Introducing Intersectionality | Course

January 9, 2020 | Vikramaditya Sahai


The law must understand the social to which it speaks and responds. Its ability to do justice depends on this understanding. While the law recognizes that there exists difference, the more attentive it is to how difference manifests itself or is lived, the better its capacity to live up to its own ideal and imagination. Difference is not always discreet and inequality can often be aggravated by the simultaneity of more than one form of difference that manifests as marginality. This is precisely what intersectionality equips us to pay attention to and address. There are many ways of writing the history of intersectionality but a broad consensus exists around Kimberle Crenshaw’s work on anti-discrimination law in the US as pioneering the field. While a thin approach to intersectionality may choose to focus on an additive approach to forms of difference (caste +gender and so on), this course seeks to introduce students to a thicker conception of intersectionality that not only understands what happens when one lives a life where more than one difference manifests as marginality but also how already formed analytics may be insufficient to understand and address what happens when one experiences discrimination that does not separate what are imagined as discrete identities.

The course uses academic writing, legal texts, commentaries, personal narratives, fiction and cultural texts to understand how intersectionality affects our study of the law, advocacy, and activism; how the law, legal studies and legal practice is transformed by intersectionality; and how intersectionality challenges, resists, and reimagines legal normativity.



  1. To understand and engage with intersectionality – as analytic, theory and method – to reflect on structures of power and operations of norms that frustrate the struggle for justice, equality, and freedom.
  2. To improve our knowledge of the experiences that inform the lives of people who are addressed by the law or come to it with their grievances.
  3. To respect how our positionality affects our capacities, practices, and normative attachments.
  4. To use intersectionality to better our engagement with existing laws to secure rights and freedoms of marginalized communities and in imagining laws and frameworks that are responsive to the complexity of the social.


Module One – Intersectionality: History, Analytic, Contestation

In this module we shall understand intersectionality through a genealogy of black feminist texts, texts in which similar conceptions emerge but that do not use the term intersectionality; texts in which the word is used explicitly, sometimes as a theory, other times as an analytic, or a method; and texts which sharpen our understanding of the life worlds intersectionality sought to address and their complexities. We shall also look at some critical engagements with intersectionality that help sharpen its capacity to do justice. Since its explicit use in Crenshaw’s work, intersectionality has been used to address the law and this module would help establish and sediment that relationship. We will finally look at a place where the conversation on intersectionality can be found in Indian law.


Module Two – Analysing Normativity

This module allows us to understand intersectionality as generative of new knowledges and practices of the law by unsettling some of its normative assumptions. It is not sufficient just add intersectionality to legal realism and stir but to take its insights to imagine ways in which the law may better respond to the complexity of our life worlds, oppressive power structures and norms that incapacitate justice.


Module Three – Intersectionality in India

In this module, we grapple with how intersectionality might illuminate our context in India, not just in the times when more than one marginality leads to an aggravated situation of inequality or injustice but how intersectionality might help us better understand what are hitherto imagined as discrete categories – caste, gender, disability, sexuality – as intertwined and co-constitutive. We will figure what intersectionality does to our analysis of each of these categories – what happens to sexuality when it is understood as a function of caste? How do we rethink disability as engendering? And so on.  The module seeks to bring these insights to critically analyse legal texts like acts and judgments. Even though the module is divided by analytic frames and forms of oppression, the module doesn’t imagine them as discrete. Each module will emphasise how forms of oppression are related and cannot be severed from each other.


Module Four – Intersectionality: Paradoxes and Pulls

Some people and identities fall to the wayside even with the best of intentions. This module will look at the construction of legal subjects and resistant subjectivity, its interaction with caste, and the irreconcilability of some political articulations. It is not easy to apply to intersectionality to legal frames and arrive at seamless resolutions of social conflicts and inequality. Sometimes intersectionality pulls us from an easy rights-based approach to one that recognizes how social positions lead to seemingly irreconcilable demands and that is where law must do impossible justice.  The emphasis is to debate what the maps of justice look like when there is no consensus and universality seems fraught by positions of participants. How does the court do its work then? How is the Constitution to be interpreted? Is it only a matter of taking sides? We see these debates as further invitation to understand the complexity of our location and the dilemmas of law and social transformation.


Module Five – Anti Discrimination and Equality Law in India

We bring these conversations to a close by bringing anti-discrimination work and intersectionality in conversation to discuss an equality bill that might understand the constitutive nature of different structures of power and norms and address better cases of aggravated marginalization. Is intersectionality merely an analytic category or can intersectionality be put to work to imagine and make a comprehensive law to address the forms of inequality and oppression in India?


The list of course readings is available under the Resources tab.

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