The term matrix of domination is associated with the feminist thought of Patricia Hill Collins, who came to prominence in the academic movement that arose from women’s activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Her project locates lived experiences of oppression within the social contexts that produce those experiences. Collins’s term refers to the particular configurations of oppression and resistance (along varied lines of socially constructed difference) that shape life in specific communities and historical moments.
Collins indicates that her scholarship grew out of resistance to her experiences as a young African American student and then teacher, when she confronted a racist curriculum and schools that seemed to have no room for young people like her. Drawing from diverse texts produced by black women, she brought forward a body of subjugated knowledge in an influential article, ”Learning from the Outsider Within” (1986), and then a book titled Black Feminist Thought (1991; revd. 2000). She emphasized the distinctiveness of black feminist thought in relation to undifferentiated feminist and race based analyses, and she became a leader in the academic movement that began to challenge unitary gender or race analyses that did not account for the cross cutting dynamics of these systems of oppression. Collins argued that these structures of inequality intersect, in any specific historical and community context,
in a matrix of domination that produces distinctive experiences of oppression and resistance. That idea has been taken up and extended, by Collins and others, under the rubrics of “intersectionality” (Collins 1998) and ”race, class, and gender” (a phrase sometimes used as a shorthand meant to include other dimensions of difference related to sexuality, ability, etc.).
Collins (2000) locates a standpoint associated with the lived experiences and community lives of African American women. She deploys the idea of a matrix of domination as a heuristic device intended to stand for the various practices that constitute the particular pattern of domination and resistance that shapes these lives. Given a particular matrix, exploring the ”standpoint” of this subjugated group allows her to sketch out their knowledge: a community based ”wisdom” that includes, for example, practices of resistance to dominant body ideals, and of ”other mothering” or community care for African American children. While the first edition of the book emphasizes race, class, and gender, Collins’s (2000) revision incorporates into her conceptualization of the matrix the dimensions of sexual orientation and nation, drawing from emergent social justice movements and scholarship focused on sexuality, citizenship, and transnationalism (see Collins 2004).
- Collins, P. H. (1986) Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought. Social Problems 33: S14 32.
- Collins, P. H. (1998) Fighting Words: Black Women and the Search for Justice. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
- Collins, P. H. (2000 ) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge, New York.
- Collins, P. H. (2004) Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. Routledge, New York.
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