Sébastien Chauvin, Alexandre Jaunait (2015)
Is the notion of intersectionality doomed to being part of the problem it depicts? Intersectionality theory was not developed to merely point at intersections but to capture subject positions made invisible by dominant systems of normative representation.
Intersectionality against intersection
It shined the spotlight on processes that reduce disadvantaged population groups to the particular experience of the least oppressed among category members, making other members appear as if they were at the intersection with another group. Thus, rather than dividing between complex and simple oppressions, intersectionality theory invites us to undo the intersectional metaphor and problematize every subject position as complex. Yet, abstract categories and asymmetrical constructions of complexity carry real-life challenges for the individuals and groups concerned. But how can these challenges be described in the language of intersectionality without reinforcing the asymmetry? The article examines this conundrum both in the social scientific sphere of analytic description and in the normative sphere of political strategizing. We first briefly trace the history of intersectionality theory as a critique of hierarchies of representativeness both in social movements and in antidiscrimination jurisprudence. Second, we examine the social scientific challenge of describing concrete situations in the language of intersectionality without attributing intersections to the groups affected by them. Finally, we return to politics by examining the limits of turning intersectionality, originally a critique of political domination, into a positive political program, in particular if the latter would take the form of a universalistic imperative for all emancipation movements to give the same priority to all issues all the time.