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This chapter situates the book within existing knowledge of intersectionality, and more specifically within knowledge of intersectionality’s operationalization. The latter is discussed in distinct and yet related fields of practice (public policy, social movements and the NGO sector), as well as key ‘issues in practice’ which are particularly relevant to the study of intersectionality in the NGO sector: representation, and coalition and solidarity. The chapter provides a rationale for the research, one motivation for which is that there is debate about what intersectionality is and means among scholars, suggesting that there is no one agreed meaning among practitioners either. Gaps in knowledge are identified, including intersectionality’s operationalization in the NGO sector, in the UK context, and how practitioners themselves understand intersectionality. Key debates within intersectionality studies are utilized to establish the parameters of how intersectionality is employed as a framework throughout the book.

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This chapter examines a key issue to understanding and using intersectionality: coalition, within which relationship building and solidarity are also considered. This chapter asks, when applying intersectionality together, what do equality networks do, and how? How do competing concepts of intersectionality circulate, and with what effects for intersectional solidarity and intersectional justice? Barriers to coalition and solidarity are discussed, particularly engrained siloed thinking and attitudes; coalitions at work are examined, through analysis of network engagement on local equality strategies; and challenges and conflicts that emerge are analysed, specifically an example of conflicts about trans rights. The chapter shares lessons in terms of how intersectional political solidarity can be built, and the concepts of intersectionality that it requires; and what some of the limits to this are. The chapter argues that while coalition is a core part of intersectional practice, which concept of intersectionality is employed by both coalitions themselves and participants in them determines how successful they are at building relationships of solidarity to further intersectional justice.

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This chapter explores the implications and contributions of the book. Competing concepts of intersectionality serve distinct interests and are thus championed by particular actors; this politics is evident in conflicts about and in the arenas of representation and coalition. The chapter reflects on recommendations arising for policy and practice. While there are few ideal solutions to the problems of intersectionality’s conceptualization and operationalization in siloed policy and practice, from the perspective of thinking through the implications for intersectionally marginalized groups, some compromises and imperfections may be deemed more acceptable than others. Ultimately, the chapter argues that the way that ‘intersectionality’ is mobilized in competing and contradicting ways in policy and practice suggests that, in this context, new, more specific and more transformative concepts are required, and offers some thoughts arising from the research findings on what intersectional practice for intersectional justice might involve.

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This chapter analyses the context in which equality NGOs conceptualize and operationalize intersectionality, namely: (i) equality policy and discourse; (ii) austerity; and (iii) the sector’s relationships to the state. Equality organizations’ work is situated within public discourses arising from UK and Scottish equality policy, and the implications of equality policy for intersectionality are analysed. The chapter introduces equality work and discourse as being distinct to the discourse of social ‘inequality’; analyses intersectionality’s take-up, uses and meanings in equality policy documents; and analyses the external barriers that equality organizations face when seeking to operationalize intersectionality. It is argued that in equality policy, there are a range of definitions of intersectionality which thus leaves it underdetermined. Its deployment is largely individualized; merely descriptive; additive; and superficial. Moreover, meaningful engagement with race as a central category of intersectionality theory is lacking in policy. The meanings and uses of intersectionality in equality policy are both influenced by and influence understandings of intersectionality among NGOs. Finally, equality organizations are significantly hampered in their attempts to operationalize intersectionality by the low status they occupy vis-à-vis the state and by neoliberal austerity contexts.

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Race, class, gender and gender identity, disability status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, migration status and faith remain salient markers of inequality in the UK, and in many ways increasingly so. Yet these inequalities have predominantly been addressed separately. Since little progress has been made by the separate single-issue approach in terms of achieving equality for the most marginalized, there is growing recognition that pursuing social justice requires policymakers and organizations to engage with intersectionality.

This chapter discusses the author’s positionality; outlines the context: UK equality policy, which has been an important driver engendering current policy and NGO sector interest in intersectionality; and describes the equality NGO sector. Then, the chapter provides an overview of the book’s core arguments, explains the research underpinning it and outlines the chapters.

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This is the first book to explore how both practitioners and policymakers understand how to operationalize the Black feminist theory of ‘intersectionality’ – and with what effect. It is also the first to explore how intersectionality has been applied in practice in the UK – an important case study since its internationally unique unification of equality legislation and architecture creates opportunities to consider the interactions of inequalities. Focusing on non-governmental racial justice, feminist, LGBTI, migrants’ and disability rights organizations (NGOs), the book demonstrates that there is not one but five applied meanings given to ‘intersectionality’ in equality organizing and policy. This is an integral insight because some of these advance intersectional justice and are politically transformative, while others in spite of being named as ‘intersectionality’ actually serve to further entrench inequalities. Intersectional practice is about (a) representation (not only who is represented, but also whether and how to represent), and (b) coalition and solidarity, and conflicts around each are driven by these competing concepts of intersectionality; in other words, competing concepts are at the heart of the politics of who does intersectionality, and how. Intersectionality’s operationalization necessitates a focus on common issues and intersectionally marginalized identities, including emergent ones. NGOs can build greater unity through developing shared understandings of intersectionality, and work to balance acting in solidarity while prioritizing the agency of those who are intersectionally marginalized.

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This is the first book to explore how both practitioners and policymakers understand how to operationalize the Black feminist theory of ‘intersectionality’ – and with what effect. It is also the first to explore how intersectionality has been applied in practice in the UK – an important case study since its internationally unique unification of equality legislation and architecture creates opportunities to consider the interactions of inequalities. Focusing on non-governmental racial justice, feminist, LGBTI, migrants’ and disability rights organizations (NGOs), the book demonstrates that there is not one but five applied meanings given to ‘intersectionality’ in equality organizing and policy. This is an integral insight because some of these advance intersectional justice and are politically transformative, while others in spite of being named as ‘intersectionality’ actually serve to further entrench inequalities. Intersectional practice is about (a) representation (not only who is represented, but also whether and how to represent), and (b) coalition and solidarity, and conflicts around each are driven by these competing concepts of intersectionality; in other words, competing concepts are at the heart of the politics of who does intersectionality, and how. Intersectionality’s operationalization necessitates a focus on common issues and intersectionally marginalized identities, including emergent ones. NGOs can build greater unity through developing shared understandings of intersectionality, and work to balance acting in solidarity while prioritizing the agency of those who are intersectionally marginalized.

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This is the first book to explore how both practitioners and policymakers understand how to operationalize the Black feminist theory of ‘intersectionality’ – and with what effect. It is also the first to explore how intersectionality has been applied in practice in the UK – an important case study since its internationally unique unification of equality legislation and architecture creates opportunities to consider the interactions of inequalities. Focusing on non-governmental racial justice, feminist, LGBTI, migrants’ and disability rights organizations (NGOs), the book demonstrates that there is not one but five applied meanings given to ‘intersectionality’ in equality organizing and policy. This is an integral insight because some of these advance intersectional justice and are politically transformative, while others in spite of being named as ‘intersectionality’ actually serve to further entrench inequalities. Intersectional practice is about (a) representation (not only who is represented, but also whether and how to represent), and (b) coalition and solidarity, and conflicts around each are driven by these competing concepts of intersectionality; in other words, competing concepts are at the heart of the politics of who does intersectionality, and how. Intersectionality’s operationalization necessitates a focus on common issues and intersectionally marginalized identities, including emergent ones. NGOs can build greater unity through developing shared understandings of intersectionality, and work to balance acting in solidarity while prioritizing the agency of those who are intersectionally marginalized.

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This chapter outlines a typology of five competing ‘applied concepts’ of intersectionality derived from the data collected. Competing concepts are important because each has different implications for intersectionally marginalized groups and intersectional justice. These concepts are: ‘generic intersectionality’; ‘pan equality intersectionality’; ‘multi-strand intersectionality’; ‘diversity-within’; and finally, ‘intersections of equality strands’. For each of the five concepts, the chapter: explains what it is and provides examples of how it works in practice; analyses who holds the understanding, and what they identify as their sources of knowledge about intersectionality; analyses how the concept gained prominence, including salient differences between England and Scotland; and analyses what the implications of this concept are for intersectionally marginalized groups. The chapter argues that the term ‘intersectionality’ is understood and used in multiple, contradicting ways, some of which are likely to be more effective than others at furthering equality for intersectionally marginalized communities, while others further entrench inequalities, at times in insidious ways.

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Representation, Coalition and Solidarity in UK NGOs

It is increasingly recognized that, to achieve social justice, policies and organizations need to apply an intersectional approach, rather than addressing inequalities separately. However, intersectionality is a challenging theory to apply, as policymakers and practitioners often navigate the confines of divided policy areas.

This book examines the use of intersectionality in UK policy and practice, with a specific focus on NGOs, outlining five distinct interpretations of intersectional practice and their implications.

Drawing from extensive fieldwork with a diverse range of equality organizations, this book offers invaluable insights into how policy and practice can be organized in more (and less) intersectional ways.

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