The concepts of “agency” and “intersectionality” are ones my students struggle with often. As they learn about these ideas, they tend to cling to what I call the “choosey-choice” and “list” methods. That is, students see agency as an individual’s unfettered ability to make choices and to take full responsibility for the choices they make. Choice is paramount, and a “personal choice” (much like a “personal opinion”) cannot be “wrong” and ought not to be analyzed or critiqued. The suggestion that choices are constrained is taken as in itself constraining choice.
The “list” method for incorporating intersectionality into students’ thinking looks just like its name suggests. As long as a bunch of identities are listed, we need not account for the material manifestations of oppression or exploitation. We simply take as given that identities are whole, coherent, fixed things, inherent to who and what we are, rather than a set of social forces convening in particular ways to shape our circumstances and experiences. Thus, they need only be mentioned, and never critiqued or analyzed either.
I came up with a couple of classroom exercises, using accessible, timely resources from the internet paired with academic readings to help deepen students’ understanding of these concepts. These are, obviously, most useful in seminar-style and “flipped” classrooms, since they take up more time than someone using the traditional lecture model might want to sacrifice. Continue reading