Intersectionality and The Dialogic Method




By Aswathi Prakash 

What is intersectionality? 

Intersectionality, as a term was first coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw back in 1989. In her paper for the University of Chicago Legal Forum, Crenshaw wrote how traditional feminist ideas and antiracist policies are not informed by or adequately represent the experiences of black women and the overlapping nature of discrimination they face.1 She said that “because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated”.2 Since then intersectionality has been a critical element in conversations around feminism, feminist theory and women’s rights, but not limited to it.  

The Oxford Dictionary defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. Therefore Intersectionality, by accounting for overlapping categories of identities, in operation, allows space for the acknowledgement of the unique lived experiences of each individual, their behaviours, social position and the resulting disadvantages stemming from those. It makes space for these variables while recognizing these individuals to be the best judges of their disposition in any room. 

Today there is an increasing acceptance of the idea of overlapping identities resulting in different degrees of discrimination and therefore the necessity of an intersectional approach in how we conduct everything. There is also a ‘felt need’ for intersectional spaces that foster learning, growth and efficiency along with cultivating a sense of community and belonging. While much of its popularity can be attributed to its endorsement by institutional powers like the UN and other International organisations and funders,3 it also signals to an increasingly self aware generation that can now afford the luxury of looking into the modes of their oppression and raising their voices against it.  

Where does the Dialogic Method fit in the conversation?  

A question that often crops up during our workshops and discussions is the reliability and effectiveness of the Dialogic Method (DM) in the face of power differences. The argument being that, by being positioned disadvantageously – socially, politically, economically or culturally – there is a higher possibility that the outcome would be geared towards benefitting the more powerful party, than otherwise. To this we have consistently posited that it is exactly in cases like these that a process like the Dialogic Method becomes critical. 

Oftentimes intersectionality needs to be an added point to be taken into account as most processes do not account for them in their design. Whereas Dialogic Method, which involves a simple three by three framework, by design is one that allows for intersectionality and has multiple points of interest to the intersectionality space. The more I have engaged with the method – both its theoretical underpinnings and practice, the more I am convinced of the significance of the framework in the intersectionality space. This is in two fold – Dialogic Method as a tool that is intersectional in its nature and Dialogic Method as a tool that allows for creation of intersectional spaces. Allow me to explain.  

The Dialogic Method Framework 

When discussing the framework, a concept we place great emphasis on is moving the parties involved in the problem in point, from their ‘Positions’ to their ‘Interests’. Positions are the demands/asks that are put on the table while Interests are the reasons, fears, values driving these. While Positions give far too little leg space to work with, Interests on the other hand allows us to see what the parties are ultimately seeking, therefore opening up the space for more/varied possibilities. These uncovered interests gives one insight into the contexts and realities the parties/individuals are operating from (or against). Therefore the process is designed in such a way that these otherwise obscured/unobvious layers of human experiences are brought to the fore while simultaneously acknowledging it by the virtue of working with it. 

These overlapping identities and resulting disadvantages more often than not, come with a baggage of emotions and frustrations that are often unwelcome in many spaces. Dialogic Method believes in constructive engagement with emotions to create actionable and sustainable outcomes (outcomes is loosely used here to encompass everything that the process is geared towards in the context – including but not limited to resolution, transformation, problem solving, collaboration or consensus building). It thereby not just allows space for emotions to be uncovered, expressed and acknowledged, but also to work with them. And emotions stem from the perspectives that lie underneath. We perceive situations differently from what it may seem to the other party. Perspectives are often a result of the unique lived realities and experiences of individuals while being informed and limited by those. This makes us act from places which at the time seems to be in our interest. It is important to dig through these layers of emotions and perspectives to access/retrieve the required information obscured by it.  

The Dialogic Method therefore creates and holds the space for all the layers involved in the problem in point to be brought to the fore by expression and resulting acknowledgement, and ultimately leading to the preferred outcome. Apart from being intersectional in itself, the dialogic method also creates spaces that are intersectional.  

The Dialogic Method (DM) and Intersectional Spaces 

We strongly believe that a space that is dialogically designed tends to bring out dialogic outcomes by inclining any element placed in the space to act dialogically. Extrapolating this to the idea of intersectionality, the Dialogic Method, by being a process that is intersectional in itself, creates spaces that are – by the virtue of being dialogic – intersectional in nature.  

Therefore, the Dialogic Method is a tool that can be a great aid in the efforts of designing intersectional processes and building intersectional spaces. It is also important to mention here that we posit all of the above while being in absolute agreement with the fact that every method/process comes with its own limitations and the Dialogic Method is no exception. However, we also strongly believe that the aforesaid limitations can only be encountered and brought to the fore with continued practice of the Dialogic Method. That is what we are determinedly working towards.