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For an Intersectional Approach in the Sociology of Art and Culture

Pour une approche intersectionnelle en sociologie des arts et de la culture
Chloé Delaporte, Artemisa Flores Espínola, Emmanuelle Guittet, Kaoutar Harchi, Marie Sonnette-Manouguian et Cécile Talbot
Traduction de Clare Ferguson
Cet article est une traduction de :
Pour une approche intersectionnelle en sociologie des arts et de la culture [fr]


Comment s’articulent et se croisent les différents rapports de domination qui traversent le monde social – qu’ils soient de classe, de sexe, de race, etc. – et, surtout, comment cette imbrication est-elle susceptible de produire des configurations spécifiques ? C’est toute l’ambition des approches intersectionnelles que d’analyser, notamment du point de vue des expériences situées, la manière dont les effets croisés des appartenances et assignations de classe, de sexe, de race, etc., produisent des situations sociales particulières, qui ne procèdent pas que de l’addition des inégalités. Ce dossier thématique argumente en faveur d’une approche intersectionnelle en sociologie des arts et de la culture. L’introduction offre un retour sur les contextes d’émergence et de diffusion du concept d’intersectionnalité, en particulier aux États-Unis et en France, permet d’en souligner les enjeux programmatiques et les défis méthodologiques. Le dossier, composé de trois articles, d’une note de lecture et d’un entretien, offre une illustration possible de l’usage de ces approches dans l’étude des mondes de la culture.

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Fig. 1

© Laure Devenelle, “Imbrications”, paper cuts illustration, 21 x 29,7 cm, 2022.

1How do the different relations of domination (in class, sex, race, etc.) that permeate the social world connect and intersect? More importantly, how is this interconnection conducive to producing specific configurations? The purpose of intersectional approaches is to analyse, notably from the perspective of situated experiences, how the intersecting effects of belonging and assignment in relation to class, sex, race, and so on produce particular social situations that do not simply derive from the sum of the inequalities in question. In line with previously published social science journal issues dedicated to intersectional approaches (Gallot et al. 2020; Hajjat & Larchet 2019; Marcillat et al. 2017; Bourque & Maillé 2015; Falquet & Kian 2015; Fassin 2015; Palomares & Testenoire 2010), this special issue of Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods argues for the scientific value of these approaches and examines one field of application in particular, the sociology of art and culture. Intersectionality enables us to examine in detail the inequalities that exist in people’s access to artistic and cultural careers and to culture more generally and to analyse the differentiated representations conveyed by symbolic goods.

  • 1 Following worldwide protests in support of George Floyd’s family, President Emmanuel Macron said: (...)
  • 2 We refer here to the conference entitled “Après la deconstruction : reconstruire les sciences et la (...)
  • 3 These attempts to discredit intersectional approaches were initiated in the context of the vote on (...)

2This introduction begins with a review of the conditions of emergence and the different stages of dissemination of the concept of intersectionality in the United States and France, highlighting the various scientific contributions that have allowed its theorization, and then looks specifically at the concept’s past, present, and promising future connection with the sociology of art and culture. It is worth noting that this issue will be published in a sociopolitical context that stigmatizes academic research mobilizing the critical intersectional apparatus—and indeed any apparatus that poses or appears to pose the race question1. The research world is accused of a form of “identity-based separatism,” supposedly the result of an overly broad “deconstruction”2 of the relations of domination structuring the social world that has been enabled and facilitated by the dissemination of the intersectionality concept in the academic sphere3. It therefore seems especially timely to attempt to fully identify the scope, challenges, and limitations of this concept and to grasp how and why it can enrich, extend, and renew our understanding of inequalities in the worlds of art and culture.

Intersectionality Theories

3Intersectionality theories offer the promise of a multidimensional view of the social world in all its complexity. Here, we trace the historical and political conditions of the emergence of this concept in the United States and France and highlight some of its contributions and challenges.

The Historical and Political Conditions of the Emergence of Intersectionality

4While it first emerged in the pioneering Black feminism studies (Dorlin 2005), the concept of intersectionality actually has its roots in the specific social, historical, and political context of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was marked by the simultaneous development of the civil rights movement and feminism and the emergence of a New Left in the wake of the Vietnam War and McCarthyism within a framework of brutal racist and anti-communist repression (Falquet et al. 2006). The momentum created by Black feminism as well as the social characteristics (class, sex, ethnoracial) of several of its theorists were key in the genesis and development of this concept.

5Individual and collective resistance to the combined effects of racism, sexism, and classism is a daily reality for the majority of black women in the United States, and they have been analysing this question for a long time. One of the pioneering texts of the late 1960s came from the activist and trade unionist Frances Beal, who was part of a major youth organization in the civil rights movement called the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC). Beal’s article, entitled “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female” (1968), presented a set of fundamental themes in black feminism, such as the struggle against the forced sterilization of “Third World” and racialized women in the United States. Despite the widespread suppression of African-American organizations, there was a rapid rise in the number of autonomous black women’s organizations during this period. Most were active in both the feminist and black movements as well as in various leftist organizations (Bekhtari 2020). The members of the Combahee River Collective, which was founded in Boston in 1974 by Barbara Smith and Demita Frazier, were shaped at the intersection of these different perspectives. This was the first activist organization to explicitly formulate the idea, based on its members’ daily lived experiences and struggles, of the four interlocking systems of oppression, namely racism, sexism, capitalism, and heterosexism (Combahee River Collective 1979). The author and activist bell hooks was also an early contributor to the construction of a perspective that takes the interconnection of inequalities into account (hooks 1984).

  • 4 “If women were thought to have priority over black people, then all women were white and all black (...)

6The category of “women”—the political object of feminism—became the subject of debate in the 1980s when black, Chicana, and lesbian feminists in the United States criticized the “hegemonic” feminism of the time for not taking their differences into account. They did not feel represented in a feminism that was centred on white, western, heterosexual, middle-class women (Dorlin 2005)4. A section of the black feminist movement in the United States had been developing a particularly interesting critique since the 1970s of the middle-class family ideal and naturalism that underpinned the idea of an automatic sisterhood among all women and an automatic brotherhood among all black people (Falquet 2020). If the presupposition of the “women” category as the object of female emancipation becomes inoperative, the whole question of female emancipation is called into question. Butler thus argued that the feminist “we” is always a construction that leaves out a large part of the group it claims to represent (Butler 1999: 181).

7A decade on, in the context this time of Reaganite neoliberalism, the first formulation of the concept of intersectionality was proposed by the law scholar Crenshaw (1989). The questions she posed were not new in feminist research, particularly those contained in her critiques of hegemonic feminism (too white, too petit bourgeois) and the dominant black movement (too patriarchal), which were subsequently addressed by the Black feminism activists and theorists. Crenshaw’s article centred on three legal cases that dealt with the questions of race and sex discrimination. Her argument was that because the courts treated the black women in these cases either as a woman or as a black person and never as a combination of the two social belongings, they had failed to take into account the specific challenges that black women face as a group. Crenshaw expanded on this by pointing out that

“the failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the subordination of people of color, and the failure of antiracism to interrogate patriarchy means that antiracism will frequently reproduce the subordination of women.” (1991: 1252)

8In the 2000s, intersectionality theories gained traction within the U.S. academic community, and Crenshaw’s drafting of the background paper on race and sex discrimination for the United Nations’ World Conference Against Racism in Durban (2001) contributed to accelerating the concept’s dissemination internationally (Bilge 2015). In France, however, a lack of direct contact with these sources and debates, particularly those communicated in English, seems to have delayed the concept’s entry into academic and public discourse and led to many misunderstandings.

9In France during the 1960s and 1970s, the feminist movement (in both its activist and its academic dimensions) was marked by the postwar context, which was characterized by “a strong Communist party and a powerful workers’ movement, both centred on the capital/labour relationship and both giving rise to debates that were as passionate as they were polemical” (Galerand & Kergoat 2014). Fougeyrollas-Schwebel’s interpretation of these internal divisions was that French feminist theory was undergoing a polarized development at the time, with, on the one hand, a political analysis inspired by psychoanalysis and, on the other, a classical Marxist analysis of feminism that viewed social relations as being embedded in structures and presented individuals as bound up in antagonistic social groups (Fougeyrollas-Schwebel 2005). The “radical materialist” feminist movement that developed in and around the journal Questions féministes proposed to analyse the oppression of women in relation to specific power relations. For example, Delphy defined the “mode of domestic production” concept (Delphy 1970), and Guillaumin defined the concept of “sexage” in reference to the racist relationship that authorizes slavery, which she viewed as a relationship of “appropriation” concerning persons and bodies (Guillaumin 1978).

10The real rise of the concept of intersectionality in France can be linked to the divide created by the “race question” within feminism. Debates over the wearing of the Islamic headcovering in French schools following the 2004 law banning religious symbols in state schools exacerbated already existing tensions surrounding the perceived need to choose between “antisexism” and “antiracism” (Delphy 2006: 70, 80). Delphy argued that these oppressions could not be considered in isolation because women were being oppressed by both patriarchy and racism. In other words, both systems of oppression were coexistent.

11In 2005, the journal Cahiers du genre reflected these debates in an issue entitled “Penser la pluralité” by publishing a French translation (“Cartographies des marges”) of Crenshaw’s 1991 foundational article on intersectionality (Crenshaw 1991). This issue attested the concept’s late arrival in France and highlighted its interconnection of dominations of sex and race. The following year, Les Cahiers du CEDREF published an issue entirely devoted to the “(Ré)articulation des rapports sociaux de sexe, classe et ‘race’” [(Re)connection of the social relations of sex, class, and “race”], featuring a translation of the Combahee River Collective statement (Falquet et al. 2006: 53-67).

12The various formulations of the intersectionality concept are marked by the different academic, political, and activist contexts in which they emerged (Bourdieu 2003). The American feminist context was thus marked by the civil rights movement and the importance of the race question, while the French feminist context was still very much influenced by Marxist thought and its interpretative framework centred on the class struggle. French feminist research had nevertheless been developing other concepts to analyse the question of the interconnection of the relations of domination long before the term “intersectionality” appeared. Guillaumin’s theoretical analyses of racism as a social relation and of the construction of the notion of race (2002 [1972]) and Wittig’s contemporaneous theoretical analyses of the political status of the lesbian (published in Questions féministes 2007 [1980]) introduced the question of inter-oppression interferences into early materialist feminism (Devreux 2015).

13Also in the 1970s, working within a Marxian conceptual framework centred on social class, Kergoat was making strong connections between the dimensions of sex and class based on the figure of female workers. More recently, she developed the “consubstantiality of social relations” concept, which is rooted in the analysis of the concrete activity of work. The term “consubstantiality” signifies the unity of substance between these three distinct social relations and invites us to consider the same and the different in a single movement, because “social relations, although distinct, cannot be understood separately without the risk of reifying them” (Galerand & Kergoat 2014: 48; Kergoat 2009). Falquet, in keeping with Guillaumin’s and Wittig’s materialist feminism, the Combahee River Collective’s black feminist analyses, and the Latin American and Caribbean feminist and lesbian reflections, proposed her “interweaving of the social relations of sex, race, and class” (Falquet 2020) concept, which focuses on understanding not just individual identities but the complexity of social movements more broadly.

14The development of intersectionality theories within feminist research has provided the basis for collaboration between disparate feminist schools of thought. As the Canadian sociologist Juteau pointed out, the feminist paradigm of intersectionality makes it possible to introduce social relations of sex into intersectionality theories. She wrote that intersectionality is materialist because it “sheds light on the relations constituting the social categories as differentiated, hierarchized, antagonistic, and indissociable,” and it is materialist feminist because “it focuses on the relations of appropriation constitutive of sex categories as explanatory factors in sex inequalities” (Juteau 2016: 131).

Relations of Domination Understood Through the Sociology of Art and Culture

The Primacy of Class

15The study of the relations of domination is at the heart of research in the critical sociology of culture. Bourdieu, through his analysis of what made artists and cultural works “legitimate,” elaborated a theory of value based on the principle of a structural homology between the social position of the cultural audience and the symbolic goods it consumes (Bourdieu 2010). His concept of artistic fields (Bourdieu 1996), which are permeated by classification struggles, demonstrates that the conflicts leading up to the emergence of a particular author, literary work, or conception of art as dominant mobilize social, cultural, economic, and symbolic positions and resources (Bourdieu 1979b). Cultural production and consumption are thus part of a hierarchization of taste that operates according to the position occupied by the producers and their respective audiences. From a Bourdieusian perspective, the value of art is therefore determined by the social class position occupied by its consumers. Subsequent studies have extended Bourdieu’s findings by focusing on the modalities of this cultural consumption—which are as distinctive as the choice of symbolic goods consumed (Chartier 1985)—and on the diversity of cultural consumption (on inter- and intra-individual variation, see Lahire 2004; on cultural eclecticism, see Coulangeon 2011). The dominant idea in this long, rich French research tradition in the sociology of culture is that social class is central to understanding inequalities in the worlds of art—indeed, it is often the only variable mobilized.

The Social Relations of Sex: An Additional Angle for Analysing Dominations in Culture and the Arts

16Although other variables were taken into account very early on in the sociology of art and culture literature (age, place of residence, etc.), the first relations of domination to have been systematically interlinked with social class were the social relations of sex. These analyses nevertheless remained very much in the minority for a long time (Sofio et al. 2007). Research conducted from this perspective developed notably in the English-speaking world in the wake of the work of feminist researchers who sought to extend Bourdieusian studies by focusing on the interconnection of sex and class (Albenga 2015). In 1991, Moi argued that sex is just as much a vector of cultural capital as social class is. More importantly, she claimed that working-class women have negative symbolic capital because of their sex but that women from the upper social classes are able to compensate for these prejudicial perceptions of their sex (Moi 1991). In 1997, Skeggs showed how care work could be transformed into symbolic capital for working-class women through a mode of internal and external ranking on a “working-class respectability” scale (Skeggs 1997).

17Research in the sociology of culture in France in the 1990s and 2000s revealed a sex-based distribution of roles in the professional arts worlds (on jazz, see Buscatto 2007; on dance, see Sorignet 2010). It also showed that women experienced difficulty accessing visible and consecrated positions (on contemporary art, see Moulin 1992; on literature, see Naudier 2007; on the orchestral domain, see Ravet 2011).

18Studies proposing an interconnection of the relations of domination in cultural reception and consumption have demonstrated notably that sex and age, interlinked with social class, play a role in the social perception of cultural practices and the “multidimensionality of taste” (Noûs et al. 2021). With regard to cultural practices, studies on reading have focused in particular on linking sex and social class in their analyses (Radway 1984) due to the feminization of readership (Donnat 2009). Albenga has shown—by linking sex habitus and class habitus—how female readers mobilize sex differentiation to hierarchize their practices and the works they consume, which are both negatively situated when perceived as “feminine” (Albenga 2007). Sex-related cultural indignity can reinforce class-related cultural indignity, because only the reading practices of certain women are legitimized through their academic and symbolic capitals, which confer judgements of good taste that are further enhanced by the individual’s aesthetic dispositions.

19Studies combining the anglophone traditions of cultural studies and gender studies with French Bourdieusian sociology have thus driven a new research agenda for sociologists of art and culture, which consists of interlinking several social relations of power to understand the acquisition—or not—of symbolic capital and the ability—or not—of an individual to differentiate themselves.

Race: A Social Construct Rarely Taken Into Account in the Analysis of Cultural Inequalities

  • 5 The difference between the two terms is discussed here by Sarah Mazouz.

20Very few studies have been conducted on race in France. There is still considerable debate surrounding the use of the concept in French research (Belkacem et al. 2019; Mazouz 2020), and the lack of empirical data from major national surveys (it is prohibited to collect ethnicity data in France) also limits the possibilities of examining statistics on race. Despite the fact race is a social construct that is produced by a relationship of domination—racism—(De Rudder et al. 2000) and assigned to individuals during racialization (Fanon 2004 [1961]) or “racization” (the process by which a dominant group defines a dominated group as a race; see Guillaumin 1972)5, thus “othering” social groups, it is seldom taken into account in French research, which focuses primarily on class and/or sex. In the sociology of art and culture, it can nevertheless provide an understanding of the association between the legitimacy of symbolic goods and the ethnoracial belongings of their audiences or producers.

21In the world of music, it has already been shown that the social relations of race are key to understanding the modalities of reception in the domain of jazz music (Roueff 2013). Two articles in this issue demonstrate that they are also fundamental to analysing the social world of rap. Hammou’s study reveals the creation of a racialized segment within the music industry, which is simultaneously able to benefit commercially from its othering (through “marketing the margins”) and subject to a working-class and racial stigmatization (Hammou 2016). This double stigmatization produces controversies that construct the segment’s social illegitimacy in a postcolonial context (Guillard & Sonnette 2020). In the world of literature, Harchi demonstrates that the power relations at play during the literary legitimization of French-speaking Algerian writers lead to a low-key legitimization owing to an inegalitarian hierarchical regime (Harchi 2020). She also shows that identifying the works of these authors with the category of “Beur” literature is essentializing (Harchi 2021). Ducournau highlights the racialization of the editorial lines in the “Monde noir” collection published by Hatier and the “Continents noirs” collection published by Gallimard, demonstrating that they are marked by the prevalence of “essentialist perimeters of definition” (2019: 138). The fact that “editorial supervision […] is usually the remit of white men situated in a relationship of exteriority to Africa” signals their role as the “decisive gatekeepers” (2019: 142) and determines the positioning of the authors. In the world of dance, Debonneville (2021) examined racialization in the field of contemporary dance in a recent issue of Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods, showing how dancers’ bodies are instruments in this process. He revealed how the imaginary of whiteness is a dominant aesthetic norm—where white bodies are perceived as the “norm”—and how “racized” dancers and choreographers subvert their assigned racial identities by proposing new choreographic styles.

22One of the challenges facing the sociology of art and culture in terms of proposing an intersectional analysis of the relations of domination that pervade its objects—artistic careers, cultural practices, symbolic representations—is to examine the whiteness of the actors (Lépinard & Mazouz 2021: 48). When white producers, agents, and consumers/audiences are in the numerical majority and socially dominant in our studies, little or no comment is made regarding whether this is a recruitment bias in the sample group and/or a fact that sheds light on the subject under study. This “epistemology of ignorance” reveals “how this social position that is marked by superiority translates epistemologically by underlining its effects of ignorance on the social world and in particular on the experiences of minority groups” (Lépinard & Mazouz 2021: 48).

23French researchers working within the cultural studies tradition, however, have been pioneering in the study of ethnoracial questions in France. In keeping with anglophone studies such as those conducted by Hall, who highlighted the political nature of representations and their analysis, reception, and role in the creation of individual and collective identities (Hall 2007), these researchers have examined the part played by culture in the (de)construction of categories like sex and race. Cervulle’s research on diversity in the media shed light on the hegemony of whiteness (as a social construct) in media productions through an analysis of its effects on audiences, particularly in terms of identity and politics (Cervulle 2013). Quemener’s work on the development of postcolonial humour demonstrated how comedy can be the expression of a subaltern culture. Although it does not manage to fully escape the dominant models, postcolonial humour can provide a space for the presentation of multiple identities and for a distancing from the stereotypes that minority groups are subject to (Quemener 2014).

A Consolidating Field of Study

24There is thus a whole area in the study of the relations of domination in the worlds of art and culture that remains to be constructed and consolidated. A recent issue of the journal Agone devoted to artistic training and the social construction of “talent” made some progress in this respect (Buscatto et al. 2020). Several of its contributions examined how discrimination in artistic training is based on the representation of a constructed figure of the artist as white, such as the image of “model girls” (Bull 2020) in classical music and the figure and expected characteristics of the body in dance (a young, slender, white girl). These representations are mobilized as an argument to exclude artists who do not correspond to these body standards, thus disguising class and/or racial discrimination (Laillier 2020). Provansal (2020) analysed how women’s social characteristics—whether class or race—can mitigate the sex discrimination they face in the Beaux-Arts de Paris entrance exam. Thibault (2020) showed how the parity rules and the policy of promoting “diversity” put in place by the Théâtre National de Strasbourg’s school of dramatic arts were used as a tool more to revalorize the institution’s image than to fight against inequalities in access to artistic careers.

25This special issue on intersectional approaches in the sociology of art and culture intends to contribute to this body of recent work on the interconnection of the relations of domination in cultural production, circulation, and reception.

For an Intersectional Approach in the Sociology of Art and Culture

26The field of art and culture is a key space for the production and reproduction of social order, values, and identities, which in turn shape social relations and co-produce inequalities. How, then, is the intersectional perspective relevant to the study of the production and reception of symbolic goods? What forms of renewal can be observed? What are the anticipated sociological gains? These questions can be answered in two ways.

Some Programmatic Issues

27First, the intersectional perspective allows us to take into account the social relation of race, alongside sex and class, as it presents within the artistic and cultural fields. As previously mentioned, race is the product of a regime of power that is based on a historical/political perceptual system linking psychological and cognitive dimensions to physiological (skin colour, nose size, hair texture, etc.) and/or cultural (religious affiliation, nationality, language, accent, etc.) aspects for the purposes of differentiation, segregation, and hierarchization. In a context where the classist approach has long been legitimized and feminist approaches are undergoing constant legitimization, the illegitimacy that continues to surround the consideration of the social relations of race in sociological analysis generally (Garneau & Giraudo-Baujeu 2018) and in the sociological analysis of symbolic goods in particular is conspicuously noteworthy. Research that has begun to think about the “race” object by linking it with the social relations of sex and class (Djavadzadeh 2021; Ducournau 2019; Harchi 2020; Roueff 2013) has revealed a novel dimension of individual and collective experience within the artistic and cultural fields. This dimension relates to the prevalence of racialization in the modes of perception, judgement, classification, (de)valorization, and (de)legitimization with regard to cultural productions and their producers’ status. An intersectional perspective provides the means for understanding social phenomena that have long been neglected in research, such as the numerical under-representation and symbolic discrimination of artists who belong to several dominated social groups simultaneously, the persistence of racial stereotypes that impact the technical creative skills of these groups, and the lack of recognition of their contribution to the social history of the arts. The intersectional approach, because it definitively rejects the denial of the plurality of social violence by understanding it as a broad social reality, encourages the sociology of art and culture to uncover and analyse whole sections of this reality and make them worthy of scientific interest.

28Second, the intersectionality approach is a source of epistemological contributions. It contributes to renewing our understanding of the link between knowledge objects and knowledge-producing subjects by deploying what have been termed “point-of-view” epistemologies, which are situated at the intersection of Marxist and feminist theories (Flores Espínola, 2012). By focusing on the contextualized interconnection of the social relations of class, race, sex, age, and dis/ability, the sociology of art and culture could rethink the social sciences’ claim to objectivity, on the one hand, and its distrust of subjectivity, on the other. Sociologists of art and culture would engage in a renewed reflection by examining what it means to experience artistic and cultural fields as minority individuals and/or groups through the lens of intersectionality. By renewed reflection, we mean that the dominated’s viewpoint in the field of symbolic goods would be taken into account by recognizing their status not just as subjects of domination but as legitimate analysts of their own experience of being dominated (Hammou & Harchi 2020):

“It is not a question of asserting that a subaltern viewpoint would intrinsically provide truer knowledge but rather of stressing the need to produce a collective analysis capacity that reveals the perspective of the dominated and that therefore values their experiences.” (Lépinard & Mazouz, 2021: 43)

Methodological Challenges of the Intersectional Approach

29While intersectionality allows significant advances to be made at the two levels outlined above, there is nevertheless a question mark over the methodological approach mobilized. This issue has been debated since the turn of the millennium, with one side arguing that intersectionality should have its own specific methodology and the other calling for a more flexible and adaptable approach that can incorporate already existing mechanisms (Grzanka 2014). Without wishing to position ourselves in this long-term debate, we would like to confirm there is a clear need to think about the methodological question in intersectionality and to clarify that the conceptual malleability of intersectionality prevents any strict definition of methodological tools and rejects any ostensibly singular use of such tools. Our aim is therefore not to identify a priori an intersectional methodology but rather to reveal what an approach interlinking the social relations of domination would involve from the point of view of producing study data. Although some of these challenges are not new, they are nonetheless revived in the context of an intersectional analysis, particularly in respect of two main aspects, namely the definition of the interviewer’s position, an inevitable dimension of any research survey, and the methods of producing the study data, which notably raise questions here.

30It is not possible to argue for a research method that can be accessed and affected by the epistemological postulates of the intersectional perspective without examining the modalities of data production: “in the context of a research study, if an individual situates themselves as someone who is bound up in the intersectionality of domination and power, this must … always be contextual” (Kocadost 2017). While the adoption of a research position inevitably entails a description of the social properties of the interviewer and the interviewees and a report a posteriori on what happened in the field, the intersectional approach—because it examines the social relations of race, which are often invisibilized even for the researcher—also requires that close attention is paid to what is happening during the interactive process that makes up the investigative relationship (Kocadost 2014; Wacquant 2015). When collecting accounts of identification, micro-aggression, assignment, and discrimination or indeed of an individual’s reactions and strategies when confronted with these violent acts, the investigative relationship must be constructed with a strong focus on reflexivity, empathy, and reciprocity. This principle of acknowledgement is not just an ethical consideration. In the context of the researcher/respondent relationship, it is an intrinsic precondition for the emergence of the subjectivity of individuals situated at the intersection of multiple social relations of domination.

31In addition to the challenge that the intersectional approach poses with regard to the researcher’s positioning, there is the difficulty of quantitatively measuring the phenomena being studied. In the social sciences, numerical data (tables filled with figures, variables, percentages, statistical relationships) contribute to the many different processes of uncovering and objectifying social phenomena. However, when it comes to measuring racism, sexism, classism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, or ageism, these tools tend to be limited to quantifying, for example, attacks or complaints. It therefore seems a little futile to say we need to think about the relations of racial domination in the arts and culture when these methodological limitations prevent us from addressing the racist phenomenon in all its complexity and therefore reduce the potential for a sociological understanding of it (Brun 2021). Some methodological approaches have nevertheless managed to circumvent these difficulties. For example, the Trajectoires et origines. Enquête sur la diversité des populations en France survey, conducted by Beauchemin, Hamel, and Simon (INED/INSEE 2008-2009), constructed various discrimination indicators relating to situations of inequality in different domains of social life. The same methodological difficulties have been encountered in the study of gender-based violence. For example, the French Institute for Demographic Studies (Institut national d’études démographiques; INED) conducted a quantitative survey in 2014 entitled Virage (Hamel et al. 2014). Anticipating a low participation rate from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans populations, an additional measure was put in place called Virage LGBT. However, this quickly attracted strong criticism regarding the survey’s categories of “man” and “woman.” This highlights the problematic of the scientific legitimacy of producing categorizations and of the methodological choices that lead to their elaboration.

  • 6 The actress Aïssa Maïga springs to mind as one example. She counted the non-whites in the audience (...)

32It is essential to take the interconnection of the relations of domination into account if we are to understand—and precisely measure—how inequalities specific to the worlds of art and culture manifest, for example in the differentiated access to artistic careers6 or the unquestioned whiteness of certain audiences. But how should the scale of such phenomena be represented, particularly in statistical analysis? Researchers have tested some strategies and come up with alternative and inventive ways to code the social relations of domination. For example, in the case of ethnoracial belonging, it is possible not to construct but rather to reconstruct a posteriori social properties that are not directly accessible for analysis by considering an individual’s and their parents’ first names, surname(s), ages, country(ies)/town(s) of birth, nationality(ies), and place(s) and type(s) of residence.

  • 7 This two-day conference provided an opportunity to address this question from a number of different (...)
  • 8 And in particular by Anne Bessette, Clément Combes, Florencia Dansilio, Chloé Delaporte, Artemisa F (...)

33The difficulty of collecting, quantifying, and analysing such data should not be grounds for downgrading or ignoring them as a sociological tool. The problem of measurement constraints is always conducive to stimulating the researcher’s methodological imagination, as evidenced notably by the papers presented at the “Penser l’articulation des rapports sociaux de sexe, de classe et de race en sociologie des arts et de la culture” conference7 in November 2018, which was jointly organized by two thematic networks within the Association française de sociologie, namely RT14 (Sociologie des arts et de la culture) and RT24 (Genre, classe, race. Rapports sociaux et construction de l’altérité)8.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Poster of the 3rd conference organized by RT14 (Sociologie des arts et de la culture) in collaboration with RT24 (Genre, classe, race. Rapports sociaux et construction de l’altérité), “Penser l’articulation des rapports sociaux de sexe, de classe et de race en sociologie des arts et de la culture”, held in Paris in November 2018 (artwork based on a work by Julie Mehretu)

Presenting This Special Issue9

  • 9 Like many journals that mobilized against the Loi de Programmation Pluriannuelle de la Recherche in (...)

34Research mobilizing the theoretical framework of intersectionality in sociology is still relatively underdeveloped in France and would benefit from expansion in the study of the production of symbolic goods. Beyond their theoretical and thematic diversity, the texts assembled in this special issue (which originated from the conference mentioned above) thus show how sociological variables are interlinked in terms of access to artistic careers (see in particular Hammou’s article on the social mobility of female rappers) and how the producers of symbolic goods are institutionally constructed according to their social properties and belongings (real or assumed), whether this construction emanates from a judicial institution (see Carinos’s study on the subpoenaing of two rappers) or a cultural institution (see Mayenga’s contribution on the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée’s “Images de la diversité” committee’s funding).

35The use of qualitative methodologies appears to be one of the primary levers for addressing the difficulties posed by taking into account intersectional dynamics in the production of symbolic goods. Comprehensive methods, such as interviews and direct observation, allow researchers to study the trajectories of artists based on their lived experiences, personal histories, and discourses. This overcomes the absence of quantitative data on the artists’ racial belongings and makes it possible to analyse their career developments over the long term.

36Hammou’s contribution, for example, is based on in-depth biographical interviews conducted with 17 women who had been performing as rappers since the 1990s. In particular, he highlights the role of advancing age in the evolution of these musicians’ careers, especially in relation to other social categories. While half of the female rappers reported that gender belonging was one of the reasons for their engagement in rap, Hammou notes that the longer their career had lasted, the more significant gender appeared to be in the way they thematized their musical commitment. By interlinking these female rappers’ multiple social belongings, Hammou demonstrates, in a new way, how rap is a means of collective affirmation and of politicizing injustices. Through an analysis of his respondents’ (mainly upward) social mobility, he confirms that this musical genre plays a social role as a “matrix for generational politicization.”

37Based on direct observations of the court trials of two rappers, Jo le Phéno and Nick Conrad, Carinos reveals how the judicial system symbolically constructed and deconstructed the rap artists’ careers by assigning them a number of social roles, responsibilities, and representations, which to a large extent stemmed from the imagined or real social properties of the individuals in question. In a context where rap is continually legally penalized in France, Carinos highlights how these artists are reassigned to assumed social positions, while their real social positions allow them—or do not allow them—to negotiate these assignments. Direct observation is presented here as an analytical tool that provides an understanding, in their institutional expression, of the whole set of social determinations governing the recognition or non-recognition of French-speaking rap artists.

38Quantitative methods can also be mobilized to support an intersectional approach to the production of symbolic goods. Mayenga thus makes a breakthrough in the analysis of the relations of domination that permeate the cinematographic field through her use of quantitative data. She collected the data from the corpus of films that had received funding from the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée’s “Images de la diversité” committee. Identifying and then analysing the ideal-typical narratives approved by the committee members, she reveals not only how the perception of diversity was handled differently depending on the public actors in question but also how it reflected a production space driven by an imaginary that was still underpinned by social and geographical gaps. In addition to shedding welcome light on the workings and—sometimes competing—issues of a public mechanism that is designed to “open up” the space of French film production to “diversity,” Mayenga proposes an original mixed qualitative (interviews, observations) and quantitative methodology, which establishes diversity indicators on the basis not of the artists’ social properties but of the properties (screenwriting, thematic, aesthetic) of the symbolic goods produced by the field in question.

39As an extension of these three scientific articles, this issue includes an interview with documentary filmmaker Keira Maameri, conducted by Chloé Delaporte and Evélia Mayenga, which offers an artistic viewpoint on the relations of class, sex, and race that run through the production of symbolic goods space. Interlinking the logics of domination that the director tackles in her four films with those that have manifested in the situations of discrimination that she herself has encountered during her professional career, the interview opens up avenues for reflection on the artistic formulation of domination. The issue ends with a book review by Viviane Albenga, which critically compares and contrasts Angela Davis’s Blues Legacies and Black Feminism (1998) and Keivan Djavadzadeh’s Hot, cool and vicious. Genre, race et sexualité dans le rap états-unien (2021). While Davis adopts a rather Marxian theoretical framework in her attempt to rehabilitate the historical role of the blueswomen of the period from the 1920s to the 1950s in the development of an African-American feminist consciousness, Djavadzadeh mobilizes a more academically intersectional perspective in his analysis of the texts, discourses, and mediatizations of female rappers in France in the 2010s. Albenga’s combined interpretation of these two works repositions intersectionality in a political genealogy by relating its emergence to situated viewpoints, in this case of the blueswomen and the female rappers.

40The articles, the interview, and the book review proposed in this special issue thus allow us to concretely examine the way in which the social relations of sex, class, and race converge and are reconfigured. The challenge of intersectionality is not just to identify the interlinking of the relations of domination but to examine the specific effects and consequences of these interconnections. Crenshaw showed in real terms—through her study of the oppression of black women workers in the labour market as women, as workers, and as black people—that the specificity of each situation is only visible if the intersectional relations of domination are taken into account (1989). Subsequent studies have proposed to examine the intersection of the relations of dominations from a more dynamic perspective to limit the risk of crystallizing the categories of analysis as ostensibly immutable social positions (Dorlin 2005: 92) or confusing the scale of social relationships (between unequal individuals) with social relations (between groups with divergent interests) (Kergoat 2009: 114).

41Intersectional analyses therefore do more than just look at the interconnection of the relations of domination. They examine their effects and reciprocal influences, and they take into account the historical construction of social relations by reconstructing the way in which different struggles have interlinked over time. With a view to advancing this reflection, this special issue proposes a practical application of these very rich analytical tools. We hope that the complexity they afford will contribute to a detailed understanding of the construction of inequalities in the world of art and culture as in other social spaces.

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1 Following worldwide protests in support of George Floyd’s family, President Emmanuel Macron said: “Le monde universitaire a été coupable” [the academic world is guilty]. A few days after teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by an Islamist, allegedly in response to social media claims he had shown his students Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the prophet Muhammed, France’s education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said: “Ce qu’on appelle l’islamo-gauchisme fait des ravages à l’université” [this so-called Islamo-leftism is wreaking havoc in our universities].

2 We refer here to the conference entitled “Après la deconstruction : reconstruire les sciences et la culture” [After the deconstruction: reconstructing the sciences and culture], organized in January 2022 under the aegis of the Observatoire du Décolonialisme with the opening keynote address delivered by Blanquer.

3 These attempts to discredit intersectional approaches were initiated in the context of the vote on the Loi de programmation de la recherche (a law promulgated in December 2020 that provided for increased financial resources to be made available for French research but seriously called into question the working conditions and scientific autonomy of researchers in France). They reveal not only the brutalization of the public debate and the deployment of an anti-intellectualism advocated by government authorities but also the concept’s value in terms of analysing social processes and deconstructing the logics of domination.

4 “If women were thought to have priority over black people, then all women were white and all black people were men” (Dorlin 2005: 86). Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from French sources have been translated into English.

5 The difference between the two terms is discussed here by Sarah Mazouz.

6 The actress Aïssa Maïga springs to mind as one example. She counted the non-whites in the audience at the 45th César national film awards in 2020: ‘Think About Inclusion’: French Actress Aïssa Maïga Calls Out France’s Film Industry for Stereotypical Parts, Goes Viral.

7 This two-day conference provided an opportunity to address this question from a number of different angles, including the production and reception of symbolic goods and the representations they convey. It thus uncovered a whole set of intersectional dynamics from across all the different worlds of art and culture.

8 And in particular by Anne Bessette, Clément Combes, Florencia Dansilio, Chloé Delaporte, Artemisa Flores Espínola, Marjorie Glas, Camille Gourdeau, Emmanuelle Guittet, Kaoutar Harchi, Élodie Hommel, Louis Jesu, Kévin Le Bruchec, Alexandre Robert, Marie Sonnette and Cécile Talbot, who made up both the organizing committee and the scientific committee. Viviane Albenga, Claire Cossé, Keivan Djavadzadeh, Jules Falquet, Nacira Guénif-Souilamas and Abdellali Hajat were also members of the scientific committee. We would like to warmly thank all these colleagues, as well as the conference participants, for the discussions we had together. They have provided the inspiration for this issue.

9 Like many journals that mobilized against the Loi de Programmation Pluriannuelle de la Recherche in 2019 and 2020 (within the context of a wider social movement against the law on pensions) and that united in the “Revues en lutte” collective, we put our scientific management activity on hold for several months. The aim of this strike was to raise awareness of the need for higher education and research to be a public service, for sustainable funding for our work, and for a recruitment plan that meets the needs of our universities and research units. Some of the scientific contributions in this issue are from researchers on precarious contracts. Their work is threatened in both the long and short term by a significant shortage of permanent positions at universities and scientific institutions.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1
Crédits © Laure Devenelle, “Imbrications”, paper cuts illustration, 21 x 29,7 cm, 2022.
Fichier image/jpeg, 248k
Titre Fig. 2
Légende Poster of the 3rd conference organized by RT14 (Sociologie des arts et de la culture) in collaboration with RT24 (Genre, classe, race. Rapports sociaux et construction de l’altérité), “Penser l’articulation des rapports sociaux de sexe, de classe et de race en sociologie des arts et de la culture”, held in Paris in November 2018 (artwork based on a work by Julie Mehretu)
Fichier image/jpeg, 251k
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Chloé Delaporte, Artemisa Flores Espínola, Emmanuelle Guittet, Kaoutar Harchi, Marie Sonnette-Manouguian et Cécile Talbot, « For an Intersectional Approach in the Sociology of Art and Culture »Biens Symboliques / Symbolic Goods [En ligne], 10 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2022, consulté le 28 septembre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Chloé Delaporte

Maîtresse de conférences HDR en socioéconomie du cinéma et de l’audiovisuel, RIRRA 21, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3

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Artemisa Flores Espínola

Maîtresse de conférences en sociologie, LIRTES, Université Paris-Est Créteil (UPEC), INSPE de Créteil

Emmanuelle Guittet

Maîtresse de conférences en sociologie, CERLIS, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle

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Kaoutar Harchi

Docteure en sociologie, CERLIS, écrivaine

Marie Sonnette-Manouguian

Maîtresse de conférences en sociologie, ESO, Université d’Angers

Cécile Talbot

Doctorante en science politique, CERAPS, Université de Lille

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