Intersectionality is defined by Professor and Activist Patricia Hill Collins as referencing “the critical insight that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, and age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather as reciprocally constructing phenomena.” The origins of Intersectionality can be most prominently be traced to the 60s and 70s in the US Black Feminism movement, which incorporated a critical analysis of Race, Class, Gender into organizing movements and to center their voices and action as a group that is racialized and gendered, thereby giving acting against the intersecting oppressions of Racism and Sexism. This analysis was further incorporated into academia, and further expanded upon in organizing communities most prominently through the Boston based ‘Combahee River Collective.’
Over the years, Intersectionality as a field of study came to rethink and expand its analysis in several forms. Firstly it paid closer attention to how work and labor relations come to be situated in a critical Intersectional analysis (e.g. the gendered and unpaid labor undertaken by Women, and the form in which Gender, Race, and Class operate globally in Racial Capitalism’s exploitation around the world). Secondly it incorporated an analysis of sexuality, age, nationality, and ability to the initial analyses of race, gender, and class. Thirdly it thinks through conceptions of violence, to incorporate more heterogeneous analyses that rethink the various ways violence can be enacted on different intersectional communities, while centering work that aims to provide solutions for violence against women, which has spurred the organizing and activist work that created the ideas undergirding intersectionality. Fourthly, more work has been done on highlighting identity as part of an intersectional analysis, and how intersecting identity categories produce specific experiences for persons and social groups, while also thinking through identity as a form of building coalitional solidarities and cross-movement mobilizations. Further work has been done to establish the epistemological underpinning of the field of Intersectionality, and also the methodologies undertaken to advance the field of Intersectionality that challenge the appropriation of its meaning and its whitewashing as it becomes increasingly mainstream and institutionalized.
It is important to highlight the grassroots nature that informs Intersectionality as it has come to be in the current moment. The work of Black Feminist activists and coalitions are fundamental to how we conceptualize Intersectionality. Namely, through engaging with Intersectionality as critical praxis activists that grapple daily with complex social issues and relations have come to push the field as a whole, and imagine new ways that struggles for liberation and against the interlocking systems of oppression can take shape.
Patricia Hill Collins.“Intersectionality’s Definitional Dilemmas.” Annual Review of Sociology, volume 41, 2015, 1-20.
Collins, Hill Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge, New York, September 2008.
Combahee River Collective: https://combaheerivercollective.weebly.com/
Davis, Y. Angela. Women, Race and Class. Vintage Books, February 1983.
“Ain’t I a Women?” by Sojourner Truth, performed by Kerry Washington: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ry_i8w2rdQY