Academic journal article Social Justice

Class-Race-Gender: Sloganeering in Search of Meaning

Academic journal article Social Justice

Class-Race-Gender: Sloganeering in Search of Meaning

Article excerpt

What DOES IT MEAN TO DO A "CLASS-RACE-GENDER" ANALYSIS? IN THE PAST DECADE, such an approach has had an impact, albeit uneven, on the curriculum in higher education. It has also affected theories and research in the humanities and law, and to a lesser degree in the social sciences and criminology.

In this essay, I sketch a history of the class-race-gender construct.(1) Where did it come from? Then, I give examples of class-race-gender in action: I want you to hear how authors embody and express it. Finally, I consider its potential for social science and criminology.(2)

My first step is to define terms. What is class-race-gender? I do not think it is possible to have one definition because those who use class-race-gender relate to it in different ways. For example, women of color -- whose experiences, ideas, and activism generated the idea -- have a different relationship to it than, say, white women, white men, or men of color.(3)

I would define class-race-gender as reflecting three related social spheres: (1) social structural relations of class, race, and gender; (2) social movements to change these relations; and (3) the knowledge or ideas produced from a consciousness, activism, and analysis of these relations. Class-race-gender offers a way not only to theorize about social structure, but also to link social-movement politics and struggles with a changed consciousness and analysis of structure and process. A key element to class-race-gender is that social relations are viewed in multiple and interactive terms -- not as additive (Spelman, 1982, 1989; King, 1988). This element has enormous implications for research in social science and criminology, where analyses of inequality often consider the "separate" or "unique effects" of class, race, or gender.


I would nominate two sources for the class-race-gender construct.(4) Included in the first -- that which inspired it -- were the experiences of black women(5) in movement activities in the 1960s. From their experiences came an analysis of racism, classism, and sexism in the larger society; of sexism in the civil rights and black nationalist movements; and of racism in a predominantly white women's feminist movement. The first wave of publications appeared in 1970; they focused on black women's experiences in movement politics and on relationships with white women. Soon after, toward the mid-to-late 1970s, analyses became even more self-consciously focused on the development of black feminist thought.

Comprising the second source--that which consolidated and popularized it --were curriculum-integration projects in higher education, virtually all of which were organized by women's studies faculty members. These projects were formed to redress the lack of materials on women or gender relations in the disciplines (see Sherman and Beck, 1979; Spender, 1981; Lauter, 1983). It soon became apparent that women were not a unified group and that gender relations could not be explained in universal terms. In the early 1980s, and at tiems reflecting partnerships in women's studies and racial-ethnic studies, faculty-run curriculum integration projects emerged. There was money to support these efforts and several important centers producing materials, such as the Center for Research on Women at Memphis State University. By 1985, at least 80 projects had been launched to examine how the disciplines should be "redefined and reconstructed to include us all" (Andersen, 1987: 226).(6)

These projects has a swift impact on women's studies programs and, to a lesser degree, on other campus units. Recently, we have witnessed a backlash to curriculum change, suggesting a measure of its success. Writers such as Allan Bloom (1987) and Dinesh d'Souza (1991) have decried the loss of the Western canon and raised the specter of radicals and feminists taking over the university. Innovation in the curriculum has been belittled and trivialized as "politically correct. …

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