Intersectionality: Beyond the buzzword

in Video , Tagged Intersectionality, Explainer, gender equality.
  • Peter Hopkins

    Peter Hopkins

    Professor of Social Geography and Director of Research for Geography at Newcastle University, UK. His research and teaching interests center upon the challenges and complexities of inequality and justice, and how these interrelate with debates about equality and diversity.


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What does Intersectionality actually mean? It's an old buzzword that's suddenly new again, with government policy wonks and progressive businesses types touting the need to better understand how different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, and intersect. But how does 'intersectionality' work in practice?


Civil rights advocate and feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term back in 1989 to describe the ways in which gender and race interact. More recently it's come to encompass the interplay between any kind of discrimination resulting from other identity categories such as age, class, religion, ethnicity, and disability, in addition to gender.


Whilst its important to understand and critical to improving policy design, intersectionality is nevertheless difficult to explain and demonstrate. That's why BroadAgenda leapt onto this excellent short video we discovered. Produced and commissioned by Professor Peter Hopkins from the Newcastle University in the UK, it provides a simple snapshot of what is in fact a complex web of ideas. Delighted to see the video published on BroadAgenda, Prof Hopkins also told us a little about why he wanted to make it in the first place. See below.   

Q1. Why did you decide to do this video?

I decided to do this video following a conversation with a senior member of professional services staff at my institution. Intersectionality was mentioned in this conversation and my colleague explained that they didn’t really know what it was, what it meant, or how to use it.

I was also conscious of the increasing importance being placed on intersectionality with equality and diversity work in higher education, and felt it was important for as many people as possible to have a short, clear and understandable way of engaging with the concept. I was also delighted that Stacy Bias was able to work her magic on the animation for this video.


Q2. What role should intersectionality play in public policy design?

It would be ideal if intersectionality was employed more often in public policy design particularly when it comes to issues of equality, diversity and inclusion. This will help ensure that the circumstances of a diverse group of people are improved rather than it only influencing a narrower group of marginalised people.

For example, gender equality initiatives that ignore intersectionality may only end up assisting relatively privileged white, middle-class, heterosexual women; adopting an intersectional approach to gender equality may help such an initiative to benefit a broader cohort, such as those who are marginalised not only as a result of their gender but also due to their race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, caste or indigenous status.

Q3. Do you think policy designers have their heads around this issue?

I think some policy designers have their heads around this but some don’t and some only use intersectionality as a buzzword without fully understanding its complexity and value.

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