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From Intersectionality to Articulation

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Wednesday, 6 Sept 2023, 14:42

(I mainly talk about issues for global majority people here, alongside other protected characteristics – rather than attempt even-handed discussion of all the protected characteristics. Race politics is the lens I am most focused to look through just now, particularly because it seems as if this is a peculiarly deeply entrenched privilege/prejudice in society and in our Higher Education institutions.)

Interest and use of the concept ‘intersectionality’ has increased exponentially since Crenshaw (1989) first introduced this key term, building on Black Feminist Standpoint theory and Critical Race Theory. (A good account of Standpoint Theory can be found in Harding, 1986, and there are articles about Critical Race Theory on OpenLearn’s Race and Ethnicity hub.) ‘Intersectionality’ has been key in opening our minds to the understanding that discriminations (and also privileges) do not happen one at a time, that many people may be subject to many different prejudiced perspectives of our position in society all at once.

Here I would like to suggest we might build on Crenshaw’s concept, to introduce the idea of ‘articulation’. Intersectionality identifies the multiplicity of issues faced by Black women or Black lesbian women or LGBTQ people with a disability. ‘Articulation’ can help identify how to overcome ways privilege operates to silence and contain people with protected characteristics. From identifying ‘intersectionality’, we could move to asking: “Are we enabling articulation?”

Definition of key term: articulation.

‘Articulation’ has two meanings:

  • Speaking, putting into words;
  • Two or more things connected in a way which allows them to move together.

Both of these are restricted for people experiencing ‘intersectionality’.

Example 1: class and ethnicity

For example, class privilege, in particular, sometimes works to over-write or speak over the top of other protected characteristics. Class privilege already of course means that those from upper/middle class backgrounds are articulating at the expense of those from lower/working class backgrounds, however I want to focus here on how privileges articulate together to strengthen other privileges.

Those from global majority backgrounds might appear to have the same social networks as global minority people from the same socio-economic class background. However, we are not always able to articulate – in the sense of speak our points, and in the sense of move together fully joined up in society – as easily as global minority people. Where social networks are based more on class identity than ethnic community, upper class people of global majority backgrounds, or from LGBTQ communities, or with a disability, may be treated with initial suspicion until emphasising an accent or talking loudly about where we were at school/college proves our credentials. Even then we may not be regarded as full members of that network. Those who are successful in negotiating upper class dynamics of power relations usually have a deep understanding that people with protected characteristics are not as powerful as those with the full set of privileged identities, and therefore not as useful in the network (‘social capital’, as Bourdieu would call it). They are therefore less likely to engage as closely (“articulate”) with those with protected characteristics.

The increased anxiety of those with protected characteristics to prove credentials in an upper class social network with the advantages this offers, also works to further instate socio-economic class privilege.

Global majority working class people, too, are often counted as from Black, Asian, minority ethnic communities, separate to working class communities. Global majority working class and global minority working class people are pitted against each other by campaigns which try to persuade global minority working class people that global majority people are unfairly taking jobs, housing and other resources. This disguises the fact that the funding for social resources is being unequally distributed across class lines, not race lines.

Example 2: ‘white saviour’ behaviour

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

(Lilla Watson, drawing on thinking of an Aboriginal Rights Group she had belonged to in Queensland, at the 1985 United Nations Decade for Women Conference, Nairobi.)

In ‘white saviour’ behaviour, by stepping in to ‘help’, people take up a position of privilege they belong to and ‘reach down’ to those below them. In so doing, they re-state their power. The very act of ‘helping’ paradoxically fails to offer full articulation to those they want to support. When those in a position of power speak for them, the authentic voice of those being ‘helped’ is over-talked by the voices of the powerful. Those in power move for them. Those with a protected characteristic are not enabled to engage in “articulation”, either in speaking for ourselves or making our own moves.

This is not diversity, but the co-option of diverse voices into dominant power and culture. As an example in Higher Education, we see this when research projects are conducted about those in a position of disadvantage by those in a position of privilege, for which the researcher may both earn a salary/fee and gain kinds of cultural and social capital that enable them to advance their career. Meanwhile, those they are writing about have their views expressed at second hand, and are not necessarily enabled to articulate beyond that.

The researcher may genuinely hope their project will lead to change, but figures about the issues faced by global majority communities during the recent pandemic indicate that we have not come very far, very fast in tackling racial/ethnic disadvantage. Even during the 1980s, for example in the 1982 collection of essays: The Empire Strikes Back (CCCS, 1982), researchers like Errol Lawrence were speaking critically of the way: “sociology generally and ‘race/ethnic-relations’ sociology too, are top-heavy with white personnel” (p.131). Of course it is important for global minority staff to take up a perspective which recognises issues of race politics, and to do work to tackle privilege/prejudice in their own field of study. However, it is now 40 years since The Empire Strikes Back was published. We do not seem to have moved very far during those four decades towards ensuring that global majority academics have equal opportunities even to research and write about the issues we and members of our own communities face.

One way of enabling articulation for global majority communities, then, is to look to create opportunities for members from those communities to do paid research that supports their career advancement. We can do this partly by mapping the researchers involved in these studies. If we are seeing that this research is being done by disproportionate numbers of global minority people, we should ask how it is that they are being enabled to articulate through this research. What is preventing us from recruiting more global majority researchers to the work? What could we do to enable better articulation for global majority researchers, and thereby communities, in this work?

A positive example of enabling articulation in Higher Education

One way of working to do this is the 100 Black Women Professors programme. Identifying that only 35 (now 41 61) of 22,000 Professors are Black women shows us the impact of intersectionality in Higher Education. Engaging directly with the teams who manage Black women who aspire to be Professor, the 100 Black Women Professors programme enables universities to understand how privilege/prejudice might form a barrier for groups of staff with a protected characteristic. Working together towards mutual liberation, enables Black women in particular and hopefully more staff who face similar barriers, towards articulation with and within the institution.

 A positive example of articulation, intersectionality at work.

See description in text.

Picture of a powerpoint slide that says:

A note of hope.
Pilgrim, 2000, p.144

Fashanu’s coming out was an iconic moment for a black lesbian and gay movement which had learnt from black and feminist politics and had experienced a decade of autonomous organisation. The Sun – at the heart of New Right discourse – was beyond reach, but The Voice was speaking the language of a black politics which had been inflected by a feminist understanding of plurality, and it could be addressed in that language. Just as racism can work to support homophobia, pluralist anti-racist discourse could be articulated to speak for gay rights.

I offered this quote from my PhD thesis in a recent talk I gave about Justin Fashanu and the exposé of his sexuality in the media. I discussed how a group calling themselves Black Gays and Lesbians Against Media Homophobia put pressure on The Voice newspaper, by pointing to the equalities policies of local government who were substantial funders of The Voice through placing job adverts with them. They were able to persuade the newspaper to change its editorial line to one that was supportive of the Black gay community of the time.

The Sun newspaper remains beyond the reach of equalities, diversity and inclusion activism. However liberal institutions are at least starting to recognise the detriment which privilege embedded in their own systems: systemic prejudice, institutional racism, causes to those with protected characteristics. There is uncertainty about how to move from a ‘white saviour’ mode, however the recognition that tackling prejudice and discrimination will not be straightforward or simplistic is a start.

To move on from this start, I suggest that we need to think not just about publishing pay gap data, and hearing from those whom the institution fails to resource, support and promote. The institution needs to think about what will enable articulation for all staff.

Fit with academic theory

In terms of academic theory, ‘articulation’ fits well in postmodern thinking. There are many tropes based around speech or text which are used to consider gender/sexuality (Butler using Austen’s “speech act”), and power in general (Foucault on “discourse”). The Marxist Structuralist thinker Althusser’s concept of “interpellation” of identity is also often used in postmodern thinking.

Bourdieu’s ‘habitus’ also has congruence with an idea of ‘articulation’. I have referred here to two of Bourdieu’s four forms of capital: social and cultural. As well as economic capital, Bourdieu talks about a fourth form: symbolic capital. Symbolic capital is what the other kinds of capital translate into if they are legitimated. We all have social networks, but not all of them have the kind of power and influence that means they can translate from social capital into symbolic capital. Articulation is perhaps the means by which other forms of capital translate into symbolic capital.

(Cardiff, 2022/ edited 2023)

(Some) references:

Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (1982). The Empire Strikes Back. London: Routledge.s

Crenshaw, Kimberle (1989) "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics," University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989, Article 8. Available at: https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8

Harding (1986). The Science Question in Feminism. Cornell University Press.

 Pilgrim, A.N. (2000). Feeling for Politics: the translation of suffering and desire in black and queer performativity. PhD thesis. Goldmsiths College, University of London.


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light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.

The vote for social justice in Chelsea

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Monday, 30 May 2022, 11:58

Last week I asked colleagues to consider voting for the Hands Off Mangrove garden at the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower Show. There was a great response, people were enthusiastic about the opportunity to show our support for both racial justice and re-forestation. 

Probably none of us are surprised that the garden didn't win - and wasn't even in the top three. There is a long way to go before racial justice is a popular cause - particularly in places like the RHS Chelsea show. However, it was great to be able to discuss social issues in this elite context. 

A lush green garden, set out in formal lines, with white and plum colour planting.I did laugh when I saw that the garden which won was the one that I admitted was my personal favourite - which I had set aside in the voting in order to support my political convictions. However this choice by so many other people made me think. 

The Perennial Garden: 'With Love', had won a silver medal, to the disappointment of its designer. Loose, wilder planting (including a beaver dam landscape) had been more highly favoured by the judges. Hands Off Mangrove, which will be relocated in inner city London, is about reclamation of an urban site with a loose informal mixture of flowers and edible plants and won a silver-gilt medal. 

However, the Victorian formality and the romance of The Perennial Garden: 'With Love', was a big favourite among the visitors. Two couples even got permission to go into the garden and propose marriage under the Tennyson quote on the neon sign: If I had a flower for every time I thought of you. Unlike many of the large loosely planted garden sites, those of us with ordinary gardens to plan could see how we might take a section of the garden and replicate it, in even a small space. I myself liked the garden because it helped me realise that loose planting (which I generally favour), needs formal structure to support and contain it, otherwise it becomes messy, and that tall spires of white flowers will add depth and perspective to a flower bed. 

Wildflower meadow with pink dog rose, scarlet pimpernel, buttercups and ox eye daisies growing loosely.I have put aside a square of garden for loose wildflower planting, but in the rest of my garden I use arches and a trellised arbour seat to give a sense of structure.  


Richard Miers is not really looking back in a pastiche nostalgia. His garden has modern art installations as well as the formally clipped Victorian look. However I suspect that it was chosen by people who are looking backwards, in a time of great uncertainty about the future. The uncertainty we face is made even more difficult under a government which has been severely criticised for the way it manages the economy. Families on low incomes are under intense pressure, while ever more money appears to have flowed into the pockets of those already in the top 1% earners in the population. Policies which feed people's fears about Black, Asian and minority ethnic refugees and asylum-seekers, and by extension - UK citizens too, are used as a distraction from this poor record. 

(This is why it is significant that Hands Off Mangrove was built at RHS Chelsea, showcasing the work of two Black gardeners. We had the chance to both think about issues of social and environmental justice, and to realise that Black - and Asian and other minority ethnic, people are not that exotic; we might be gardeners as well as political activists.) 

Paul Gilroy has written about the phenomenon he calls 'postcolonial melancholia', originally in his After Empire and now in a book called Postcolonial Melancholia. This is an idea which adapts Freud's 'melancholia' - the state in which people fall when they are unable to let go of someone who has died, and properly mourn. Freud's argument is that people behave strangely in order to avoid acknowledging that death. 

At a social level, Gilroy argues that many are in denial about the loss of empire and consequent descent of Britain from Greatness into ordinariness. This is evidenced in strange behaviour like chanting: "Two world wars, and one world cup," which English football fans would shout at German fans, or Brexit, or the constant cultural impression created by anti-immigration legislation that Britain is under threat from immigration, when in fact we depend on immigrant workers to keep vital services like the NHS going. (My students on DD102: Introducing the Social Sciences, are about to write an essay in which they could use evidence from the module about this.) Why would we want to shut hard-working people out of our country, instead of welcoming in help for our failing economy?  

Historically, white working-class cultures and people get pitted against Black, Asian and minority ethnic cultures and people. Upper classes do not have to introduce economic management which redistributes to those on low incomes if they can identify a common enemy whom they encourage people to blame for problems like high unemployment. Tapping into nostalgia for an era when Britain was Great (conveniently forgetting that it wasn't particularly great for those in e.g. Manchester slums - again see DD102 material showing one of Engels's sketches of how factory workers' houses were laid out, without any gardens) takes people's attention away from the worrying problem of spiraling energy costs and food prices. 

Are the Emperor's clothes starting to look skimpy even to those with postcolonial melancholic longings? While much of the population are still reliant on newspapers owned by the elite, which unsurprisingly continue to claim that it's the elite who are best placed to manage our economy, I am not confident we can soon move to a vote for social and environmental justice - in elections where this would not just be a symbolic vote. However, with a garden like Hands Off Mangrove built and shown on prime time television, so we can discuss its message openly, maybe we are slowly getting there. 

What would I like to see in the future? Well, maybe a garden by someone like Cleve West that is formal and that showcases how much we have gained from the rest of the world: roses, lupins, peonies - all classic Victorian/Edwardian flowers featured in The Perennial Garden, and all immigrants from elsewhere in the world. Or a cottage garden that is not full of flowers and nostalgia: that shows clearly how 'cottage gardens' were for people who had to use whatever space they could find to grow food and medicinal herbs after they had finished a hard day's work. Maybe a garden that is a solitary auricula in a pot, like weavers used to keep because that was all the garden they could afford.   

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light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.

Voting for social justice in the garden

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Monday, 30 May 2022, 09:22

As a keen gardener, I've always been aware of the Royal Horticultural Society's glamorous Chelsea Flower Show: the pinnacle of gardening aspiration. Although I did go once, a long time ago, I think I prefer watching it on tv. It was crowded even then; it's easier to see the gardens from the viewpoint of cameras actually inside them. 

Part of the BBC coverage involves a 'people's choice' for best garden, [voting now over!]. My actual favourite garden is The Perennial Garden 'With Love'. However I am going to vote for the Hands Off Mangrove by Grow2Know garden. This isn't in a knee-jerk way, to support the Black garden. This garden represents the future I would like generations to come to grow up in. I'm writing this blogpost to encourage you too to vote for Hands Off Mangrove. Even if you don't care about gardens - click on the link and vote for the future. 

Garden with long narrow pool and white and purple flowers.The Perennial Garden 'With Love' by Richard Miers (@richardmiers on Instagram) is a return to formal garden design, with playful touches. Its model is the arty witty Laskett Gardens, now the home of the charity Perennial which supports horticultural workers. 

In recent years, Chelsea show gardens, gardening tv shows and garden centre sales have been dominated by loose informal planting and the drive to encourage wildlife through letting it all hang out (dried seedheads and weeds, that is 😳). I was delighted this year to find wildflower plant plugs on offer in my local garden centre, since I know it's illegal to dig up wild plants out in the hedgerows and stick them in the rewilding bit of your garden. (And when a seedhead has happened to fall into my pocket, it has been incredibly difficult to get it to germinate! compared to putting a plant plug in and allowing it to self-seed.) 

In previous years, Chelsea show gardens were architectural and formal, with clipped trees and clean rectangular stone-edged pools - usually sponsored by some big Bank. Gradually the wet and the wildness, the weeds and the wilderness - as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it in Inversnaid, have crept and spread through these spaces enjoyed by the rich and famous. 

The last couple of years have seen a more rapid social shift at RHS Chelsea, with Banks receding into the background and social causes coming to the fore. Mental health and wellbeing were early harbingers of a new focus on gardens as social phenomena, this message going mainstream during the pandemic, when an estimated 3 million in the UK took up gardening. (Only garden centres were open, one newbie gardener featured on Gardeners World reflected, so I had to go there to shop.) 

Garden with metal structure rising out its centre: 9 iron bars shaped like mangrove tree roots.This year, the Hands Off Mangrove garden (designed by Tayshan Hayden-Smith, @ths62 on Instagram, and Danny Clarke, @theblackgardener on Instagram) brings racial justice sharply to the forefront, in a showcase event which has been a traditional preserve for those at the highest levels of society. Even the Queen comes every year to RHS Chelsea. I would like to be able to say, this shows that society is shifting towards a time when we might not see a Black schoolgirl strip-searched by police, or a Black schoolboy losing a finger trying to escape from bullies. However, I know it seems like a sticking plaster on a festering sore - virtue signalling by a wealthy white elite who control RHS Chelsea, Banks and much of our lives. 

NB - the Hands Off Mangrove garden is about global deforestation as well as social injustice. The garden designer Cleve West (winner of many Chelsea medals), has commented that blue tits were seen flying around its hedges - they were picking caterpillars off for their chicks. Chelsea gardens are normally manicured to perfection, with the bugs and crawlies we are supposed to encourage for wildlife cleaned off to show the judges a pristine garden. Cleve West urged them to see this real life wildlife in the Hands Off Mangrove bushes as a plus, not deduct marks for it. 

(Pictured here, my vegetable patch, or 'potager' - ornamental edible flowers and vegetables grown in a decorative way. Tall plants and metal obelisks give the garden structure.)  

Vegetable garden with edible flowers and decorative iron frames for climbing plants.Personally I did like seeing a return to the formal design represented in The Perennial Garden 'With Love', its explicit reference to Victoriana and the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I grew up visiting gardens with my mum, and inherited her books about Italianate gardens where roses gracefully soften the lines of stone ruins. Like many immigrants, mum carefully studied and reproduced English style in her life, particularly in creating her elegant garden. I favour a loose informal planting style myself, however seeing Richard Miers' garden made me realise how I prevent this becoming just a plant-y mess by using a framework of formal structures. 

The Banks and businesses may have retreated into the shadows at RHS Chelsea, but they have seen huge profits during the pandemic. Their discretion is about self-protection more than respect for those who have suffered and struggled. In the wake of Partygate and revelations about the non-domiciled tax status of government Ministers, nobody wants to have the spotlight turned to their greed and selfishness - causing us to realise how much privilege and power they enjoy, and what that costs ordinary people. 

Showcasing a garden that highlights and celebrates the fight for racial justice fifty years on is a small concession, maybe it is just intended to be virtue signalling. However it moves that struggle into the mainstream. To use my favourite figure: Bourdieu's sketch of doxa, it enables the struggle for racial justice to come out of the 'universe of the undiscussed' and allows it to be heterodoxy. Our thinking about racial justice can then engage in argument with the 'normality' of orthodoxy, on more equal terms. (More equal - not 'equal' yet.) 

(Illustration of the 'field of opinion and doxa', Bourdieu 1972/1977, p. 168, downloaded from Researchgate.)

Illustration of Bourdieu's concept of doxa. 

I'm tempted to vote with nostalgic and whimsical pleasure for the Victorian gardening style I like. It's only a garden show! But with the eyes of the rich, the poor, global minority and majority audiences on primetime tv showcasing of gardening for fun and for food, I'm going to vote for the argument for racial justice and re-forestation to get a bit more time in the sun.  

Black cat walking under an archway in a garden.

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