Intersectionality and Marxism: A Critical Historiography

In: Historical Materialism
Ashley Bohrer Hamilton College Clinton, New York

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In recent years, there has been renewed interest in conceptualising the relationship between oppression and capitalism as well as intense debate over the precise nature of this relationship. No doubt spurred on by the financial crisis, it has become increasingly clear that capitalism, both historically and in the twenty-first century, has had particularly devastating effects for women and people of colour. Intersectionality, which emerged in the late twentieth century as a way of addressing the relationship between race, gender, sexuality and class, has submitted orthodox Marxism to critique for its inattention to the complex dynamics of various social locations; in turn Marxist thinkers in the twenty-first century have engaged with intersectionality, calling attention to the impoverished notion of class and capitalism on which it relies. As intersectionality constitutes perhaps the most common way that contemporary activists and theorists on the left conceive of identity politics, an analysis of intersectionality’s relationship to Marxism is absolutely crucial for historical materialists to understand and consider. This paper looks at the history of intersectionality’s and Marxism’s critiques of one another in order to ground a synthesis of the two frameworks. It argues that in the twenty-first century, we need a robust, Marxist analysis of capitalism, and that the only robust account of capitalism is one articulated intersectionally, one which treats class, race, gender and sexuality as fundamental to capitalist accumulation.

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