Explanation: what does ‘intersectionality’ mean?

Intersectionality: There are various forms of social stratification in the society, such as race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. they lead to the creation of inequality in the society by the differential treatment of individuals. We are often used to studying these forms of stratification separately to understand how people are treated in different ways. We are used to viewing people as recognized by Patricia Collins, from a dichotomous viewpoint, an either/or perspective. We tend to classify persons, things and ideas as opposites e.g. male or female, black or white, etc. Moreover, we rank these opposites where we consider one side to be dominant than the other e.g. male is considered dominant as opposed to the female.

However, we must keep in mind that we are a part of different systems of stratifications at any given time and thus a subject to more than one type of discrimination at a given time. E.g. at a point in time, one may be an African American female, belonging to a lower class, in such a situation they face discrimination in all the three groups. Intersectionality was introduced by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, he established this theory as ‘intersectional feminism’, which could be used to be able to understand how women are discriminated against, and to study how they were oppressed. It was later that it was realized that we were at the same time a part of more than one group and thus it was important to study us as a part of all the groups and not as a part of a particular group at a given point of time.

Under this theory we can see the most common kind of overlap is what is known as the ‘triple overlap’, this is usually the overlap of one’s class, race, and gender. The three sources of stratification can be seen at work in the case of slavery, slavery was classified as a race and class institution however Patricia Collins has argued that this was a situation of triple oppression; as it was a patriarchal institution where the base was the white male authority and property, the sexuality of the white females was controlled and much of the oppression was faced by the blacks, here the worst forms of oppression was faced by the black females.

Patricia Collins has also argued that intersectionality has an institutional basis; which is to say that it is embedded in institutions, symbolic basis; which is to say that it is based on the stereotypes and individual basis; this holds that we all experience discrimination, the experience will differ from person to person. Collins has referred to the various intersections as the ‘matrix of domination’ or the ‘vectors of oppression and privilege’ here she is specifically talking about how the other forms of oppression, such as race, class, caste, etc. and how they shape the experience of women as they interact with gender. This experience is typically oppressive. Thus intersectionality gives a re-conceptualized view of oppression and helps us study all dimensions of it.



Sabnam, pursuing Sociology from Miranda House, Delhi University hails from the land of red River, Assam. She is a pure non-realist, because, as she puts it, "reality hurts and pain is not what I endure but what I pour into paper!".