This article explores how those who do not share their marginalized identities with their surrounding people (e.g., family members) and thus community resources relating to these identities, initiate and experience political development. The concept of intersectionality is used as an analytical tool to examine how one's political development is mediated via one's intersecting identities, communities, and experience of social in/justices. Life story interviews were conducted with disabled activists to explore this question. The stories reveal how these activists, who had initially resisted identifying as disabled for various reasons, eventually used the politicizing experiences from nondisability identities and communities to reframe and reclaim their disability status. By tracing the political developments of disabled people, this article places importance on understanding the process in a holistic way and on developing activist communities and movements that acknowledge intersecting identities and in/justices.

[Political development] is almost like concentric circles. It starts out here [with political development in regard to] U.S. foreign policy. It got a little bit closer [to its core] by looking at broader feminist issues. Closer by working with immigrants.… It's like the circles were getting closer and closer [to its core].… There is a coming out process that happened with disability in the same way that there is a coming out process with queerness. (Claudia, 1 Participant)

How do some disabled people come to see their disability identity as a source of pride and community building, while some continue to reject their disability status as an identity but claim it as a health-related condition? This question grew increasingly within me as I worked in various disability rights and justice movements with proud disabled activists, while I also randomly encountered youths who rejected disability identity although they experienced disabling conditions. The process of political development, especially that of minority people, has been theorized by many thinkers from diverse perspectives and time periods (Balcazar, Keys, & Bertram, 1996; Du Bois, 1903; Freire, 1970; Moane, 2010; Reicher, 2004; Shakespeare, 1996). Some situate the acquisition of a critical consciousness at the heart of political development. They describe such development as entailing the learning and gaining of knowledge to (1) critically analyze the status quo and its socially unjust nature, and (2) understand and imagine society from radically alternative viewpoints directed toward liberation (e.g., Freire, 1970; Reicher, 2004). 2

Some understand political development within a framework of collective identity development. They describe political development as a process of becoming a member of a specific community: a community based on shared identity (Cross, 1991; Simon & Grabow, 2010; Stewart & Zucker, 1999; Watts, Williams, & Jagers, 2003). Watts, Griffith, and Abdul-Adil (1999), for example, theorize how racial socialization processes with family members and neighbors play a particularly important role in the way Black youths form their attitudes about the meaning of race (see also Hughes & Chen, 1999). Similarly, Stewart and Zucker (1999) as well as Ayala (2006) explain how women become politicized through their socialization with other women—such as their mothers and grandmothers—who hold feminist views. Communities teach their children how to critically analyze the social categories assigned to them, reconstructing and reclaiming these categories as community identities. In terms of collective identity development, politicization is more than a simple political strategy or cognitive shift. It is a complex process of receiving and passing along communal knowledge, culture, history, and struggles in the search for liberation and emotional bonding.

However, not all people share their marginalized identities with their families and neighbors (Solomon, 2012). Not all individuals have access to venues and opportunities through which to receive shared histories, advocacy, and culture (e.g., queer youths, Robertson, 2013). Social stigma teaches people to avoid identifying with marginalized categories and to stay away from others who also occupy these categories (e.g., Goffman, 1963). With respect to disability identity, Davis (1995) and McRuer (2006), among others, explain how society continues to compulsively construct and require that its members fit into an idea of normalcy. Consequently, disabled bodyminds 3 are formulated as deviant, and the discrimination directed toward disabled people—ableism and saneism—is justified (e.g., Wolframe, 2013). Many disabled people, in reality, tend to be isolated from one another due to stigma and inaccessible environments (Linton, 1998). This lack of identification and material resources means that even when disabled people are brought together and segregated from nondisabled society under institutionalization, they are often under the surveillance of nondisabled authorities rather than included in a multigenerational diverse community (Martin, 2006; Reeve, 2002). Within this context, Shakespeare (1996) has theorized disabled people's political development as a process of applying the social model of disability and rejecting the medical model. Like the development of critical consciousness, Shakespeare's theorization of political development is imagined through a framework of a cognitive shift involving critical analysis of the mainstream understanding of disability (the medical model) and its replacement with the social constructionist understanding of disability (the social model), which was developed and is valued within the disability community. Linton (1998) echoes Shakespeare's theory by amplifying the role communities play, as she characterizes disabled people's political development (or what she calls coming out) as a rejection of the urge to fit into social norms while discovering the reality of a disability community and allies. While these theories of political development for disabled people address what such development entails, I still wonder how disabled people come to embrace the social model of disability and their communities in their everyday lives.

In addition, whether critical consciousness and collective identity development or disabled people's shift from the medical to the social model, these existing theories focus exclusively on a single identity and rarely take into consideration the multiple identities that interactively shape people and our everyday experiences. What kind of political development theory is enabled when an intersectional framework is taken into consideration? Developed by feminists of color (e.g., Crenshaw, 1993; Lorde, 1984; Smith 1998), the concept of intersectionality is a way of understanding "the relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relationships and subject formations" (McCall, 2005, p. 1711). This intersectional framework enables the acknowledgment of our multiple identities as well as the ways in which various social injustices are intertwined and interactively affect our daily lives. Thus, such a framework illuminates diversity within a community. How can the concept of intersectionality enrich and expand the existing political development theory—in particular the political development of disabled people? As demands to recognize diversity within disability communities grow and disability activism expands (e.g., the development of disability justice activism), scholarship that addresses disabled people's identities and life experiences in more holistic and complex ways is in order. To reflect the framework of intersectionality and demands from communities, life story interviews were conducted with disability activists from a wide range of backgrounds, and the concept of intersectionality was used as an analytical framework to read the interviews and understand participants' political development. Questions explored in this articles include the following: (1) How do disabled people—who often do not share their marginalized disability identity with their family members and other surrounding people—initiate and proceed with their political development? In particular, (2) how is political development experienced by disabled people who occupy multiple marginalized identities? Combining the concept of critical consciousness and theories of collective identity development, for the purposes of this article I conceptualize political development as a process of learning and embodying a critical framework that questions and resists the status quo that defines and categorizes (in particular, minority) people and embraces, instead, alternative and more community-centered understandings of who they are and how they are situated within the larger society. What follows is a reading of disability activists' life stories, which asserts the diversity within a process of political development—that is, critical consciousness gained through socialization with family and other community members who share a marginalized identity is not the only path. In real life, where we embody multiple identities, political development continues across all of our identities. I end this article by contemplating the implications of this study not only for political development theories but also for community building and activist work.

Life Stories of Disability Activists

Life stories of disability activists give color to often colorless political development theories; stories provide detailed lived accounts of the ways in which political development unfolds in everyday life. Following the guidelines developed by Josselson, Lieblich, and McAdams (2003), life story interviews were conducted with seven participants 4 who identify and are recognized as disability rights and/or disability justice activists within and beyond disability communities. These participants came from different backgrounds in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, age, education, and family immigration status. They were all born and raised for the majority, if not all, of their lives in the U.S.; and they were all born with physical disabilities. 5 Each life story interview took place after the purpose and procedure of the interview and participant rights were explained to the participant and after they had signed the consent form. The interview started with questions such as the following: "What kind of activist work are you engaging in currently?" and "How did you become the activist you are today?" Each interview lasted at least one hour and took place in a closed space of the participant's choice. Afterward, the recorded interviews were transcribed and analyzed using thematic coding based on the research questions I stated earlier (Braun & Clarke, 2006). 6 Below, these life stories are situated as expert testimonies that depict some aspects of diverse disability communities, the ways in which disabled people are treated in the larger society, and how they negotiate their daily experiences of ableism. For the purpose of clarity, the process of political development is laid out below step by step under the subsections that emerged from all the stories. It was pointed out, however, by all the participants that the process of political development is continuous and much messier than it appears below.

Early Rejection of Disability as a Personal Identity

I resented that I was disabled. I resented that I couldn't do many of the things other people in my life were able to do. Or I thought I couldn't do, because … I was brought up with the idea that there are certain things you can't really do, so don't even try 'em. And another way, I wanted to do certain things and my family really wouldn't allow that. Like "You can't do that!" (Leticia)

Leticia is a young straight Latina woman who works at a local disability resource center. 7 Her passion is particularly focused on disability awareness within Latino communities. Throughout the interview, she shared her pride in the Latino community that she described as having members who are very appreciative of each other and take care of one another. Simultaneously, though, she is insightful about how disability stigma plays out in her community. The above quote shows how stigma influences her and her family's understandings of disability and capacity as well as Leticia's resentment surrounding her disability. Leticia's story is not unique; other activists interviewed resisted or were discouraged from identifying as disabled early on in their lives. Reasons for this resistance vary. The surrounding ableism prevented some from this kind of identification, especially when the medical model was the only understanding of disability acknowledged at the time. Leticia's quote above represents the message of disability as a deficit and incapability.

Some participants learned ableist messages from the media, as described by Claudia: "I watched TV a great deal as a kid [due to the inaccessible house which made it difficult for me to freely leave] and I felt like that I'm completely a freak. I absolutely hated my body…. It was a hell." Others were pressured to "overcome" their disabilities, framing disability as an obstacle and not an identity. Emma's mother insisted that she learn how to walk straight: "[My mother] had this notion that if I really work at improving my walking, no one will notice that I have a disability." This disavowal of disability as an identity and a source of community was also accelerated as these activists had a hard time locating and connecting with other disabled people or communities that explained disability as anything other than a bio-medical problem. When they did find a community of disabled people, though, most of these activists explained that these communities were largely represented by White heterosexual men with mobility impairments. Such representation reflected the community's agenda, while interrelated social issues (e.g., racism, xenophobia, and heterosexism) were often overshadowed by its exclusive focus on ableist issues. As a result, some participants had a hard time relating to or finding role models within a disability community.

It's not like I've never affiliated with disability movements. However, those people had such a narrow political analysis and centralized disability without looking at other forms of oppression. Also, everyone there was White. I'm very much developing my political identity around race, gender, queerness, and struggling to see what it means to be disabled in the context…. I didn't feel like it was home for me, the disability movements and community. (Claudia)

It is crucial to be aware, therefore, that participants' disassociation with disability as an identity was due not only to widespread ableism but also to the fact that there was no local disability community for some, and others did not feel the local disability community offered them a home.

Witnessing and Experiencing Injustice and Its Effects

One day I was sitting in front of [a local disability resource center], and saw two disabled men enter the center. One was Black and the other was White. Shortly after, the Black man left the center, though the White man stayed in and was getting all the information.… Racism is everywhere. (Jimmy)

Jimmy is a middle-aged Black straight man who works as a grassroots activist and artist. Jimmy, unlike other interviewees in this project, was born and raised by a strong activist family. Growing up with a critical consciousness on racial justice, Jimmy was deeply aware of incidents where racism and ableism collided both in his communities and in the larger society, as in the example quoted above. Growing up in this society, activists involved in this research told me about how they witnessed and experienced injustices across mediums and spaces: some injustices were disability related, others were not. Some happened to them personally and some happened to people they knew. Some injustices happened inside their homes, others happened outside. Several participants, for example, witnessed racial discrimination experienced by their parents outside of the home, while their mothers experienced sexism at the hands of their fathers inside the home. Jimmy's quote illustrates his witnessing injustice in his observation of a Black disabled man not being treated equally to a White disabled man at a local disability resource center. Leticia's experience of injustice related to her desire to attend higher education being discouraged by her parent due to her gender and disability: "[What it means to be a disabled woman is when I told my desire to go to a university,] my dad questioned me, 'Why?' [I went] 'Because I wanna get a degree.' And dad went 'Why do I need to pay for you [to get the degree]?"

Apart from their accounts of witnessing and experiencing these injustices, participants also expressed the long-lasting effects of such witnessed and experienced injustice. Effects are tied not only to specific emotions but also to specific questions, to resistance and the desire to validate one's self-worth, and to a yearning for others to share one's experiences and stories. Effects are nuanced and complex reactions and responses to unjust experiences, and below I untangle such effects. Some emotions are specific to a particular event, whereas others are related to rather abstract and vague "unfairness" these activists had experienced and witnessed. Many, for example, expressed how they were disturbed and angered by an act of injustice. As a child, Tom (who is a White man) had a strong reaction after he saw a film about injustice aimed at indigenous people: "I strongly felt that the way [indigenous people] are treated is wrong. I was very disturbed by that, very sad at first, then very angry." As part of the experience of injustice, questions and the process of questioning are fundamental as well. Jimmy told me that he continually asked himself and others, "Why am I the only Black person in the summer camp for disabled kids?… And why am I the only disabled [person] in my neighborhood?" Related to this theme of questioning, the experience of ableism made some of them feel the need for resistance and self-validation, as ableism is deeply about devaluing and pathologization of disabled people (e.g., Siebers, 2008). Claudia stated that resistance was one of only two choices: "In order to survive having so many oppressive messages kind of written and scribed across our bodies, we either have to kind of cannibalize ourselves, eat and hate ourselves, or we have to resist." Yearning occupies a large part of experiencing injustices as well. It ranges from the yearning to share experiences, emotions, questions, or politics in a safe manner, to the desire for a role model. As the activists who participated this study found many disability communities were occupied and represented by rather homogeneous populations and that the community agendas reflected such homogeneity, many felt it was difficult to share all dimensions of themselves, resulting in more longing and desire. Jimmy expressed, "I was hungry to have other Black people with disabilities." These effects—emotions, questions, resistance and self-validation, and yearning—followed experiences of injustice and underlay the process of political development for participants. During the process, these effects often kept pushing these activists to engage in questioning authorities and their ideologies as well as to find people to whom they could relate. The effects were like an engine that kept moving them forward through this political development.

A Political Development with Nondisability-Related Identities and Communities

There is no way that I would come out as a disabled person if I wasn't queer and feminist identified [first]…. I had these activist frameworks [from queer and feminist activism] already in place that helped me to start thinking about [disability]. (Sam, emphasis in original)

Sam is a young White queer scholar, activist, and artist who is part of many activist communities. As much as she shared her frustration during the interview concerning the lack of intersectional perspectives in multiple communities (e.g., how feminist communities do not actively engage in issues of ableism and heterosexism), conversations with her revealed how her involvement in multiple activist communities enabled her to gain a complex analysis of social in/justices as well as a multilayered critical consciousness.

As discussed earlier, many factors prevented each activist from identifying as a disabled person or with a disability community; nonetheless, each one eventually came to reclaim their disability identity. Although the process of political development varies, all the activists I interviewed became politicized through nondisability-related identities and communities first. Queer and feminist communities gave Sam the opportunity to explore more community-centered and critical ways of understanding who she was, as well as how the community was situated in relation to the larger society. For others, race-based community or communities of immigrant rights activists initially welcomed and supported their political development by providing critical and often community-centered frameworks with which to reexamine the status quo and reclaim who they were in relation to the larger society. Introductions to such frameworks happened at times by accident and, at other times, through participants' active search for community belonging. For Claudia, it was serendipitous that she joined the anti-apartheid movement on her university's campus, where she learned a framework of social in/justice that provided her with a way to describe the "unfair" experiences she had experienced and witnessed throughout her life. For Emma, her coworker took her to a gathering of feminists:

I had a lot in common with all the women in the group [though none of them have apparent disability].… It made me feel more like a woman…. I never felt like a real woman, because I seemed so different…. That was a sort of experience where I felt like belonging to some group, and I realized that I do have the gender. I am a woman! I have the same impression, the same experiences as theirs. (Emma)

Emma is a straight Jewish artist in her 60s. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Emma was surrounded by civil rights and feminist movements that finally brought her, an academically motivated student, outside of the library. While the disability rights movement was in its nascent stage, the feminist community embraced her, gave her a sense of belonging, and offered the feminist framework through which she reclaimed her gender identity. Through nondisability-related paths, these activists came to gain tools or frameworks with which to question and resist the dominant ideology, and to widen the sense of who they were and how they and their communities were positioned in the larger society.

Applying the Critical Framework to Disability Status

As I grew to understand more and learn more [about social in/justice], I wanted to know more. I didn't see one work from disability scholars in those days [when I was younger]. So I was looking at other social justice advocates and other thinkers, and applied it to disability…. I didn't know how to be an activist in terms of disability. I tried to work that out myself. (Tom)

Tom is a White middle-aged man who identifies as bisexual and works as a grassroots organizer. Having grown up in a rural area, Tom told me that there were no resources for understanding his disability other than the charity and medical models. It was when he took courses on race and feminism in university that he started gaining a critical framework with which to understand social in/justices and eventually his disability identity and community.

After these activists learned and gained the critical and community-centered framework through which to understand their nondisability identities and standpoints in relation to the larger society, they started to apply the framework to understanding their disability status. For example, Claudia described the process as concentric circles as quoted at the opening of this article. To bring it back in summarized manner: "[Politicization] is almost like concentric circles…. There is a coming out process that happened with disability in the same way that there is a coming out process with queerness." Claudia is a queer and multiracial grassroots organizer. She has been active in multiple activist communities that have taught her different and critical frameworks through which to examine societal heterosexism, sexism, racism, and more. These experiences enabled her to view her disability in a different light. Also, one of the most significant elements for her political development was meeting the right person with whom she could share her rich politics and lived experiences as well as the journey through the political development process. As described earlier, some activists I interviewed shared their yearning from when they were younger to have friends and role models with whom they could relate and safely discuss their everyday encounters with ableism and other social injustices. In a way, such yearning manifested in their political development, as the process was simultaneously mediated and explored while the participants encountered and built different kinds of relationships with other disabled people. Within these new relationships, these activists shared their experiences, ideologies, and feelings in a more authentic manner and nurtured their critical frameworks. For some, coming to re-imagine their disability and disability status was deeply intertwined with a process of embracing other disabled people.

I think [name of her friend] was the first time I've ever engaged in the politics of disability. It was an incredibly important relationship for me to develop at that moment of my life. Because he was another radical disabled person of color. Before him, everybody else that I'd known that had radical politics was basically able-bodied. And the people with disabilities I knew were all snobby White people that had no politics. (Claudia)

Like Claudia, many of these activists went through their political development processes collectively as well as individually. If they learned the critical and community-centered framework from books, this information was shared and compared with others with disabilities, for example. For some, connecting with other disabled people came later in life, while for others, it came earlier, depending on where they lived and what disability-related resources were accessible to them.


The stories shared above illustrate how political development is a continual process: different identities can become politicized at different times and through different means. Through nondisability identities, these activists learned and embodied critical frameworks that allowed them to question and resist the status quo that defines and categorizes who they are from mainstream social perspectives. Also, such frameworks enabled them to embrace an alternative and community-centered understanding of themselves and thus to reclaim their identities and reexamine their standpoints (i.e., how they are situated within the larger society). In this discussion section, I explore the implications of this study by looking into its contributions to existing political development theories and by contemplating its practical applications to community organizing and activist work. I bring together these discussions by centering the concept of intersectionality. Claudia's use of concentric circles as a metaphor for her political development (shared in the opening quote) is a visual way to understand political development through the lens of intersectionality.

Growing up in an era before the Americans with Disabilities Act, these disabled activists did not have the relative wealth of resources with which to reexamine their disability status that Black youths of certain geographical locations (Cross, 1991) or women in general (Stewart & Zucker, 1999) are reported to have had in relation to the mobilization of political and critical frameworks relating to their race and gender identities and standpoints. Nonetheless, the wealth of resources in relation to racial, gender, and other rights and justice work was available to these disabled people through different means. As a result, they went through their political development first through their nondisability-related identities. Then, they applied these critical frameworks to their disability identities. Such application and transferring of critical frameworks highlights the intersectional nature of individual identities. Though the majority of existing studies and theories of political development often include theorization based on a single identity and its related community, in reality political development continues and is enriched as an individual further explores and applies the critical framework to other parts of their identity. Indeed, such an exploration and application are evidence that the framework is fully embodied by them, as they are in charge of the framework. In addition, in the context of disability identity, the expansion and application of a critical framework entails an extra significance. Such transferring of the framework shows the ways in which disability identity is juxtaposed with other socially constructed categories and identities and is understood as one of them, instead of being seen as a separate medical matter. Shakespeare (1996) explains that the political development of disabled people entails the replacement of a medical understanding with a socially constructed understanding of disability. While not mentioned explicitly during the interviews, an application of the political development framework of other identities to disability identity pre-requires and enables the person to recognize their disability as an identity—not exclusively as a medical condition.

In addition to the ways in which the concept of intersectionality expands the studies of political development, below I reflect on this study's contributions to rethinking ways that the concept of intersectionality has been developed and used. Originally, this concept was introduced to provide insights into living under multiple oppressions (e.g., the intersection of racism, sexism, and heterosexism) and the importance of recognizing the intersecting, multiple identities individuals embody. As Lorde (1984), Smith (1998), and others have described, multiple social injustices interactively shape people's day-to-day experiences, and living under multiple injustices can be a personal burden. Nonetheless, narratives and concerns reflecting such realities tend to be recognized last or tokenized whether in the feminist circle or larger society. Development of the concept of intersectionality allowed people to articulate such realities and foreground the previously silenced experiences of many. As much as it is crucial to highlight the ways in which various oppressions interact and work together in reality, it is also important to discuss intersectionality beyond the framework of oppression. As discussed elsewhere (e.g., Young, 2004), one's identity is constructed with a mix of oppressed and privileged identities; the experiences of oppression and privilege are contextual; privilege and oppression are continuous rather than separate categories. These realities frame the following question: How can we emphasize the complexity and strength of marginalized communities rather than boxing them in as simply oppressed? In fact, many activists and scholars of political development and critical consciousness argue that liberation can only be brought about by those who experience social injustices in their everyday lives (e.g., Freire, 1970; Martín-Baró, 1994). Likewise, in this study, the activists I interviewed indicated that it was often through marginalized identities and communities that they gained a critical framework and went through their political development. Education from race- and gender-based community and other resources such as books on the topic showed that they could reclaim their race and gender identities, instead of internalizing the racist and sexist message circulating in society. Such strengths and wisdom of communities are amplified with the concept of double-consciousness (Du Bois, 1903) and radical margin (hooks, 2004), as they describe how marginality can be a radical opening by offering those who are marginalized extra and critical perspectives and spaces through which they can critically examine mainstream society and develop their own frameworks to understand who they are and their position in the society. Activists in this study, indeed, embraced those critical frameworks and initiated their own political development with their disability identities. The intersectionality of marginalized identities as well as communities and their accompanying wisdom offered assets in fostering and nurturing participants' critical perspectives and political development.

Finally, though this article mainly focused on the expansion of political development theories through a framework of intersectionality, the findings of this study can be applied to the development of communities and social movements. Traditionally, social movements of activist communities have grown based around a shared single identity or single social issue and pursuit of justice. In Cole's (2008) words, "[community activist] analysis is framed to address the concerns of individuals who, but for one marginalized status, are otherwise privileged" (p. 444). While such single-issue and -identity based community work has had significance in terms of strengthening the community's traditions and uniting its members, it is also critical to engage with and embrace the multiple identities that community members embody. Without this recognition and embracement, there is a risk of silencing these "other" identities. Cole's (2008) distinction between categorical intersectionality and political intersectionality amplifies this point. She explains that categorical intersectionality "attends to the ways that the experience of membership in a category varies qualitatively as a function of other group memberships one holds" (p. 444), whereas political intersectionality describes the "ways that those who occupy multiple subordinate identities, particularly women of color, may find themselves caught between the sometimes conflicting agendas of two political constituencies to which they belong (Crenshaw, 1995), or are overlooked by these movements entirely" (Cole, 2008, p. 444). Some of the activists I interviewed, indeed, expressed how initially they did not feel the disability rights community was their home. They described that because disability rights communities were overtly represented by physically disabled White heterosexual middle-class Americans (with agendas focused exclusively on disability rights), the ways in which ableism interlocks with racism and other systems of oppression were not recognized or discussed. Thus, many also stated that, in their younger years, they felt as though they were falling between communities, as none of the communities they encountered explicitly addressed or embraced their entire identities and accompanying concerns regarding the intersecting social in/justices they faced. They consequently went through their political development one identity at a time. This process of political development can be eased or accelerated if communities or movements recognize and take into consideration intersecting identities and the interactive effects of social injustices. Yuval-Davis (2006) suggests that communities be developed in more transversal (instead of exclusively identity-based) ways so that people can come together through their passion for a shared social cause, with their differences perceived as strengths. The disability justice movement is one such growing movement that addresses and recognizes ableism in relation to other social injustices (e.g., Berne, 2015; Mingus, 2011). Nurturing and prioritizing the leadership of those who have been marginalized in mainstream disability rights activism, disability justice activists value the importance of building cross-community solidarity. Cross-community solidarity allows communities to share resources and knowledge and to embrace community members fully, beyond the single identity around which the community was originally formed. Thus, such collaborations offer an awareness of the ways in which the social injustices their community faces are deeply intertwined with the violence other communities encounter, and this awareness inspires members to fight against such injustices side by side. Therefore, in addition to diversifying political development theories with the concept of intersectionality, it is crucial to make sure that the expansion of this theory is reflected in the real world to facilitate people's political development both individually and collectively.


This study diversifies political development theories by emphasizing the development of people who grew up with family members and other surrounding people who did not necessarily share their minority identities. The concept of intersectionality is key for such diversification. In her article "The Achievement (K)not: Whiteness and Black Underachievement," Pruitt (2004) uses the metaphor of a knot to illustrate social issues. Like a knot, various social issues are interlocked. Pulling one string (one social issue) does not undo the knot but instead tightens it. To undo the knot, one needs to pull different strings together. This analogy, certainly, works for individual life experiences and personhood, too. Different strings interactively construct a person, shaping their life experiences. Therefore, to understand the whole person and their life, we need to see the whole knot in relation to its context, not only as one string. And so it is with political development. By exclusively focusing on one aspect of people's identities (as if one identity could be made separate from others), insights into how various social injustices, oppressions, and privileges interact and are enacted by the function of multiple identities can be lost. It is crucial, then, for political development theories as well as activist community building to also reflect the knot.


  • Ayala, J. (2006). Confianza, Consejos, and Contradiction: Gender and sexuality lessons between Latina adolescent daughters and mothers. In Denner, J., & Guzman, B. L. (Eds.). Latina girls: Voices of adolescent strength in the United States. New York, NY: New York University Press.
  • Balcazar, F. E., Keys, C. B., & Bertram, J. F. (1996). Advocate development in the field of developmental disabilitie: a data-based conceptual model. Mental Retardation, 34, 341-351.
  • Berne, P. (2015, June 10). Disability justice—a working draft. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://sinsinvalid.org/blog/page/4
  • Braun, V., & Clarke, C. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative research in psychology, 3(2), 77-101. http://dx.doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa
  • Cole, E. R. (2008). Coalitions as a Model for Intersectionality: From Practice to Theory. Sex Roles, 59, 443-453. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9419-1
  • Crenshaw, K. (1993). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. In D. K.Weisbert (Ed.), Feminist legal theory: Foundations. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
  • Crenshaw, K. (1995). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. In Crenshaw, K. W. Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas K. (Eds.). Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement. New York, NY: New Press.
  • Cross, W. E. Jr. (1991). Shades of Black: Diversity in African American Identity. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
  • Davis, L. (1995). Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. New York and London: Verso.
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). Souls of Black Folk. Chicago, IL: A. C. McClurg & Co.
  • Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.
  • Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
  • hooks, b. (2004). Choosing the margins as a space of radical openness. In Harding, S. (Ed.). The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Hughes, D. & Chen, L. (1999). Parents race-related messages to children: A developmental perspective. In C. Tamis-Lemonda & L. Balter (eds.), Child Psychology: A handbook of contemporary issues. New York, NY: New York University Press.
  • Josselson, R., Lieblich, A., & McAdams, D. P. (2003). Up close and personal: The teaching and learning of narrative research. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/10486-000
  • Linton, S. (1998). Claiming disability knowledge and identity. New York, NY: New York University Press.
  • Lorde, A. (1984). Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley, CA: The Crossing Press.
  • Martin, R. (2006). A real life — a real community: The empowerment and full participation of people with an intellectual disability in their community. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 31(2), 125-127. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13668250600681511
  • Martín-Baró, I. (1994). Writings for a Liberation Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • McCall, L. (2005). The complexity of intersectionality. Signs, 30(3), 1771-1800. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/426800
  • McRuer, R. (2006). Crip theory: cultural signs of queerness and disability. New York, NY: New York University.
  • Mingus, M. (2011, February 12). Changing the framework: Disability justice. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/changing-the-framework-disability-justice/
  • Moane, G. (2010). Sociopolitical development and political activism: Synergies between feminist and liberation psychology. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34(4), 521-529.
  • Price, M. (2014). The bodymind problem and the possibilities of pain. Hypatia, 30(1), 268-284. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/hypa.12127
  • Pruitt, L. P. (2004). The Achievement (K)Not: Schools on the Couch. Fine, M., Weis, L., Pruitt, L. P., & Burns, A. (Eds.). Off White: Readings in Power, Privilege and Resistance. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Reeve, D. (2002). Negotiating Psycho-emotional Dimensions of Disability and their Influence on Identity Constructions, Disability & Society, 17(5), 493-508. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09687590220148487
  • Reicher, S. (2004). The Context of Social Identity: Domination, Resistance, and Change. Political Psychology, 25(6), 921-945. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2004.00403.x
  • Robertson, A. M. (2014). "How do I know I am gay?": Understanding sexual orientation, identity and behavior among adolescents in an LGBT youth center. Sexuality & Culture, 18, 385-404. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12119-013-9203-4
  • Shakespeare, T. (1996). Disability, Identity and Difference. In Barnes, C. & Mercer, G. (Eds.), Exploring the Divide (pp.94-113). Leeds: The Disability Press.
  • Siebers, T. (2008). Disability Theory. Ann Arber, MI: University of Michigan Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/mpub.309723
  • Simon, B., & Grabow, O. (2010). The politicization of migrants: further evidence that politicized collective identity is a dual identity. Political Psychology, 31(5), 717-738. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2010.00782.x
  • Smith, B. (1998). The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Solomon, A. (2012). Far from the tree: Parents, children and the search for identity. New York, NY: Scribner.
  • Stewart, A. J., & Zucker, A. N. VI (1999). Regrouping Social Identities, Feminist Psychology, 9(3), 296-299. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0959353599009003009
  • Watts, R. J., Griffith, D. M., & Abdul-Adil, J. (1999). Sociopolitical Development as an Antidote for Oppression — Theory and Action. American Journal of Community Psychology, 27(2), 255-271. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1022839818873
  • Watts, R. J., Williams, N. C., & Jagers, R. J. (2003). Sociopolitical Development. American Journal of Community Psychology, 31(1-2), 185-194 http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1023091024140
  • Wolframe, P. M. (2013). The madwoman in the academy, or, revealing the invisible straightjacket: Theorizing and teaching saneism and sane privilege. Disability Studies Quarterly, 33(1). Retrieved from http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/3425/3200 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v33i1.3425
  • Young, I. (2004). Five faces of oppression. In Heldke, L., & O'Connor, P. (Eds.), Oppression, Privilege, & Resistance. Boston, MA: McGrow Hill.
  • Yuval-Davis, N. (2006). Intersectionality and Feminist Politics. European Journal of Women's Studies, 13(3), 193-209. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1350506806065752


  1. All the names of participants used in this article are pseudonyms.
    Return to Text
  2. Many thanks to professors Michelle Fine and Suzanne C. Ouellette for their constant mentorship; to participants in this study; and to Park McArthur and Nirmala Erevelles for their rigorous English editing and insights. This work has been funded by the Graduate Center, City University of New York and YAI National Institute for People with Disabilities.
    Return to Text
  3. A concept of "bodymind" is used throughout this article in order to emphasize the deeply intertwined nature of body and mind. Please refer to Price (2014), for example, for a further conceptualization of bodymind.
    Return to Text
  4. In this research, only six participants' stories are shared. This is due to the technical issues regarding the interview recording of the seventh participant.
    Return to Text
  5. That only those with physical disabilities are present in this study poses one of its limitations, as the experiences of those with nonphysical disabilities are not included.
    Return to Text
  6. Each story was analyzed individually first. Then, codes and themes from all the stories were juxtaposed to synthesize thesis that occur throughout all the stories.
    Return to Text
  7. Descriptive words used to describe participants are the words used by participants to describe themselves. Their listed occupations and ages are from the time of interviews.
    Return to Text
Return to Top of Page