Intersectionality, a term coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, refers to how various nodes of identity-- typified but not limited to race and gender-- work in concert to engender and perpetuate systems of oppression. Emerging out of Critical Race Studies-- a scholarly project born out of legal studies that attempts to examine and trouble the purported neutrality of law while also highlighting the ways in which race has and continues to be codified through it--Crenshaw’s intersectionality has become the analytic, nonpareil, for naming and understanding the way in which systems of oppression configured around modalities like race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, etc. work in tandem particularly towards the end of denying or mitigating material access. While intersectionality is typically understood as staunchly situated under the purview of scholarly work of gender and women’s studies and scholars of anti-racism, the concept has been taken up across much of the humanities, and social sciences, along with fields like Library and Information Studies.
Part of the efficacy of intersectionality lies in its ability to highlight a number of prevailing (il)logics of theorizing race and gender that were especially prevalent at the time of the concepts' emergence and uptake, including 1) troubling race and gender binaries; 2) providing a unique retort to criticisms of identity politics through the establishment of critical lexicons; and 3) impelling us towards greater awareness about histories of exclusion within scholarship (Nash).
Despite all that it has and continues to offer by way of analytical labor, intersectionality has not avoided stringent critique. Scholars like Jennifer Nash have written extensively about the conceptual dominance of intersectionality and have cautioned against the potential pitfalls of its uncritical application. For Nash, there are concerns engendered by the analytical hegemony of intersectionality including the potential specious origin story that its application suggests. Nash implores us to acknowledge how Black feminism has always theorized notions of interlocking nature of systems of oppression as a prevailing part of its project since its inception. Crenshaw’s work then, is indebted to this legacy, not an antecedent to it. Moreover, Nash’s work also impels us to be attentive to the methodological limits, or the “‘how” of doing intersectional work.
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Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, no. 6, 1991, pp.1241–1299.
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