Banach and Kallock Present Thesis on Intersectional Materiality

By Meghan Schmitt '19 | December 6, 2017

Professors David Banach and Sara Kallock gave a presentation titled “Feminism and the Body: Intersectional Materiality” in the West Wing on Friday, November 3rd, discussing the nature of matter and how it pertains to identity. The presentation is a summation of their recent paper, an introspective analysis of intersectional feminism as the foundation for “conceptual confoundments posed by bodies.”

Banach began the event with his thesis “The body is a source of moral constraint, while not imposing a single essence on all.”  He proceeded to explain his statement by saying that “concepts and language permeate all of our experiences of matter,” and “matter constrains our actions and moral perceptions.” He then discussed the differing views of essentialism, the Aristotelian view of the body, and nihilism (also called mechanism), which determines that the body has no inherent value without social constructs. The body, according to Aristotle, has an inherent perfect essence which is lost through any deviation.

Banach then introduced the concept of “Misplaced Concreteness,” the action of “mistaking an abstraction for a concrete reality.” The intersectional labels used for various aspects of identity (heterosexual, disabled, trans, etc..) “abstract” parts of a person’s being; they reveal a part, but not the whole, of the individual.

Kallock followed this idea of misplaced concreteness concerning abstractions with examples of how intersectional labels, though well-intentioned, can be detrimental. In the hands of an abusive power structure, individuals (especially victims) can be reduced to their labels and be denied their agency in legal, financial, and/or medical situations. This is called reification, and is discussed heavily in the paper. Another example of intersectional shortcoming is the idea of intersectional fatigue. Intersectional fatigue is the idea that once a movement tries to simultaneously focus on too many marginalized issues, it will lose momentum and ultimately fail. Kallock then discussed how certain labels, such as the ones for gender, sexuality, and class, are too often viewed as stagnant, when they do in fact comprise much of the fluidity of human experience. Intersectionality should not be imagined as a series of boxes that people are placed into for the entirety of their life, but as an ever-moving pattern of shifting circles, an image which Banach used during his part of the presentation.

Banach and Kallock’s discussion fostered an invigorating series of questions from faculty and students over the meaning of materiality. They reiterated the tenet of the paper’s thesis, that the comprehension of lived experience requires the understanding that intersectionality is intrinsic, but also dynamic.