by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw
Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2018
Reviewed by Rev. Darcy Metcalfe
Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw succeed in their goal of presenting a thorough yet accessible introductory guide to intersectionality theory. From the beginning of the book, they give definitions and nuanced insights into the history of intersectionality that create a firm foundational understanding for the reader.
On the first page of the preface, they define intersectionality as “the recognition of the simultaneity of multiple social identities within interlocking systems of oppression — people experience always and at once their gender, race, sexual identity, ability, age, social class, nation, and religion, and those intertwined identities locate them in relation to structure of power and domination.”
One point repeatedly made by the authors is how the roots of intersectionality theory are located in Black Feminist and Womanist scholarship. The authors identify Anna Julia Cooper as the first person to use the methodologies and standpoints we now call “intersectional.” I was particularly appreciative of the book’s historical narrative of intersectionality theory because it seems that, in the manner in which feminist history is taught in the United States, intersectionality theory is frequently identified as “third-wave” work. Kim and Shaw’s work demonstrates why the “wave” model of feminist theory is insufficient, as it often leaves out certain voices and key contributions from women of color.
Another strength of this book is its emphasis on praxis. Kim and Shaw emphasize the need for intersectionality to always be connected to praxis. They concur with Ange-Marie Hancock’s worry that when intersectionality is disconnected from its activist praxis, it can become a “tool for reform at the margins” rather than a “framework with the potential to radically reform our structures of government and public policies, as well as to make other changes” (p. 8). This worry has come to fruition as intersectionality has been used as an institutionalized tool to secure existing ontological or epistemological frameworks and structures of power within academia and scholarship.
Kim and Shaw are concerned with intersectionality primarily as a theological method. They highlight the strengths of intersectionality as the center of theological and hermeneutic analysis. However, as mentioned, intersectionality is often misused when separated from direct praxis and used only as theory and method. Therefore, the authors use chapters 4 and 5 to outline how intersectionality can be directly applied to theology and practiced in community. They argue that an ecclesiology of intersectionality is central to communities of faith.
I had hoped the authors might address the limits of intersectionality theory more fully, to explore what limits of this theory and methodology have been noted by scholars. I also wondered if intersectionality should always be at the center of analysis, or if there are contexts in which another approach would be more helpful. Transnational feminist scholarship could be especially useful for this conversation, especially in problematizing the social and political structures under which categories/identities such as gender, race, and class are created and made operational.
In the preface, Kim and Shaw state that their goal for the book is to “offer hope and shalom in a world full of uncertainty, inequitably distributed power, and subjugation, to move us toward God’s kin-dom of peace, inclusion, equity, and justice.” I believe they succeed in contributing major steps toward this goal while giving readers a comprehensive and workable introduction to intersectionality.
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