperial devouring of "merican democracy3
8+est, 9((H, p. =:.
&uttin0 on the Democr$tic :rmor
#o combat the nihilist threat, to overcome the niggeri;ation and gangsteri;ation
of "merica, +est exhorts us to put on the democratic armor. #here are three ele
ments to this defensive covering2 )ocratic !uestioning, prophetic 7ustice, and tragi
comic commitment to hope. )ocrates never wrote a word. +hat we know of the
ocratic $uestioning came to us through .lato, his student. .lato presents the
)ocratic method as a way of discovering ethical truths. It is a method of in!uiry that
uses critical !uestions as its tool4imagine a class where the professor didnt lecture
but only asked !uestions. #he purpose of the method is to !uestion every idea until
its underlying assumptions are exposed. #he assumptions are then !uestioned in
terms of their logical relationship to other assumptions. In this process, those
involved agree to accept any answer that is logically reasoned. In other words, what
matters most is the process, not the product. #here arent predetermined truths that
the 3teacher3 is attempting to impose. Fuestioning and logic, then, are both
method and goal.
Im sure you can see why +est advocates )ocratic !uestioning as a primary piece
in the democratic citi;ens armor. Aemocracy for +est is based upon and can only
prosper when critical !uestioning is its driving force. "s +est points out, critical
!uestioning was the wellspring of "mericas first document, the Aeclaration of
Independence2 +ithout it, not only would the Gnited )tates not have been born,
but the Gnited )tates as a truly democratic nation could not continue to exist.
+est gives us at least two guidelines for this !uest. First, we must engage in a
critical and open4minded assessment of the history of every dogma. +est takes
seriously the structural weight of culture. One of the things that means is that
ideas and dogmas do not exist as some kind of solilo!uy or solo performance.
#hey have a history. Gncovering that history exposes ideologys contingent and
political base. #he second guideline that +est gives us is the race lens. #he history
of ideas and the race lens go hand in hand. #here are a number of frames through
which we could uncover the heritage of democratic ideas in "merica. But the race
lens is perhaps the most powerful, because whether we look at the oppression of
gays, women, workers, or the near genocide of ?ative "mericans, what we find at
the core is 3the deeply antidemocratic and dehumani;ing hypocrisies of white
supremacy3 8+est, 9((H, p. $H:.
/owever, remember +ests 89((H: purpose in advocating the race lens2 to incite
critical in!uiry. #he purpose, then, is not to create 3sentimental stories of pure
heroes of color and impure white villains3; this would 3simply flip the script and tell
new lies about ourselves3 8p. $0:. Dather, using the race lens should unsettle
"mericans. It should bring into sharp relief the distinctions between -onstantinian
"merica and democratic "merica. It should humble "merica in the reali;ation that
todays dogmas are 7ust as destructive to the democratic spirit as racism. It should
make "mericans re7ect dogmas of any kind. "ccording to +est, democracy never
gets it right; what is right about democracy is its process2 3"ll democracies are
incomplete and unfinished3 8p. 9(H:. In short, the race lens should prompt never
ending )ocratic, pragmatic !uestioning and parrhesia4freedom of speech.
+est points out something extremely important about democracy and freedom
of speech. #he men who founded "merica feared the masses or demos. .lato feared
the demos as well and advocated the rule of philosopher4kings. #hese elite feared
chaos and anarchy. #he masses were seen as uneducated and capable of being eas
ily persuaded. +est 89((H: tells us that the 3genius of the Founding Fathers3 of the
Gnited )tates was to still grant and protect )ocratic !uestioning and freedom of
speech 8p. 9$$:. +hat this means is that democracy is founded on a tension
between elites and the demos, and this tension is always and necessarily there. If
either side becomes too dominant 8as with the current "merican plutocracy:, the
dialogue that democracy is founded on comes to a halt.
)ocratic !uestioning and commitment to "ro"hetic )ustice are intertwined.
<any people, when they think of a prophet, conceive of a person telling and fore
telling absolute truth. #his is not what +est has in mind. +ests idea of prophetic
vision cant be related to truth because of his notion of )ocratic !uestioning and
because of the prominence he gives pragmatism. " commitment to prophetic 7us
tice is first a call away from indifference. .rophetic 7ustice is a commitment4it is
in its essence engagement. Bvery example we have of prophets indicates that they
are people who are utterly involved4think of Cohn the Baptist or )iddhartha
,autama, the Buddha.
For +est 89((H:, this prophetic commitment is to 37ustice of an oppressed
people3 8p. $%:. #o talk about this 7ustice, +est invokes the model of 7a;;. In 7a;;,
every player has a distinct voice. It isnt like a symphony where individual voices
are swallowed up in sections and the presence of the whole. Ca;; is based on virtu
osity and improvisation within a single melodic structure. "ll members are play
ing the same song, but each gives his or her own take. -ommitment to 7ustice,
then, is first a commitment to polyvocality, the presence and honoring of many
voices. #rue democracy can never oppress or disenfranchise; to the degree that a
nation does, it is no longer democratic. #he test of democracy is in how many
voices are being silenced.
" commitment to 7ustice also implies a commitment to ones own self. #his
commitment is
a matter of finding ones own distinctive voice, ones own precious individu
ality that is not reduced to rugged, rapacious, ragged individualism. But
rather is constituted by bouncing up against other voices within a commu
nity 7ust like a 7a;; !uartet, where if you havent found your distinctive voice,
its time for you to practice more. 8+est, 9(((:
.racticing for 7a;; entails an understanding of music theory so deep that it frees
the player to intuitive improvisation. #hus, a democratic commitment to prophetic
7ustice entails a commitment to true and continuous education. #ogether, polyvo
cality and self4education create fire4they both produce and validate prophetic
speech. Only when a person is committed to diversity in community and to the edi
fication of education can he or she speak. +hen one is dedicated to this fire, he or
she must speak, and in the fire of polyvocality and self4education others will listen.
#he third portion of the democratic cultural armor is a tragicomic commitment
to ho"e. #o explain this armor, +est draws on the musical genre of the blues. <ost
of us know that both blues and 7a;; came out of black culture, but many of us dont
recogni;e or like to think about the fact that they came out of the black experience
of white oppression. Jet this is +ests point exactly2 Ca;; and blues are the freest
music forms in "merica, yet they were created by an enslaved people. Blues specif
ically gives expression to tragicomic hope.
#he blues originated in the back4and4forth call of slaves working the fields. #he
call at once gave voice to pain and hope to the soul. ,rief was expressed in the call,
yet the cadence gave rhythm and thus lightness to the work. Individual suffering
was expressed, affirmed, and given meaning in a community of sufferers. 3#he root
of blues is the human experience and psyche itself3 8Brlewine, $''', p. v:, and its
essence is 3to stare painful truths in the face and persevere without cynicism or
pessimism3 8+est, 9((H, p. 9$:.
#ellingly, the blues was born out of terrorism2 the terrorist suppression of
blacks by white supremacist slave owners. +est tells us that we are at a cross
roads brought about by yet another kind of terrorism2 the attacks of '>ll.
"ccording to +est 89((H:, we have begun down the wrong road, toward a post
democratic society. Bven so, 3Our fundamental test may lie in our continuing
response to '>$$3 8p. =:. "mericas move toward the road of democracy begins
with the blues2
#he blues forges a mature hope that fortifies us on the slippery tightrope of
)ocratic !uestioning and prophetic witness in imperial "merica.... #his kind
of tragicomic hope is dangerous4and potentially subversive4because it can
never be extinguished.... It is a form of elemental freedom that cannot be
eliminated or snuffed out by any elite power. 8pp. 9$&, 9$%:
I )ince the $'&(s, blacks in the Gnited )tates have on the one hand en7oyed
increased economic and political freedoms, but on the other have become the
victims of market saturation. <arket saturation has changed the primary
orientations of blacks. .reviously, blacks were strongly oriented to civic and
religious institutions and the traditional ties of family and home. <arket
saturation has infested the black community with market moralities2 fleeting
hedonistic pleasure and monetary gain. #he effects of markets are exaggerated for
blacks because of the black heritage in "merica. #he mix of past wounds, the
continuing racial pre7udice, and market moralities create black nihilism 8a sense of
hopelessness and meaninglessness associated with living as a black person in the
Gnited )tates:.
I +est exposes a crisis in black leadership, arguing that most black leaders
either fall under the managerial>elitist model or that of protest leaders. +ith protest
leaders, racial reasoning is paramount, which promotes ethics based on skin color
alone, rather than on moral or 7ustice issues. +est calls on prophetic leaders that
will transcend race and return to moral reasoning. #hese leaders must begin in the
community, at the grassroots level, where they can participate in pragmatic
community dialogue, build up trust, and maintain accountability.
I KMest argues that since '>$$, "merica has entered a postdemocratic age. #here
are three dogmas that have worked to bring this about2 free4market fundamentalism,
aggressive militarism, and escalating authoritarianism. #o return to democracy, +est
argues that we must put on the democratic armor2 )ocratic !uestioning, prophetic
7ustice, and tragicomic commitment to hope.
(e$rnin0 +ore-&rim$ry Sources
E Primary so.rces for Dorothy E. Smith:
o Smith, D. B. ;23DC<. The %&eryday 'orld as (ro$lematic: ) Feminist Sociology
1oston: Northeastern %ni9ersity Press.
o Smith, D. E. ;233><. The *onceptual (ractices of (ower: ) Feminist Sociology of
+nowledge, 1oston: Northeastern %ni9ersity Press.
o Smith, D. E. ;4>>6<. -nstitutional %thnography ) Sociology for (eople, Waln.t
Cree/, C!: !ltaMira Press.
E Primary so.rces for Patricia Hi(( Collins:
o Collins, P. H. ;4>>><. !lac" Feminist Thought ;4nd ed.<. Ne- "or/: o.tled'e.
o Collins, .. H. ;4>>F<. !lac" Sexual (olitics, Ne- "or/: o.tled'e.
o Collins, .. H. ;4>>5<. From !lac" (ower to .ip .op: Racism# Nationalism# and
Feminism, Philadel(hia: Tem(le %ni9ersity Press.
E Primary so.rces for Cornel West:
o West, -. ;2338<. Race Matters, Ne- "or/: #inta'e.
o West, -. ;4>>F<. Democracy Matters: 'inning the Fight )gainst -mperialism,
Ne- "or/: Pen'.in.
Seeing the Social World (knowing the theory)
E !fter readin' and .nderstandin' this cha(ter, yo. sho.ld )e a)le to define the follo-in'
terms theoretically and e+(lain their theoretical im(ortance to Smith&s stand(oint "rac
tices o# "ower! new materialism! te.ts! #acticity! stand"oint! constitutive work! relations o#
ruling! #ault line! relations o# ruling! institutional ethnogra"hy
E !fter readin' and .nderstandin' this cha(ter, yo. sho.ld )e a)le to define the
follo-in' terms theoretically and e+(lain their theoretical im(ortance to Collins&
theory: intersectionality; Eurocentric "ositivism; black #eminist e"istemology; common
challenges< diverse res"onses; sa#e "laces; sel#(de#inition; rearticulation; black #eminist
intellectuals!= matri. o# domination!= structural! disci"linary! hegemonic! and inter"ersonal
domains o# "ower.
E !fter readin' and .nderstandin' this cha(ter, yo. sho.ld )e a)le to define the
follo-in' terms theoretically and e+(lain their theoretical im(ortance to West&s theories:
#alse consciousness! "ragmatism! e.istentialism! democratic #aith! modern ca"italist
markets! market saturation! black cultural armor! market moralities! ontological wounds!
e.istential angst! black nihilism! "olitics o# conversion! crisis in black leadershi"! three
kinds o# leadershi" styles! racial reasoning! moral reasoning! mature black identity!
coalition strategy! "ostdemocratic age! Constantinian Christianity! Pro"hetic Christianity!
#ree(market #undamentalism! aggressive militarism! escalating authoritarianism! ocratic
$uestioning! democratic armor! commitment to "ro"hetic )ustice! tragicomic commitment
to ho"e.
E !fter readin' and .nderstandin' this cha(ter, yo. sho.ld )e a)le to ans-er the
follo-in' ?.estions ;remem)er to ans-er them theoretically<:
o E+(lain ho- stand(oint is more method than theory. Ho- does some feminist -or/
act.ally defeat stand(ointJ
o Ho- are the relations of r.lin' e+(ressed thro.'h social scienceJ
o What is the ne- materialismJ Ho- does it affect -hat (eo(le acce(t as tr.e or
o E+(lain the differences )et-een the 'eneral sociolo'ical a((roach and Smith&s.
o Ho- does the fa.lt line (er(et.ate 'ender ine?.alityJ
o Descri)e Smith&s instit.tional ethno'ra(hy. Ho- is it dialecticalJ What do yo. thin/
the )enefits of instit.tional ethno'ra(hy -o.ld )eJ
o Com(are and contrast the characteristics of E.rocentric (ositi9ism and )lac/
feminist e(istemolo'y.
o E+(licate the im(lications of )lac/ feminist e(istemolo'y.
o E+(lain ho- ine?.ality can )est )e .nderstood as intersectionality and matrices of
domination. In yo.r e+(lanation, )e certain to disc.ss the im(lications of s.ch an
49 Ch$%ter 2C .. Politics of Identity: Smith, Collins, and West
o What are the three str.ct.ral forces infl.encin' )lac/s in !merica todayJ
o Why did mar/et sat.ration affect the )lac/ comm.nity in .ni?.e -aysJ
o What is )lac/ nihilism, -here does it come from, and ho- is it affectin' )lac/s
in the %nited States todayJ
o Why is there a )lac/ leadershi( crisisJ What are (olitics of con9ersionJ
o What is racial reasonin'J Ho- does moral reasonin' co.nter racial reasonin'J
o What is West&s criti?.e of the Christian i'htJ Ho- is the Christian i'ht an
e+am(le of Constantinian ChristianityJ
o What are the three elements of democracyJ
o Ho- are freeAmar/et f.ndamentalism, a''ressi9e militarism, and escalatin'
militarism creatin' a (ostdemocratic a'eJ
o Ho- has the %nited States as a -hole )een ni''eriBed and 'an'steriBedJ
o What is the democratic armorJ Ho- -ill each (iece hel( o9ercome
(ostdemocratic a'eJ
o Ho- does West .se the conce(ts of :aBB and )l.esJ
En0$0in0 the Soci$( 1or(d (usin0 the theory)
E !s a st.dent, ho- do yo. see yo.rself )ein' socialiBed to the relations of r.lin'J If
are a -oman, do yo. see )if.rcated conscio.sness in yo.r lifeJ !s a sociolo'ist,
ho- yo. a9oid )ein' tra((ed and controlled )y the relations of r.lin'J
E In 'eneral, -hat im(lications do yo. see of o):ectified /no-led'e for the -ay
9ie- and e+(erience themsel9esJ What are the im(lications if society -ere to do
-ith o):ecti9e /no-led'e a)o.t social thin'sJ
E Disc.ss the /inds of acti9ism that Patricia Hill Collins& a((roach incl.des. In
disc.ssion, )e certain to incl.de the fo.r domains of (o-er and the .ni?.e
(lace )lac/ feminist intellect.als ha9e in acti9ism.
e 1ecome in9ol9ed in cam(.s efforts to end discrimination. Chec/ and see if yo.
office of m.ltic.lt.ral affairs. *ind o.t -hat other cam(.s or'aniBations are
endin' discrimination.
E If yo.&re !frican !merican, e+(lore ho- yo.r 9al.es and sense of self are i
)y mar/et moralities. If yo.&re not !frican !merican, ho- ha9e mar/et moral
affected yo.J
E What does West&s criti?.e of (olitical leadershi( im(ly 'enerally a)o.t -hat
sho.ld e+(ect from leaders in a democratic societyJ !nalyBe the c.rrent
leadershi( .sin' West&s criteria. Thin/ es(ecially a)o.t 1arac/ O)ama.
-o.ld yo. (lace him in West&s schemeJ Search the Internet to disco9er
o(inion of O)ama.
Weaing the !hreads ("uilding theory)
E E9al.ate Wilson&s classA)ased (ro(osals .sin' West&s theory of )lac/ nihilism.
E SynthesiBe Wilson and West into a 'eneral theory of racial ine?.ality.
E Com(are and contrast *o.ca.lt&s and West&s theories of s.):ecti9e e+(erience. Ho- can
these theories )e )ro.'ht to'ether to 'i9e .s 'reater insi'ht into ho- indi9id.al,
s.):ecti9e e+(eriences are formed in this (eriod of modernityJ
E Com(are and contrast *o.ca.lt&s and Smith&s ideas a)o.t ho- (o-er is mediated.
E Com(are and contrast Smith&s idea of the fa.lt line and ChafetB&s theory of male micro
reso.rce (o-er.
E Write a t-oA(a'e analysis of contem(orary democracy .sin' West&s theory of the (ost
democratic a'e. !fter yo.&9e finished, .se West and the analyses yo. -rote for
Ha)ermas, 0iddens, Wallerstein, and Castells to com(are, contrast, and e9al.ate these
fi9e theorists on the iss.e of democracy. 1ased on yo.r e9al.ation, synthesiBe these the
ories and create a sin'le assessment of the democratic (ro:ect of modernity. E9al.ate the
(otential for rein9i'oratin' democracy.