See the reading “Black Feminist Thought,” which can be accessed through the course website.
Collins (no relation to Randall Collins) is regarded as an advocate of critical theory, with a perspective that emphasizes both social structural relationships and the importance of social agency, the capacity of individuals to challenge the oppressions and inequalities that structure imposes on them. In the reading, you should be able to recognize the influence of the conflict tradition, especially Weber’s approach to stratification, and the microsociological branch of the Durkheimian tradition, with its emphasis on nonrational collective representations of group interests and identities formed through social interactions.
Collins is well known for her use of the concepts of standpoint and intersectionality. Standpoint refers to the necessity of accounting for the position and identity of the observer of social reality in evaluating their knowledge claims about that reality; pure objectivity is not possible. Intersectionality refers to the situation of individuals in multiple and cross-cutting social hierarchies and inequalities, resulting in complex identities and experiences of domination and subordination.
In this reading Collins is applying these ideas to the experience and activism of African American women in the United States. Note that Collins writes “…while common experiences may predispose Black women to develop a distinctive group consciousness, they guarantee neither that such a consciousness will develop among all women nor that it will be articulated as such by the group.” (p. 171).
For this exercise, try to expand her analysis by focusing on some other intersectionality of social hierarchies (such as race, gender, social class, religion, sexual orientation, or citizenship status) and their impact on identity and activism. You can apply it to your own situation or to that of some other group you are familiar with.
- Which social hierarchies are involved in shaping the consciousness of the individual or group you are considering? How do the positions of the individual or group in those hierarchies confer overlapping or conflicting dominant or subordinate status in US society?
- What evidence or examples, if any, do you see of specific awareness, identities, and activism on the part of the individual or group based on their intersectionality?