The concept of intersectionality has played a central role in the emergence and development of gender and diversity studies and their predecessors. This process has been marked by a distinct politicization of research as well as an overlap between scholarship and social movements.
The term intersectionality was coined by the American legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who used the metaphor of a street intersection to describe a specific form of discrimination that has not been adequately addressed by legal and political systems whose conception of discrimination was either one-dimensional or merely additive. She uses the legal circumstances of black women as an example of how an intersectional perspective is required to reach a suitable understanding of different social positions and the extent to which someone is subject to structural discrimination. Exclusively considering sexism is just as inadequate as exclusively considering racism because their specific interrelationship creates a particularly precarious situation.
In the context of the second wave of West German women’s movements and the field of women’s studies which developed from them, this begs the question of who “women” even are as a subject from an intersectional perspective:
For research and teaching, this means that the heterogeneity of social groups deserves special attention. People not only have a sexual identity, but also an age, a religious affiliation or lack thereof, and a gender. These dimensions of diversity or structural categories are not detached side by side or simply added or subtracted, inclusively or exclusively. Likewise, experiences of discrimination and privilege are complex, not one-dimensional.
Example: Statistics compiled about the demographics of all professors in the university break down the ratios by gender and social origin. Yet only an intersectional analysis reveals that social origin plays a much more decisive role in determining the path to professorship for women and people with a migration background than for other academics.
Example: In the field of law, the Muslim headscarf is a subject of controversy. Gender and religion are significant factors here, but the relevant court cases show that anti-Muslim racism and education need to be accounted for as well.
When it comes to gender and diversity in the content of teaching and learning, intersectionality means repeatedly spotlighting the interactions and intersections of gender and various diversity dimensions in order to avoid homogenizing and to take into account complexity.
By now, various theoretical and methodical uses of the intersectionality concept have been developed in a number of disciplines. More materials on theory, research, and practical projects are available at the Intersectionality portal (in German).
Version April 2017. Unless otherwise stated, this content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.