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Kyriarchy is a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission. The word itself is a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 to describe her theory of interconnected, interacting, and self-extending systems of domination and submission, in which a single individual might be oppressed in some relationships and privileged in others. It is an intersectional extension of the idea of patriarchy beyond gender. Kyriarchy encompasses sexism, racism, homophobia, economic injustice, and other forms of dominating hierarchies in which the subordination of one person or group to another is internalized and institutionalized.
The term was coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 when she published her book But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation. It is derived from the Greek words κύριος, kyrios, "lord, master" and ἄρχω archō, "to lead, rule, govern". The word "kyriarchy" in Greek (Greek: κυριαρχία, kyriarchia, a valid formation, though it is not found in ancient Greek) can now be used to mean "sovereignty," i.e. the rulership of a sovereign.
Schüssler Fiorenza (2009) describes interdependent "stratifications of gender, race, class, religion, heterosexualism, and age" as structural positions assigned at birth. She suggests that people inhabit several positions, and that positions with privilege become nodal points through which other positions are experienced. For example, in a context where gender is the primary privileged position (e.g., patriarchy), gender becomes the nodal point through which sexuality, race, and class are experienced. In a context where class is the primary privileged position (i.e., classism), gender and race are experienced through class dynamics.
Schüssler Fiorenza writes about the interaction between kyriarchy and critical theories as such:
[T]he universalist kyriocentric rhetoric of Euro-American elite men does not simply reinforce the dominance of the male sex, but it legitimates the imperial "White Father" or, in black idiom, the enslaving "Boss-Man" as the universal subject. By implication, any critical theory — be it critical race, feminist, liberationist, or Marxist theory — that articulates gender, class, or race difference as a primary and originary difference masks the complex interstructuring of kyriarchal dominations inscribed in the subject positions of individual wo/men and in the status positions of dominance and subordination between wo/men. It also masks the participation of white elite wo/men, or better "ladies," and of Christian religion in kyriarchal 'oppression', insofar as both have served as civilizing colonialist conduits of kyriarchal knowledges, values, and culture.
Tēraudkalns (2003) suggests that these structures of 'oppression' are self-sustained by internalized 'oppression'; those with relative power tend to remain in power, while those without tend to remain disenfranchised.
In essence, all peoples are in some form or another 'oppressors' to some group of people while simultaneously being 'oppressed' by some other group of people. In an effort to end their 'oppression', they increase the 'oppression' they inflict, thus creating a vicious circle of sorts.
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- Kwok, Pui-lan (2009). "Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Postcolonial Studies". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (Indiana University Press) 25 (1): 191–197. Retrieved 2011-05-12. (subscription required (. ))
- Tēraudkalns, Valdis (2003). "Construction of Masculinities in Contemporary Christianity". In Cimdiņa, Ausma. Religion and political change in Europe: past and present. PLUS. pp. 223–232.
- Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth (2001). "Glossary". Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation. New York: Orbis Books. Retrieved 2006-02-17.
- Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth (2009). "Introduction: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Gender, Status and Ethnicity in Early Christian Studies". In Nasrallah, Laura; Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Prejudice and Christian beginnings: investigating race, gender, and ethnicity in early Christian studies. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. Retrieved 2011-05-12.