Problematising the Critical Realist Positional Approach to Intersectionality

By Ioana Cerasella Chis
2016, Vol. 8 No. 02 | pg. 3/3 |

Concluding Remarks

Contra Bhaskar who suggests that research should start from transcendental questions (1998:18) which are detached from experience, I propose that political awareness of abstraction is needed, so that abstractions respond to experience.

Social researchers must engage with epistemology, discourse, context, and politics, rather than restrict themselves to the CR ontology and dyads, i.e stratification, structure-agency, and emergence. Within intersectionality research, the following should be acknowledged. Firstly, oppressions do not occur in a vacuum, and systems of domination are mutually constituted (Hancock 2015:622).

Everything in the social world is always-already politically, socially, and historically interrelated - there can be no ontological separation between politics and the research process and method, and researchers ought to be informed by political movements (Erel et. al. 2008). Secondly, theory is necessarily gendered, classed, sexualised, and racialised, and the dismantling of hegemonic politics requires commitment to allied struggles sharing common normative politics.

Thirdly, research ought to be an overt, politically strategic manoeuvre offering an open platform for denouncing and enunciating problems in a dialogical and democratic manner, with the research participant being subject, not object of social inquiry, and the researcher declaring their bias and adopting a reflexive positionality (Walsh 2015; Peter 2003:98).

Thereupon, overt political engagement with anyone’s claims can be undertaken, because everyone is particularly situated in relation to domination, but marginalised knowledge must be amplified. In agreement with Martinez et. al., I posit that intersectionality research should not be limited to studying oppression, and overcoming oppression is not the responsibility of the marginalised only. I would also add that intersectionality research has not been employed enough as a critique of states, their foundation and role in (1) shaping identities, ownership, relations, and experiences, and (2) creating and managing divisions between citizens, on the one hand, and aboriginal people, refugees, minorities, and prisoners, on the other (see Yuval-Davis 2013; Erel et. al. 2008).

In this paper I argued that intersectionality represents the signifier for epistemic disobedience and material struggle. Not only does the critical realist positional approach to intersectionality not advance the intersectional project, but it is anti-intersectional, as it dilutes its political grounding and does not allow for a political imaginary of concerted struggle for a wholly new formation of social relations.

In short, Martinez et. al. are more concerned with fitting intersectionality within CR ontology, rather than intersectionalising CR by changing its ontologies. CR scholars can have a particular role to play within intersectionality research, granted that they seek to solve their own inconsistencies, i.e. accept epistemological challenges to both their ontologies (Cruickshank 2004), and dispense with the call for legislating research (Kemp 2005). Unless intersectionality is used as an appeal to solidarity for a social transformation which has equality at its core, to verify the wrong of inequality, it risks becoming ‘ornamental’ (Hancock 2015:621) - yet another reified concept within the critical realist scholar’s toolbox.


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  1. Intersectionality has even been coupled with ‘graphical causal modelling’ – see Bright et. al. (2016).
  2. Despite the authors’ claim that this approach is ‘new’ (461), Lawson developed a similar thesis when discussing feminist economics (1999; 2003).
  3. The epistemic fallacy is of primary concern to CR as this fallacy hides structures, is ideological and false in terms of explanations because it looks at what is manifest (Bhaskar 1998:28-30).
  4. For the purpose of this review and due to lack of space, my engagement with the authors’ sections on positivism and hermeneutics is limited.
  5. The qualifier ‘at least’ is surprising insofar as Bhaskar mentioned strictly three domains (1998:41).

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