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“Good” Opportunities, and “Safe” Spaces: Towards a Critical Approach to Intersectional Social Movements?

Gender
Social Justice
Social Movements
Political Sociology
Feminism
Mobilisation
Activism
Serena D'Agostino
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Serena D'Agostino
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Fernando Tormos-Aponte
University of Maryland

Abstract

Social justice movements have undergone a profound transformation over the last decades. Traditional single-strand mobilizations (e.g. women’s and antiracist movements) have been increasingly confronted with ‘new’ intersectional challenges and demands – coming from both outer political actors, as well as from own minority constituencies. Such political and social transformations require a reconsideration of the theoretical and analytical tools conventionally employed in the exploration of collective action, such as political opportunity structures (POS). The emergence of ‘intersectional mobilization’ as a political phenomenon – which entails a multitude of power dynamics, alliances, voices, issues, and sites (from local to national to transnational) – reopens the academic debate on the ‘quality’ of such opportunities and “how intersectionality is and should be deployed” (Bilge 2013) when approaching social movements from a critical perspective. Building on cases of (ethnic) minority activisms in Europe and the USA, this paper provides some theoretical reflections on the implications of intersectionality for POS. In particular, it shows how intersectionality can contribute to making POS ‘still a useful concept’ (Giugni 2011) – thus, advancing a critical turn to the study of contemporary social movements based on the reconceptualization of (intersectional) agency, good opportunities, and safe spaces for mobilization.