I presented a talk on intersectionality at the ESRC Midlands Graduate School conference last week.

sleepy conference presenter

You can download my conference paper here, and my presentation slides here. The slides didn’t get shown on the day, they’re just there for context really.

The talk was recorded and the audio is here:

It’s also available as an mp3.

I don’t think anyone got the reference in the title, it’s deliberately self-critical, because I’m wary of delivering the standard ultra-left response that ‘outside of class, there is nothing.’ I think that response still holds some truth, and I don’t have a theoretical solution, however it’s worth thinking through the debate.

For example: The social conditions of capitalist society perpetuate racism. You cannot solve racism without ultimately challenging capitalism. If racism is a secondary concern, does that mean that the left should abandon its anti-racist efforts? Obviously not. So, it’s not a clear-cut situation.

When identity and class are overlapped, it results in a confused perspective. People who talk romantically about the ‘traditional working class’ as a by-word for (white, male) manual labourers, are narrowing down on an identity, somehow external to a whole historical process. At the same time there’s the well-worn observation that class position is determined by social forces, it’s not a question of identity but of political-economic relations.

Similarly, there were a few talks which referred to ‘social class’ and ‘classism’ - and I feel like that’s consciously ambiguous language. It’s grasping for an understanding of class which avoids adressing the material realities of capitalism. If a strata of working people are discriminated against on account of their relative poverty, where then does this discrimination originate? Is discrimination just a matter of indivdual attitudes, or does it go deeper, written into the laws of the market?

Later there was a talk by Caryn Petersen on ‘Pedagogies of Discomfort’ and the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa. Caryn discussed ‘dismantling whiteness,’ but what has the movement achieved beyond consciousness-raising within the university? The SACP plays a role in the South African ministry of education. In that context, how did the fallist movement interact with the tripartite alliance, and more generally, how was it politically constructed? I’m not against the movement, I just think its strategic objectives are muddled.

In terms of further reading, I have been following J Moufawad-Paul’s article trilogy in Abstrakt:

I was a bit concerned with presenting something controversial, especially at the very beginning of the day. It was more of a forum for people to show off what they’re working on, and in that context my intervention probably didn’t fit with everything else.

I had been involved in organising the conference, which meant I’d seen the abstracts beforehand. I remember arguing that one particular abstract was not worth including, and on the day I was surprised to see it was actually pretty interesting. We did get more abstracts than would fit in the conference schedule, and it was tough selecting which ones to include (I repeatedly offered to withdraw my talk but the others considered it was worth keeping). The schedule worked out fine, in the sense that nobody was too rushed, we didn’t run over time, and we covered as many speakers as possible. Still, after a full day’s worth of presentations, in a hot room, my attention definitely slipped.

Jess Kebbell has also done a writeup of the conference here.