Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

“What Difference Does Difference Make?”: Diversity, Intersectionality, and Transnational Feminist Politics

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

“What Difference Does Difference Make?”: Diversity, Intersectionality, and Transnational Feminist Politics

Article excerpt

Intersectionality as corrective methodology

"What I find revealing in debates on intersectionality, even among its critics, is the total lack of engagement with literature outside the Euro - North American (at most Australia)." (Menon, 2015, p. 11)

The pursuit of justice has been at the heart of feminist theory and practice. The aim was and is to examine the role of gender in processes of material exploitation and epistemic violence as well as to outline strategies that enable gender equality and access to and control over resources, thereby empowering the agency of disenfranchised individuals and communities. Moreover, the effort is to enable participation of vulnerable female citizens in social and political institutions, which are responsible for and accountable to them. Contemporary discourses on (gender) justice seek to address multiple aspects including theoretical discussions of agency, autonomy, and capabilities; political questions involving participation, rights, democratization, and citizenship; economic policies about access to and control over resources; issues of cultural politics and representation; discussions in the field of law about judicial reform; and practical matters of access to redress. Debates on justice are increasingly employing the model of intersectionality, which outlines how different forms of discrimination co-constitute each other, thereby producing particular conjunctures of vulnerability and inequality. Furthermore, the production of injustice is located in a range of interconnected socio-political institutions like the heteronormative family, the community, the market, and the state.

Against this background, our paper engages with the formative concepts of diversity and intersectionality, inquiring how far they are tools for achieving (gender) justice that open up spaces for marginalized constituencies, including racial and religious minorities, colonial subjects, queers, and women and how they unwittingly reify the hegemony of an entitled majority by failing to realize their emancipatory possibilities. We take inspiration from the postcolonial feminist Sara Ahmed (2006), who argues that the diversity and intersectionality boom is for the most part "non-performative," in that it promises much more than it actually delivers. This contribution outlines the prospects and limitations of intersectionality and diversity politics, by taking a step back and assessing what has been gained through these interventions, and where it has failed. As intersectionality and diversity are often discussed together, we focus on how these are mobilized in academic discourses and beyond and their strengths and limits. The text begins by engaging with the important contribution made by diversity and intersectionality discourses and outlines how these have enriched struggles for justice. Thereafter, we take a critical look at both approaches. Here we particularly focus on interventions from the global South, which are mostly disregarded within the Western debates on intersectionality and diversity politics. Finally, we argue that despite the critique, one cannot not want diversity politics and intersectional analysis, even as it is imperative to persistently question and be vigilant about the instrumentalization of these progressive tools by hegemonic discourses and structures to sustain the status quo.

Intersectionality and Diversity: Old wines, new bottles?

Whenever intersectionality and diversity are up for debate, one is often confronted with the question: What's new about this approach? This is certainly not without good reason given that, as it has been rightly pointed out, they deal with forms and dynamics of discrimination that feminist theory and practice has been continuously reflecting upon and negotiating for over two decades. Perspectives may vary, yet the meticulous scrutiny of multiple facets of discrimination has always been a key feminist concern. At the same time, it is widely accepted that although all women experience discrimination on the basis of gender, they are not discriminated in the same way and degree. …

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