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Abstract

In this article I question the wholeness of the agency of white, feminist activists. Drawing on intersectional theory, I problematise the multiplicative character of their location in order to be able to understand how intersectional agency operates. This location reveals three layers of intersectionality; the junction of axes of social signification (gender and race); the junction of manifestations on these axes (female and white); and the junction of, subsequent, positions in power relations (disadvantaged and advantaged). I argue that this is specifically important and complex when we explore how whiteness can operate intersectionally. This results in three observations. First, this intersectional junction is conflictive in its interior; race as advantage and gender as disadvantage can operate as opposite structuring forces in power relations. Second, feminist activism is characterised by gendered action and aims at social transformation in the realm of gender. Whiteness, on the other hand, is often marked by racial passivity and omission via which it can invest in the maintenance of the racial status quo and non-change; this contradicts feminist objectives. Third, contra the conflation of agency with action, I agree that not every action is agentic. If not every action is agentic, then not all agency generates action. In turn, this means that agency can also result in omission; ‘something’ which is not action, i.e. an absence or void of action or, what I call, inaction. We can say that inaction is a familiar manifestation of hegemonic processes as whiteness. In turn, we can see that gender and race as structuring forces, subsequently, shape agency contradictorily, which can generate action and inaction simultaneously. The differentiation of layers in intersectional theory suggests that the agency of white, feminist activists is mobilised within a conceptual opposition in power relations that, consequently, questions the ‘wholeness’ of intersectional agency.

Note on the Author

Dieuwertje Dyi Huijg is a PhD candidate in Sociology, University of Manchester. Her project concerns the intersectional agency of racially privileged young, feminist activists from São Paulo. Relying on a phenomenological methodology, she aims at understanding how, in the context of opposite positions in power relations, intersectional agency is experienced, negotiated, mobilised and (re)produced by the individual who aims at social change. This research is grounded in her activist background in the women’s movement in the Netherlands and Brazil.

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