[(essay date 2011) In the following essay, Facio and Segura discuss the ways in which Anzaldúa’s theories apply to sociological practice and activism. In particular, Facio and Segura focus on “borderlands community praxis,” in which activism is defined as a process “to change the nature and distribution of power in a particular cultural context,” and emphasize the importance of what Anzaldúa termed “spiritual activism” in this context.]
In this essay we discuss the ways that Gloria Anzaldúa’s conceptualization of “borderlands” expanded our sociological imaginations. Trained as qualitative sociologists, we were well versed in feminist methods that emphasized women’s voices and experiences as critical analytical starting points. For us, Anzaldúa’s writings offered a new language that liberated the “ser” from the “estar”—that “to be” is formed by the politics of place and space in the borderlands. Liberated methodologically and linguistically, more and more Chicana activist scholars in sociology are moving beyond research about Chicanas to a Chicana feminist sociology dedicated to social change. We examine key theoretical and applied developments in Chicana feminist sociology, including a borderlands community praxis. We argue that a borderlands community praxis that draws theoretical nurturance from Anzaldúa empowers Chicana/o communities. As examples, we discuss two borderlands projects, one in health care, the other in education. We conclude with some thoughts about the ongoing development of Chicana feminist sociology.
Gloria Anzaldúa states, “The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture. Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them” (Borderlands/La Frontera 25). Anzaldúa’s borderlands inhabit physical and spiritual spaces that center on the movement of people, products, and ideas across the United States and Mexico. The borderlands are not confined to geographical spaces but refer to spaces where two or more cultures “edge” each other. These meetings are active and vibrant where social subjects negotiate for position, legitimacy, and place. In the borderlands, “difference” becomes meaningful even as “sameness” is questioned. Marginality is revealed as a social reality marked by moments of transgression from the dominant culture as well as assertions of a unique and valuable “otherness”—or “in-between” subject positions. Understanding otherness as a site of resistance and empowerment is a core concept within a Chicana feminist sociology situated in the borderlands.
Segura and Zavella’s recent review of key theoretical and methodological characterization of borderlands in the social sciences found a strong emphasis on transnational social formations, in particular economic, political, or sociocultural activities by individual and collective actors that cross national borders, thereby “deterritorializing” politically drawn international boundaries. Increasingly, researchers who use this approach conduct field research in both “sending” and “receiving” communities, thereby revealing specifics of how deterritorialized processes unfold at micro and macro levels.
Segura and Zavella argue that a second approach to borderlands, centered in cultural studies, “emphasize[s] the ways in which identity...