Intersectionality came up a lot in a discussion of Feminism for the 99% by by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser. I suspect that some of our disagreement about what they really meant about its implications for capitalism was muddled by not having a clear ontology of intersectionalist claims (by "intersectionalist" I just mean "people who support intersectionality as a critical framework"). So here's a crack at it. Note that only the first one or two are really universal among intersectionalists. Some of the others might be totally made up.
- Emergent phenomena: New and specific forms of oppression occur at the intersection of systems of oppression. Like synergy, but bad. This is what Kimberlé Crenshaw was originally proposing as "intersectionality" when she coined the word.
- Attacking one system of oppression without also attacking others will fail to be liberatory.
- Critically inclusive: Systems of oppression are ontologically independent; none merely spring forth from others. This is opposed to traditional Marxism, where other forms of oppression are epiphenomena of the class relation.
- Critically egalitarian: Systems of oppression are on ontologically equal footing. This is opposed, for example, to Marxist intersectionalists like Angela Davis and Nancy Fraser, who hold that capitalism is a "master frame;" and to Afro-pessimism, which holds that the world is structured fundamentally by the slave relation which is instantiated in anti-blackness.
- Not very critical: That systems of oppression are all relatively analagous to each other. This would imply by necesity a liberal orientation toward them, since any radical analyses would break down the analogies pretty quickly. I don't think this gets put forth seriously, but I think it usefully describes many people's attitudes toward analyzing systems of oppression.
Claims about capitalism which may or may not be seriously made:
- Destroying (insert system of oppression here) is a necessary but not sufficient condition to ending capitalism.
- Destroying (insert system of oppression here) is a sufficient condition to ending capitalism.
- That the impacts of systems of oppression on people's lives are merely additive. That's the idea of "double jeopardy," which predates intersectionality.
By way of epilogue, I want to note that the common conservative critiques of intersectionality don't actually have content that is specific to intersectionality. These critiques are against the perceived threats of a new hierarchy of knowing (via standpoint epistemology), of justice, or of society, which "places straight white men at the bottom." This is just the application of longstanding conservative critiques of anti-oppression politics to a different concept of oppression. These critiques have with little distinguishing subtlety been aimed at feminism, racial justice, and Marxism, and we shouldn't be surprised to see them rehashed against intersectionality.
Let me know if you think there are important claims I'm missing, or if you can cite an example author for any of them!