Interrogating Intersectionality

The project interrogates the concept of intersectionality and constructions of gender as these intersect with other components of identity derived from political, social, cultural, religious, ethnic, and racialized discourses. It does so in ways that explore the tensions that emerge when theory, lived experience, productions and representations of identity through creative outputs, and professional practice are brought into dialogue. This is precisely what Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, in Intersectionality (2016), suggest is needed to refine the descriptive and methodological power, and political utility, of the concept.

Born out of the limitations of binary race- and gender-based critiques of the invisibility of Black women’s experience of compounded marginalisation and disempowerment, the concept went global at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in 2001 through Kimberle Crenshaw’s involvement. Nonetheless, the concept of intersectionality remains circumscribed by its origins in African American women’s experience of racism and sexism.

In an incisive article in the Feminist Review on “Re-Thinking Intersectionality” (2008), Jennifer C. Nash pointed out the theoretical and methodological evasions and assumptions that have plagued intersectionality and limited its utility. Nivedita Menon, Vrushali Patil and Kaveri Haritas, have wrestled with the limitations of intersectionality in relation to the complex gender politics within development agendas. Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s plea for a “feminism without borders” acknowledges the need to negotiate a politics of difference that still enables interventions based on collective understandings in an increasingly globalised world.

This project seeks to scope the potential and limitations of intersectionality in relation to both theory and praxis. The interrogation of a concept that has important status in relation to both development agendas and to feminist theorising is both timely and important.