Is intersectionality part of decolonisation?
In this blog post, BAFTSS PGR Rep Emma Morton (University of Warwick) reflects on the methodologies of intersectionality she has used in her approach to researching the Italian film industry before the Great War. How have you approached intersectionality in your field? Indeed, what are the different thought processes behind approaches to intersectionality and decolonisation? Do share your thoughts below.
Is intersectionality part of decolonisation? - Emma Morton, University of Warwick
Intersectionality has traditionally been associated with Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality, both of which lie within the field of gender studies. And it is with these methodologies that my research on the role of women in Italian film history is applied. My PhD focuses on the Italian cinema industry before the Great War, and as such, the films made and shown in Italy during this period are predominantly American and European in origin. When thinking about my own research I struggle to resolve how I can decolonise my work which is dominated by the writings of European men, while at the same time wondering if intersectionality is just a part of decolonisation?
Adopting an intersectional approach to film scholarship requires academics to be attentive to the ways in which marginalised people (be that due to race, gender, sexuality, class, disability and/or other defining factors) are represented by intersecting experiences. But does adopting an intersectional approach detract from the core concepts of decolonisation? In her essay Julianne McShane argued that ‘gender performativity and intersectionality act as decolonial methodologies’ in a way that gender is an imperialist concept grounded in Whiteness. But I wonder whether by associating intersectionality with decolonisation shifts the focus of change to the ‘easier’ topic of gender equality while maintaining colonial practices and hierarchies that decolonisation hopes to dissolve.
In the period in which my own research sits few women were able to read and write, and those who could and were only able to publish in periodicals or newspapers that were edited by men. As such, my own understanding of the period is mediated by those writing at the time. Perhaps decolonisation for my research is about shifting my thinking rather than what my research includes. That it is more than just the content of my research but also how I approach my source material and what I consider to be authoritative knowledge.
As you can see, I have more questions than answers, and perhaps my biggest question is whether my research into Italian film history is supporting colonial structures rather than tearing them down.
 Butler, J. (1988), ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519.  Crenshaw, K. (1989), ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’, University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989, 139–168.  McShane, Julianne (2021). ‘What does it mean to ‘decolonise’ gender studies?: Theorising the decolonial capacities of gender performativity and intersectionality’, Journal of International Women's Studies, 22(2), 62-77.