An Integral Intersectionality

Intersectionality or intersectional theory is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, and is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. The concept is often used in critical theory to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. Such a theme of both interconnection and the sense of non-extricability also has home in integral theory.

Integral theory attempts to draw together disparate and individually irreducible paradigms to suggest that the most adequate account of reality is one which haaqals space and means for inclusion of them all. The idea with the axes in this model is that we cannot know the interior, without the exterior, and we cannot know the individual, without the collective, and vice versa in each regard. By setting each axis at right angles we arrive at an account of consciousness which suggests that psychological, biological, cultural and social aspects of any occasion of consciousness are irreducible to each other.

The two approaches thus seem to have some commonalities – there’s a sense that the paradigms in question can’t easily be extricated from each other, and, as a corollary, some way that the paradigms seem to mutually reinforce or influence each other. Integral theory would make no direct reference to systems of oppression, and in fact would claim that development in psychological, biological, cultural and social phenomena actually occurs along an axis that seeks into the conditions of freedom – becoming more complex, and more integrated, along the way.

I’m curious about bringing intersectionality into contact with integral theory in part to find out what happens, in their own intersection. One way to do this is to sense into what happens for each, when the principles of one are made available to another. For example, to bring an intersectional approach to integral theory, there might arise the question of in what way and how, does the biological influence the social, or the psychological place particular emphases on the cultural? What we’re speaking of here perhaps is a mutual interpenetration of these well-defined quadrants – acknowledging not only that the boundary lines connect, as much as they separate, but also that they might not reflect reality – where the social might compound the biological (think about developing alcoholism from social drinking), or negate the psychological (think about how we make an exchange of an orange piece of plastic in material reality equal to a $20 transaction, negating the simple material exchange part and attributing a monetary value to the operation).

What about the potential for an integral encounter with intersectionality? This might invite some consideration of the freedom/oppression duality in concert with first-person, second-person and third-person perspectives, in intersections. What stands to be revealed here is a kind of movement dynamic – in what way do freedom/oppression intersect by virtue of what I do, what you do, and what the situation we inhabit is and does? If some aspect of this freedom/oppression dance is shifted across any of those perspectives, what more becomes possible in subject-to-subject relationships? What can be seen, that couldn’t be seen before, in the space, between us?

Where earlier incarnations of feminism may have emphasised re-vision as functional to the construction of identities (a thinking for example of women in different roles, roles never really socially conceived, before), an integral intersectionality invites a re-cognising – a reflective ground on which thought (or consciousness) may come to encounter itself as thought (or consciousness) and thus know itself a little better. An integral intersectionality seems to imply a kind of double knowing in different ways – a sense of the interior/exterior individual/collective free/oppressed aspects of ourselves, a knowledge of ourselves as self-, and intrinsically, other-constituted. Free, and not free, but not necessarily limited, to any just-one.