Is the state part of the matrix of domination and intersectionality? An anarchist inquiry.

Author:Dupuis-Deri, Francis

[T]he humanity we see is nothing other than state fodder with which the ever more gluttonous state is being fed. Humanity is now only state humanity and has lost its identity for centuries, in fact ever since there has been a state.

Thomas Bernhard, Old Masters

Theorisations of the matrix of domination and intersectionality, first developed by black feminists, (2) are one of the most, or maybe the most, significant innovation in social sciences and activism in the last decades. Today, the notions of 'matrix of domination' (Hill Collins 1991) and, especially, 'intersectionality' (Crenshaw 1989 and 1994) have become 'buzzwords' (Davis 2011, p43) in discussions on power relations and on emancipation struggles. This framework was developed with the twofold purpose (Dunezat & Galerand 2010, pp23-33) of achieving a better understanding of (1) material, psychological and symbolic inequalities (Winker & Degele 2011, p56; Shield 2008, p303) by stressing that any analysis addressing only one type of power relation makes other such relations invisible, and (2) tensions arising within feminist, anti-racist and anti-capitalist activist and academic projects and processes.

Academic networks and associations (Lada 2010), (3) social movements, non-government organisations, and international institutions have discussed and adopted the intersectional approach. Even the state has taken an interest, as evidenced, for instance, by the enactment of anti-discrimination policies (Yuval-Davis 2006, pp193-194; Verloo 2006, pp211-228; see also Hughes 2011). The 'hype' (Lutz et al. 2011, p9) surrounding intersectionality is such that its 'remarkable popularity' has itself become a subject of analysis (Bilge 2009, p78; Davis 2011; see also Winker & Degele 2011, p51; Burgess-Proctor 2006, p35).

The systems or categories usually identified in the literature on the matrix of domination and intersectionality are sex, race, and class (Burgess-Proctor 2006, p37), variously referred to as the 'big three' (Hearn 2011, p89), the 'triptych' (Jaunait & Chauvin 2012, p9), the 'trinity' (Lutz et al. 2011, 8), the 'Holy Trinity' (Creese & Stasiulis 1996, p8), or the 'litany' (Denis 2008, p685). Sexuality (Brath & Phoenix 2004) or sexual orientation (Denis 2008, p679; Shield 2008, p303) are frequently added to the list. While these are thought to be 'the most salient in producing oppression and offering sites of resistance' (Creese & Stasiulis 1996, p9), some documents identify many more (Collectif de recherche sur l'autonomie collective --CRAC--2011; (4) see also Achin et al. 2009; Creese & Stasiulis 1996, p9; Davis 2011, p49; Denis 2008, p679; Hearn 2011; Kergoat 2005, p96; Poiret 2005, p196; Shield 2008, p303, p309; Winker & Degele 2011, p55; Zarifian 2010, p55). In my research I have catalogued a total of twenty-nine: sex/gender, race, skin colour, ethnicity, nationality, culture, tradition and development, language, religion, ancestry, sexual orientation, sexual practices, age, able-bodiedness, lookism, caste, socio-economic class, property ownership, skills, geographic location, urbanicity, sedantariness, virtuality (cyberspace) and transnationality; migrant, indigenous, refugee or displaced person status, health status, HIV/AIDS, living in a war zone or under foreign occupation and ecology (one's relationship with nature) also feature in the matrix.

Overall, this abundant plurality testifies to a concern with accurately mapping the 'matrix of domination' through the inclusion of all possible intersections, which means taking into consideration a very broad diversity of social systems and inequalities among categories. According to Patricia Hill Collins, intersectional analysis does not account for every oppression but assesses which oppressions impact on any given situation. (5)

Yet none of the relevant literature and surveys include any reference to the state as a system of domination. Instead, the state is viewed as a secondary institution whose role is to strengthen the systems of domination or to curb their most pernicious effects. In this essay, I would like to examine the possibility of considering the state itself a system of domination, rather than an institution serving other systems of domination or emancipation movements in their quest for justice.

To this end, I will build on perspectives offered by historical and contemporary anarchist movements in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Although anarchists are not, per se, a subaltern class, they are typically low paid workers (or unemployed), identify with subalterns, and they are often the target of state repression (police violence and imprisonment) as political radical and marginal dissidents. Many activists and writers in the anarchist tradition have been concerned with the sexist, racist and classist systems of domination. In addition, though, they have also been concerned with statist domination. I am therefore proposing to mobilise anarchist voices in order to examine the possibility of introducing the state-as-system into conceptions of the matrix of domination and intersectionality. (6) I am aware of the constraints of the proposed discussion, as I will be unable to develop both a conceptualisation of the state-as-system and, at the same time, a thorough analysis of its overlap with other systems of domination influencing and influenced by it. This is unfortunate, since the main thrust of intersectional analysis is, 'the critical insight that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, and age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but as reciprocally constructing phenomena which in turn shape complex social inequalities' (Hill Collin 2015, p2). However, the Africanist Hazel Carby recognises the value of apprehending systems of domination in specific terms (in Bilge 2010, p61); sociologist Danielle Juteau (2010, p77) similarly suggests that 'theorizing' a specific system is 'a step that uncovers a hidden [social] relationship', a 'prerequisite for its articulation with other social relationships, which is necessary for the theorization of social heterogeneity'. My goal is simply to uncover statism as a system of domination bypassed or ignored by intersectionalists, in the hope that the recognition of statism within the matrix of domination might help to pay attention to particular resistance and contentious struggles.


On the basis of the theoretical, conceptual and analytical proposition of the matrix of domination and intersectionality, social reality can be understood as comprising various overlapping systems of domination that together make up a 'matrix' in which classes, institutions, and individuals are located at the intersections of a number of these systems (Bilge 2009, p73). Patricia Hill Collins explains that '[a]dhering to this inclusive model provides the conceptual space needed for each individual to see that she or he is both a member of multiple dominant groups and a member of multiple subordinate groups' (Hill Collins 1991, p230). Indeed, '[i]n this system, for example, white women are penalized by their gender but privileged by their race. Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed' (Hill Collins 1991, p225). Thus, this is not an additive model of oppression, since many situations are complex and paradoxical. In the United States, for instance, being a woman means being part of a subaltern sex-class, yet this is generally an advantage with regard to criminal profiling and police interventions: because most police officers are males, women are less likely than men to be stopped, searched and arrested by the police; but when a police officer engages in sexual harassment being a woman is no longer an advantage.

All systems imply dynamics of domination, oppression, appropriation (exploitation, extortion, etc.), and exclusion (Hill Collins 1991; Kergoat 2009, p119; Combes et al. 1991, p62). Domination denotes the power to impose one's will on others when decisions affecting the community are made; those who dominate determine the rules, norms and values for the entire community. Oppression refers to the mechanisms and apparatuses of discipline and control that rely on threats and fear as well as symbolic and material punishment, which may include psychological and physical violence or even terrorism. Appropriation (extortion, exploitation, dispossession) involves the profit--in the form of material, psychological, or symbolic goods or services--that those who dominate draw from the work, possessions, and bodies of subalterns. Exclusion signifies discrimination or segregation (whether economic, geographic, cultural and ideological, or other), confinement or expulsion, or even extermination (Ferree & Hall 1996, p931). Ultimately, these phenomena--which are interrelated and not mutually exclusive --imply a non-egalitarian division of material, psychological, and symbolic work, and a similarly non-egalitarian sharing of material, psychological and symbolic resources (Winker & Degele 2011, p56), including privileges (Burgess-Proctor 2006, p33).

Domination, oppression, appropriation, and exclusion become systemic when they overlap with each other and operate laterally across different spheres of social activity. Capitalism, for example, is characterised by forms of domination, oppression, appropriation, and exclusion that in most contemporary societies affect almost every activity. The same can be said not only of patriarchy and racism but also of statism. These systems are the targets of protest, resistance and emancipation movements, but they in turn impinge on and are even manifested inside the very movements opposed to them (hence, for instance, the unequal distribution of tasks, resources, and power among activists). Thus, there is no consensus as to whether resistance and the emancipation struggle...

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