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Reviewed by:
  • Intersectionality: Origins, Contestations, Horizons by Anna Carastathis
  • Desiree Valentine (bio)
Intersectionality: Origins, Contestations, Horizons.

By Anna Carastathis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. ISBN: 9780803285552. $55.00. Hardcover, 300 pages.

Though it has been nearly thirty years since the inception of Kimberlé Crenshaw's work on intersectionality, the depth of her intersectional critique has yet to be fully mined. Two main lines of inquiry have emerged. On the one hand, there is an abundance of work identifying and operationalizing "intersectionality" as a representationalist theory of identity wherein the addition of multiple social markers generates an "intersectional identity" that had hitherto been ignored or foreclosed. On the other hand, much work has critiqued intersectionality by claiming that it merely reproduces, via additive logics, the conception of identities as discrete, which "intersectionality" ought to contest. Roderick Ferguson describes this dichotomy within research trends as the "dominant affirmation" of and the "dominant objection" to intersectionality.1 As he states, "The affirmation designates intersectionality as the occasion for a positivism that will grant us authentic and true knowledge" via "an assemblage of social relations that can be observed as empirical truths."2 The dominant objection "characterizes [intersectionality] as preserv[ing] ideologies of discreteness, identity politics, and so forth."3 Both, he argues, are problematically invested in a "will to truth" and a "belief that intersectionality as a signifier is destined toward a meaning of discreteness, truth, and legibility."4 If the dominant affirmation and objection exhaust the field of intersectionality, [End Page 120] it appears we have reached a serious impasse. Yet, there are those who claim the work of intersectionality is far from over and that its import lies not in a definitive reading–as either the achievement of inclusive feminism or the failure of identity politics—but in its generative impulse and orientating capacity.

Anna Carastathis is one such reader. In Intersectionality: Origins, Contestations, Horizons, she offers a route outside the current impasse, expertly tracing the concomitant celebration and dismissal of intersectionality, yet exercising neither "complacency with intersectionality (as feminism's postracial telos) . . . [nor] its rejection in a premature attempt to 'go beyond' intersectionality" (4–5). Rather, Carastathis poses intersectionality as "an analytic sensibility, a disposition, or a way of thinking . . . into which most of us have not yet become habituated . . . [constituting] a profound challenge, as opposed to a determinate resolution of cognitive essentialism, binary categorization, and conceptual exclusion" (3–4). In this way, intersectionality has not even arrived (and may never in any absolutist sense), making both calls for its celebration and "overcoming" likewise premature. It is the stakes of liberatory theory that Intersectionality understands best—for, if the challenge of "intersectionality" (or any heuristic aimed at advancing liberatory practices) is to penetrate our deepest ideas regarding logic, perception, sociality, epistemology, and politics, then we ought to be very clear in outlining those aims, without assuming we could understand what it would mean to achieve them as this would require that we have already transformed our habits of thought.

In what follows, I focus on how Carastathis's intervention in the field of intersectionality studies in particular and liberatory theory in general helps orient theorists to the task at hand. Her conceptual revisioning of identity as coalition (via Crenshaw), with its emphasis on instability and dynamism as constitutive of identity is especially promising. In the spirit of intersectionality as a provisional and hence, provocative concept, I build on Carastathis's account to suggest that instead of an ultimate articulation of identity as a "unity," however complex or dynamic, we ought to figure identity via logics of dispersal. Starting from the insight of liberatory theorists that identities are ongoing sociopolitical projects structuring patterns of relations and not something that one "is" or "has" or even a "where" that locates or is located, I examine what it would mean to position identity as movement itself, rather than informed by it. [End Page 121]

The Unmet Challenge of Intersectionality

Intersectionality follows a clear theoretical arc and stages multiple interventions throughout, making it a resource for one well versed in the field or encountering it for the first time. While it is in part a corrective to some engagements with intersectionality, it is...


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