The trouble with theories of intersectionality is that they don’t go far enough. Maybe I’m taking the metaphor too literally, and I definitely could stand to do more reading of work that self-consciously employs and examines intersectionality, but the lines that cross seem remarkably unaffected by the moment and point of intersection; they exist prior to the convergence and continue past it in an unaltered state. Two of the favorite sub-metaphors deployed by intersectional theorists reveal the constancy of the lines: the notion of overlap and the comparison to a puzzle. In each of these, the elements that form the intersection are created independently of the encounter; overlapping circles, for instance, and puzzle pieces exist statically, as constant entities, even if, as in the former, their confluence is capable of changing. The problem of intersectionality, then, is to discover the point(s) of conjunction, but not to examine the elements that form it, which are completely autonomous. It’s a new kind of essentialism.

6 thoughts on “Intersections

  1. (Sorry for the lateness of my reply. Notification got sent to spam for some reason.)

    Thanks for linking to your article. I liked it very much. I think the “pileup” metaphor is a good one, and certainly the subsumption of one or more lines of oppression is the common result at the intersection; there inevitably seems to be a primary oppression that takes over. Obviously, that’s not the fault of intersectional theories per se, but the positing of those lines both takes the “facts” of oppression too literally and doesn’t take the moment of encounter literally enough. In other words, it imagines that because the lines can be (at least tentatively) identified they can also be separated.

    I think the concept has gone as far as it can go, for the reasons above mostly. Though it might helpful at indexing some features of the present, I don’t see how it can point past it.

  2. i think ‘good’ version of intersectionality avoid some of these problems, but most people aren’t very attentive to its problems.

    pat hill collins mentions ‘interlocking’ rather than ‘additive’ approaches to intersectionality. that way one isn’t playing adjective olympics.

    to go with your “lines” and “encounter” discussion – look to althusser’s late work in “The Philosophy of the Encounter”. In particular, its a way of theorizing how autonomous elements in contingent encounter become necessarily intertwined (capitalist mode of production, patriarchy, etc) given the term “becoming necessary.” so, maybe intersection isn’t a bad term but the metaphors that accompany it often are. althusser uses the “big bang” and the encounter. Some of Jason Read’s work has put this idea into effective clearly and brilliantly, check out the borderlands article on universal history.

  3. I keep thinking of the Althusser essay in this context, AwC, though I’ve only read once and when it was first published. I need to revisit it. I’m thinking of these things more in terms of assemblage. Part of what’s missing for me in intersectional theories is the nation and how it acts as the border of all these things, and I think assemblages might be better for accounting for the nation that assemblages, but without turning nationalism into another master oppression. I’m kind of confused about it all, obviously.

    Weird that you brought up the Read essay also, as I’ve been thinking of it too, though in a different context. Need to reread that as well.

  4. I’m glad you liked the article. Writing it drove me absolutely crazy, in trying to think the excess of the intersection. The metaphor is definitely spent at my end! So certainly, assemblage makes sense as a way of thinking through lines and encounters. I suspect it risks putting a line around philosophy as ‘the only discipline’ that might properly deal with the questions of intertwining oppression, in that I think intersectionality has provided a politically fruitful construct from which to describe oppression and win some social remedies, for what they are worth.

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