Thursday, 23 January 2014


There's been a lot of debate about intersectionality recently. But all too often, it seems to me, what's being termed intersectionality is little more than a classic ascetic-deconstructive manoeuvre, a way of saying: okay, your argument is all very well and good, but you haven't given sufficient attention to x, and here's a more sophisticated, more rigorous turn of the screw, and another, and so on ad infinitum. Some might view this positively, as dialectical ratiocination, or simply a necessary way of conducting intelligent debate. But right now, in the current moment, in the context of the omnishambles that is the contemporary left, I think these sorts of movements are invariably negative and paralysing.

What is more (and I think this is partly why it took me so long to understand what intersectionality actually is), what's being left out a lot of the time is the "inter" part of the formulation. Invocations of the intersectional credo are most often made along the lines of emphasising - either explicitly, or implicitly through the virulence of their expression - the interests of a single section, a single ideological category. Debate then gets swallowed up by warring capitalised mega-interests - Anti-Racism, Anti-Sexism, Anti-Homophobia, or binary or triadic compounds of the same - which of course very few people in their right minds (on the left at least) would ever really consciously oppose, but which have a tendency to be affirmed in the context of frequently absurdist melodramas of debate in which people who are quite obviously in general agreement become violently opposed to each other on grounds of super-subtle sectional difference.

How, then, can intersectionality be used more positively? I think that, when we look at something like the above picture, we all know instinctively, and with a visceral certainty that relegates debate to the level of relative meaninglessness. Yes, the picture tells us, this person is undoubtedly racist. But she is also anti-feminist, pro-capitalist, and (literally) perched on the pinnacle of a system in which the labour of millions is used to furnish the airbrushed propaganda of new neoliberal Tsars and Tsarinas who differ from their pre-twentieth century predecessors only in a smattering of infinitesimal ways.

The really effective response to this picture should not be banal cries of racism of the kind that we hear from the liberal press (and which Zhukova can try to refute on the grounds that she, as a bien pensant social-liberal-of-sorts, is interested in sponsoring "anti-racist" artworks). Rather, horrors like this should provoke the counterposition of a holistic, socialist, ethical critique in which anti-racism scarcely has to be invoked because it is so obviously an integral part of a wider anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical movement. Real intersectionality must mean the integration of sectional interests until they need to be emphasised in a sceptical, disintegrative manner only in rare instances.

At the present moment, we need a socialism of the gut way more than we need more hyperbolically nuanced debate. If we can't grasp this and act on it before getting sidetracked into endless deconstructive caveatising, then the left really is doomed to repeat the failures of last half-century, if it even makes it through to the next decade.


Caitlin said...

I think your position on intersectionality sounds quite useful in the hopes of creating an "ethical critique in which anti-racism scarcely has to be invoked because it is so obviously an integral part of a wider…movement," especially considering the broadness of the concept of intersectionality and its capacity to involve so many -isms. Yet what I fear what might get lost in such large movement is the individual identities of those it brings together. This can be very dangerous when you consider the voices (which usually break down those godforsaken binaries) who mayn't be heard without the arenas created by Anti-Sexist/Homophobic/Racist/Classist etc groups-capitalized or not. Might, instead, there be room for a similar concept such as "humanity" that engulfs all categories of people through hearing each individual voice?

Alex Niven said...

Thanks Caitlin. To cut a long story short, I agree! Your summary is spot on.