Millions of people use social media to navigate identities too complex for single analytical frames like race, class, gender and sexuality to fully capture. We are messy and complicated and we seem to want our digital tools to reflect that. But, intersectionality was never intended to only describe lived experiences. Intersectionality was to be an account of power as much as it was an account of identities (Crenshaw 1991). Here, the potential of intersectionality to understand the reproduction of unequal power relations have not yet been fully realized.

In brief, intersectionality is one of those rare social theories to combine precision of theoretical mechanisms with broadness of method (Lykke 2011). That combination has served intersectionality’s diffusion through social sciences and humanities quite well. It has also created tensions about what intersectionality really means and how best to measure it (or, if it should be measured at all!).

In the black feminist tradition, examining the points of various structural processes where they most numerously manifest is a way to isolate the form and function of those processes in ways that can be obscured when we study them up the privilege hierarchy (Hill Collins 2000). Essentially, no one knows best the motion of the ocean than the fish that must fight the current to swim upstream. I study fish that swim upstream.

A roaming autodidact is a self-motivated, able learner that is simultaneously embedded in technocratic futures and disembedded from place, culture, history, and markets. The roaming autodidact is almost always conceived as western, white, educated and male. As a result of designing for the roaming autodidact, we end up with a platform that understands learners as white and male, measuring learners’ task efficiencies against an unarticulated norm of western male whiteness. It is not an affirmative exclusion of poor students or bilingual learners or black students or older students, but it need not be affirmative to be effective. Looking across this literature, our imagined educational futures are a lot like science fiction movies: there’s a conspicuous absence of brown people and women.

Intersectionality theories or methods have not yet been fully realized in the study of digitality and education, a critical institutional axis of social stratification.

The privatization of critical institutional arrangements like higher education is a serious challenge for digital sociology’s focus on studying inequalities. And, to keep expenditures low and profits high, faculty at for-profit colleges largely do not have a research imperative and physical campuses have few unstructured spaces for observation. Financial imperatives of privatized public goods shifts institutional responsibility from knowledge production to market penetration, privileging market competition over social inquiry.

Social media platforms afforded students who are rendered invisible in analysis because of privatization and intellectual enclosure to speak their experiences into legibility.

However, to move beyond giving voice to uncovering the ways in which power and privilege are often unmarked in social science research (Bonnett 1996; Zuberi 2008) intersectionality demands that we examine process and power relations. That is part of intersectionality’s political imperative.

Intersectionality theory argues that narrative methods de-centers privilege in rational actor theories. Therefore, I conceptualized the social media data I collected as autoethnographies rather than content. While content can absolutely be analyzed as narratives, they are most often analyzed as quantitative abstractions or without attention to qualitative differences in the power that frame content. In contrast, ethnographic data’s imperative is to situate meaning among various relational dynamics like power, privilege and social location (Ellis and Bochner 2006). Autoethnographies resist hegemonic sensemaking paradigms by centering self-authored texts and the co-construction of meaning. These theoretical imperatives, mechanisms and methodological choices are consistent with black cyberfeminism’s focus on intersectionality and unique characteristics of digitized social processes.

Source: Black Cyberfeminism: Intersectionality, Institutions and Digital Sociology by Tressie McMillan Cottom :: SSRN

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